Finding teaching and learning ideas and resources is easier now than it’s ever been. But before jumping into lesson planning, assessment formatting or imaginative curriculum design, its essential to get the nuts and bolts right, the bread and butter of teaching.
So many times I've heard someone comment “but they had fantastic ideas and worked really hard” about a teacher who was unable to progress in the classroom. And this is such a shame because quite often it’s what a trainee or new teacher isn’t told rather than what they are told which holds them back.
The foundation on which all good teaching is built is subtle and difficult to identify, but contains these key elements.
1. Tone of Voice
Often overlooked in teacher training, tone of voice is crucial in establishing the atmosphere in which students will work. Too monotone and they will lose interest. Too pitchy, and they won’t listen.
My preferred tone has always been business like. It helps I have quite a loud voice, but that’s not necessarily a prerequisite for success. I’ve seen teachers with mousy, quiet voices who hold the class in the palm of their hand effortlessly, because of a gentle use of intonation or a clever use of pace.
2. Body Language
Again, this isn’t about stature. You don’t have to be six-foot-tall and ex-army to show the students you are in charge in the classroom. When I was training to be a teacher, the most terrifying teacher in the school was the deputy head. At about five foot, she was also the shortest, but was, quite literally, a pocket rocket. Kids were left shivering by her mere presence.
And at that time, I asked myself how or why. I think it was the steely stare, the way she walked around like a sergeant major inspecting the troops and I never saw her caught off guard. There was very little the students could do to make her lose the veneer. She looked as though she was prepared for anything and actually, she was.
Avoiding put downs and rash throw away comments is crucial in gaining the respect of students and making them feel as comfortable as possible in your presence. There are a few tips and tricks I’ve learnt over the years which have helped me.
When students are misbehaving, it’s nothing personal. Deal with the behaviour for what it is and make sure you always separate it from the person. I’ve written before about using assertiveness in the classroom and what it looks like in practice, the language you use is a vital tool in “setting the tone”.
I replaced statements beginning with “you” with “I would like you to”. This depersonalised my classroom management and helped me to focus on the specific behaviour I wanted to prevent.
Creating an identity and sticking to it can bring positive long term results. If students get a certain idea about you, which is reinforced again and again, they will eventually know exactly what to expect, how you will react to one thing or another, and what your “red lines” are.
Creating the identity or persona that works for you is something that can take time. It took me both my placements during my teacher training to figure out the type of teacher I wanted to be and made me realise what I needed to do to get there.
In the September of my NQT year, I set my stall out and for the next few years, carried that through to the enth degree. Nowadays, I'm much more myself, perhaps because I teach in a markedly different environment than back then or because I've learnt my lessons, but I would do exactly the same thing again, because it worked.
Creating an effective teacher persona is also about acting. It’s about realising that what students see is just as important, if not more, than what they hear.
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