Tales from new teachers

when standards slip

The problem

Until a few months ago, I was feeling quite pleased with my first year. I appeared to have got over the initial hiccups and had reached a place where I was in control. That all ended after Easter.

I seemed to have returned to classes of completely different students. They played up, were rude and handed work in late. I looked at my own teaching and couldn't see what I was doing differently.

So I tried a different approach, being stricter with the students and cutting fun activities when they misbehaved. It did not work. If anything, they played up more. In the end, I had to ask my mentor to sit in on one of my classes because I was at a loss as to what to do.

The options

My mentor was really supportive and explained that lots of students started to misbehave in the summer term, no matter who their teacher was. She said that with experience you adapted your strategies slightly - not making wholesale changes, but persistently re-enforcing expectations and sanctions, and reminding students of their responsibilities.

She set up an observation with another teacher who she thought did this really well and it was an eye-opener. It was comforting to see students misbehave for him, too - it meant I was not alone - but I was ashamed of my own skills when I saw how the teacher dealt with it. He swiftly put down the rebellion with a mixture of guilt-tripping, the threat of sanctions and a dash of humour. I felt woefully inadequate.

The result

The teacher I observed was nice enough to sit me down and talk me through what he did and how. He said that when he was newly qualified, although he did not realise it at the time, he became more relaxed as the year went on and the students sensed that. Looking back, it was clear that his expectations had slipped and he let more go than he should have done. I realised that the same was probably true of me.

So in my next few lessons I pretended it was Day 1 again. I was strict, firm, clear and concise in everything I did. When the students played up, I used my colleague's mix of guilt, sanctions and humour. It did not work at first, but soon the pupils were back to how they had been before Easter. This experience taught me that confidence is great, but it has to manifest in the right way.

The writer is in her first year of teaching in Scotland

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