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Tales from new teachers

Respect my authority

Respect my authority

The problem

For the first time, I was in a lesson that I would eventually take responsibility for. I was delivering the plenary, which I had poured a large amount of time and effort into. The class was normally well-behaved and full of keen learners, so I was looking forward to taking the reins.

But the path of trainee teaching never did run smooth and - perhaps predictably, considering my high hopes - the experience was dire. After a focused lesson, all hell broke loose at plenary time. There was shouting, paper was thrown and almost no one completed the task.

I put up a fight - I really did. I called out a countdown. Using a calm, low tone, I asked the children to be quiet. I wrote names on the board. But I could hear the panic seeping into my voice as I pleaded for their attention. By the time the bell sounded and they bolted for the door, my voice was little more than a shrill squeak. Where had I gone wrong?

The options

The next day I was due to be teaching the same class again. This behaviour needed to be nipped in the bud - and quickly.

One of my fellow trainees said it might be a form of hazing. Her first lesson had been pandemonium but the class had settled down in the second one. This was comforting but I knew I would be foolish to hope for the same.

My mentor, on the other hand, picked up on my strategy for requesting quiet. I had politely asked, he said, but the class needed to be told to be silent. I had not asserted my authority. And if manners were to come into it, it should be a "thank you" rather than a "please".

The result

Politeness is second nature to me, so it was going to be very hard not to say please all the time. But in the name of classroom management, I put my manners to one side.

I took a deep breath and opened the classroom door. The pupils were ushered in and greeted in turn, then they sat down and opened their books. I let the early-morning chatter continue until the last child had taken their seat and then, in a clear and calm voice, I told them that I needed them to be quiet.

I explained that the activity was to be completed without talking and that, if they had questions, they were to hold their hands up and I would come and see them. The pupils put their heads down and got to work, the silence punctuated only by the odd whisper.

It felt like a miracle, but it wasn't. Telling, not asking, had been the answer. That said, when I thanked the class for their cooperation, I couldn't have meant it more.

The writer is a training to be a teacher in London

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