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Sit tight and keep smiling

It's strange but true how compliments and basic praise can get good results out of rowdy pre-teens, as Lindsay Morley discovers.

When I decided to train as a primary teacher, I thought mental maths was going to be my biggest obstacle. But getting every single child to name their work has proved a far greater challenge.

My non-teacher friends laugh when I refer to the challenges of "crowd control", but learning how to get 32 young individuals to listen and do exactly what I want has been far trickier than mastering tessellation.

During my teaching practice in Year 1, I enjoyed seeing the children spring into perfect postures when I praised one child's "lovely sitting".

When I found out that I was going to be teaching Year 5, I put this kind of technique into the key stage 1 file of my brain, thinking it would be far too patronising for 10-year-olds. It was not until I had endured almost a term of unruly behaviour that this approach began to resurface in my mind.

I was given a video on assertive discipline and sure enough, praising Year 5s for sitting up straight or opening their books nicely did induce a ripple-effect of positive copycat behaviour.

Suddenly the pre-teen attitude seemed to evaporate and the faces looked at me for confirmation of their "lovely sitting". I find the mixture of burgeoning attitude and childish innocence simultaneously exasperating and endearing.

Once when I told the children that we were going to get some books on divorce for the school library, one child shouted: "What do we need books on divorce for? We're not even married yet". Maybe getting sensible responses without ruling out fun is something you learn in your second year of teaching.

The work-life balance seems to be a buzzword for all staff at the moment, but as a newly-qualified teacher I am particularly sensitive to it. Working 13-hour days might not be a sustainable lifestyle choice, but if it means I go into the classroom feeling calm and prepared, it seems worth it.

On the other hand, when I still feel unprepared after all those hours I can only wonder how it is that other teachers manage clubs, families and hobbies, as well as good lessons. Still, there are advantages to having plenty to do.

Never a dull moment is rather a cliched way of describing teaching, but wishing that each hour was that bit longer so I can fit more in is a refreshing change from the clock-watching I once did in an office Lindsay Morley is a newly-qualified teacher in Surrey

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