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How to make your mark

Q: I'm a mature newly qualified teacher and have just started my first job. My final placement was in one of the top 50 state schools. I knew things would be different in other schools but I have had the shock of my life. My new school has been accommodating - part-time, MP6 - but I observed the Year 10 class I am supposed to teach. No coursework, a supply teacher who allowed them to talk throughout the lesson, leave the room and swear loudly and continuously. The class seemed resigned to the fact that they would reject me because they'd had so many different teachers over the last two terms. I don't know how to get started.

A: You don't sound the legalistic type, but you could legitimately ask to avoid the situation altogether. The Teacher Training Agency recommends that you should not be asked to work with pupils who "present the NQT on a day-to-day basis with acute or especially demanding discipline problems".

The difficulty is that the school may not accept this as an accurate description of these pupils, and you may not feel happy about starting on a negative note. Your mentor should be able to help.

The alternative and more rewarding approach is to go in hard and establish your credibility. Not easy, but success will give your career a head start.

Focus on establishing yourself as a firm but reliable teacher, then on finding ways of boosting your pupils' feeling that they can succeed.

Begin by mastering the school's basic procedures - how pupils come into and leave lessons, behaviour management strategies, how teachers get pupils'

attention - and use them to the letter. In that way, you will be drawing on pupils' expectations of school and have the reinforcement of behaving like any other good teacher.

Study the scheme of work and rewrite it in a pupil-friendly way. Use it to show them what they'll be doing for at least a term ahead. Share it with parents, the well-informed home is better placed to be supportive. Make wall charts that explain criteria and assessment objectives - display and discuss them so that pupils know what they are aiming for.

Be a demon about getting homework in. Again, involve parents, and make marking work your priority and get it back to pupils as soon as possible, and include rich, formative comment.

Use any target-setting information - YELLIS, CAT scores, Sats results - so that you can say to the pupil, "You're working above target level" - and have an objective basis for nudging the underperformer along, too.

Create opportunities for small successes, and praise pupils when they achieve something. Emphasise the positive. Make pupils responsible - build in group and pair work, with reporting back and peer assessment. Praise, be positive, praise again and again.

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