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Tales from new teachers - Making english fun

The problem

It was September and I was about to take over a challenging class, one of the lower sets working towards the English exams. Attendance was low, effort was minimal and they spent the lessons insulting each other in the spirit of "banter".

My first lesson was a bit of a car crash. It primarily consisted of the students being very vocal about how much they disliked the text they had been set and asking what the point of English was anyway if they already knew how to speak it. Enjoying the subject was clearly just for geeks and swots.

I entered this profession in the belief that I should bring positivity and enthusiasm to the classroom. I wanted them to see that English could be fun. But would that strategy work for lower sets?

The solution

I spoke to my mentor and she felt that it was partly a behaviour management issue. She advocated a zero-tolerance policy as the best way to avoid any disruption.

I also spoke to their previous teacher who gave me advice on seating plans that worked for behaviour but also some teaching strategies that the children enjoyed.

I turned to the teaching assistants, too. They knew the group well and gave me some pointers on my planning.

The result

I went for a mix of behaviour management and teaching strategy changes. I decided to be as positive as possible almost all the time, so that any displeasure I wanted to display would stand out against this positivity. I made sure I was enthusiastic about every little thing we studied and always tried to link it to something relevant in their lives, whether this was a Kanye West lyric or the latest controversy from the world of football.

I wasn't entirely sure how well this was going until my head of department stopped me to say that a student from that group had approached her to explain how much she now looked forward to English lessons. Another student has even asked to study the subject at college.

This experience has taught me that every teacher will have different strategies for managing challenging classes; there is no prescriptive right answer. Just as students are encouraged to explore their individuality as learners, we can do so as teachers.

The writer is in her first year of teaching in Gloucester, England

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