A story of two halves

23rd December 2005 at 00:00
Finding a balance between teacher and tutor is hard. Behaviour management expert Sue Cowley advises


"I feel I'm not helping them as much as I could"

I decided on a career change in a moment of madness after having a baby, and started this September as a history NQT. I have three small children at home, so there is only so much time I can give to the job.

My school and department are great. The teaching is going well and I am working hard at preparation and planning. However, I have been given a Year 10 form group to tutor. As a mature graduate I am confident about new projects, but I was terrified about this one. Something along the lines of, "Oh my God, what if they hate me." I have to spend two form periods a day with them for the next two years.

As Sue advised, I began by trying to build the relationship between us, and things went fairly smoothly. I found out about the pupils by getting them to fill in a questionnaire. I found out their dates of birth and I send them a card and get the form to sing on their birthday. I've spent time with each one to discover their interests and as a result we have settled in well this term. However, I feel I could make a full-time job just being a tutor, never mind actually teaching.

After the honeymoon period I wanted to get the more difficult form members to start attending and participating. A couple of the boys had some behaviour issues with other staff. I put them on report to me three times day and they soon pulled their socks up.

I have problems with a couple of girls who don't turn up until five minutes before the end of registration, or not at all. They are problematic for nearly all other staff. In lessons, they think the rules don't apply to them and that planners are for others.

I tried putting them on report, but that didn't work, and they don't turn up for detentions. It then has to be referred to head of year who sorts them out. This doesn't help my authority; I'm not sure what to try next.

My question is: how do I balance the demands of being a newly qualified teacher and all that it entails with being a good form tutor? How do I build on my relationship with my group to make sure that the pupils in the form progress and succeed this year, and especially next year? I feel I'm not helping them as much as I could.

The head of year is excellent and highly experienced. She's very supportive but I feel I'm barely keeping my head above water. Am I making more work for myself than I need to, or is there a secret formula to making more time? How do I achieve a balance between work and life, and as a teacher and a tutor?

Joanne Cooper Nuttall is a history NQT at St Georges C of E high school, in Blackpool


"Accept that you can't change the world, particularly when dealing with challenging behaviour"

Joanne first contacted me in the summer, concerned about how she was going to deal with her new form group. Their previous tutor had been with them for three years, and she needed advice about the appropriate style to use.

At the time, I suggested she be reasonably relaxed. Although it's good to be strict with your classes, a tutor group is a different prospect. Going in too hard with a Year 10 form could lead to unnecessary friction and confrontation. They are young adults and might resent a teacher who imposes strict boundaries on form time, especially if they had a relaxed relationship with their previous tutor.

Sensibly, Joanne began by focusing on what was important - getting to know her form group. She has managed to create a good relationship with the majority of the class. It's great that she is acknowledging every pupil's birthday.

Now Joanne needs to deal with a few stragglers, particularly these girls who are constantly late. She should clarify her position with the form and head of year. Is there a time past which she marks pupils as late? What happens if they receive two or three late marks in a week? How are missed detentions going to be followed up?

I would also advise Joanne to consider contacting the parents. Are these girls late arriving at school, or are they on time, but not heading straight to registration? A quick word at home might help to sort them out.

If it doesn't, Joanne should apply the sanctions as the school outlines, but not be too hard on herself if she can't change the behaviour of a small but difficult minority.

There are two key areas in which Joanne can help her form group in the next couple of years. First, she can offer a friendly listening ear when they are feeling pressured or need advice. Second, she can help them to organise their time and workload in that all important examination year, for instance, making sure they hand coursework in on time or plan sensible revision timetables.

Joanne's other concern - the difficulty of achieving a worklife balance - is the classic conundrum for every newly qualified teacher. The truth is that the job of a teacher is as big as you wish to make it. You could work 247 and still not do everything you might usefully do. At the moment, planning, teaching and classroom management will take up a great deal of your energy. With experience, these aspects of the job become easier to manage.

Learn to prioritise. It's easy to say, but tricky to do. Accept that you cannot do everything and that sometimes you must make do with less than perfection. Make life easy for yourself when possible, and don't always teach in a full-on, energy intensive way. Sometimes, a bout of silent reading or a lesson spent watching a video will be just what the doctor ordered.

As a tutor, paperwork can eat up your time. Give your form group incentives to be as helpful as possible with administrative tasks, for instance, giving a reward for pupils who return a form the day after it is handed out. Don't spend your life chasing pupils for absence notes - give them a couple of days to bring you a letter, before chasing up parents on the phone.

Delegate jobs whenever possible, in lessons and in form time. Pupils can do many tasks for you, such as handing out books, marking bits of each other's work, filing notes, tidying cupboards, even delivering part of a lesson.

Finally, make you the person a priority, as well as you the teacher. Accept that you can't change the world, particularly when dealing with challenging behaviour. Do your best for your pupils, but don't beat yourself up if you don't always succeed. Put yourself and your own life first: in the long run, it will make you a better teacher.

Sue Cowley is author of 'Getting the Buggers to Behave' (Continuum)


* Concentrate on building relationships: At heart, school is all about relationships, whether as a tutor or as a teacher. Get to know your pupils and work with them, not against them.

* Don't be a perfectionist: You simply can't get everything 100 per cent right all the time. Learn when "good enough" will have to do. Give yourself the occasional easy lesson, without feeling guilty about it.

* Work out what really matters: Some jobs are essential, others are the icing on the cake. Get important work done and dusted as soon as possible.

In your first year, your main energies will be spent on developing a successful classroom practice.

* Do some bits you enjoy: On the other hand, don't make life dull for yourself all the time. Include some activities that inspire or enthuse you, even if they aren't strictly essential.

* Create a divide: A teacher once said to me, "the caring stops at five o'clock". Use this as a mental reminder not to take your work and your worries home with you.

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