Behaviour at its best

19th November 2004 at 00:00
Geoff Barton measures a new behaviour handbook against those of other experts

The New Teacher's Survival Guide to Behaviour

By Sue Roffey

Sage Publications pound;16.99

You could spend your first six months in teaching reading the guidance of gurus on lesson planning, behaviour management, applying for jobs, special needs and surviving stress. In fact, one initial source of stress is knowing which books are worth reading.

Sue Roffey's Survival Guide is the latest in this tradition. Written by a former teacher and educational psychologist, the book covers much more than behaviour. It starts with grand promises. For example, it says it will cure that regular "Sunday sinking sensation". Some claim.

Chapter one is about being a teacher. It reminds us that students are more likely to behave well if the relationship we have is based on "fairness, negotiation and mutual respect". It uses a self-evaluation format to explore the reader's motivation for becoming a teacher. It points out the importance of body language to manage student behaviour.

The book aims to be comprehensive, with advice on how to relax, descriptions of types of parents you might encounter, and guidance on setting up the classroom.

This breadth is a strength and a weakness of the book. Some advice is so vague to the point of being platitudinous ("Make a point of acknowledging the value of the support staff in making your job run smoothly"), while other sections are spot-on, such as the summary of the things a successful teacher does (scans the class frequently; has brief interactions with many students rather than lengthy ones with a few; pays minimal attention to minor disruptions, and so on).

The tone is positive and reassuring, and new teachers will find hints and tips to ease them into the profession. But this sort of advice manual has tough competition. Perhaps the best-known expert on classroom management is Australian Bill Rogers, whose work consistently shows an intuitive feel for the realities of the classroom.

His book, Cracking the Hard Class (Paul Chapman pound;16.99), for example, is packed with practical advice. He shows us that being an effective teacher isn't a result of some God-given charisma and presence, but can be developed through a series of specific skills and learnt actions.

As in his videos, Rogers pays attention to the way we use our voices and body language. I think This is one of the most useful books around for new teachers. You'll find details of Bill Rogers's publications on and details of UK lectures from

Similarly, there is a whole publishing and public-speaking industry growing up around former UK teacher Sue Cowley. Her starting point was the fabulously well-titled Getting the Buggers to Behave (Continuum pound;12.99). A conveyor belt of advice books has followed, including Getting the Buggers to Write, Getting the Buggers to Think and most recently Getting Your Little Darlings to Behave aimed at parents.

A distinctive feature of her books is the use of scripts. She provides the script of how not to start a lesson or reprimand a student, then gives a better model. This approach risks parody, but it is useful because it shows that the difference between success and failure as a teacher is often not what you are doing or saying, but how. It is this attention to detail that can make the biggest impact on the quality of our classroom work.

With books by gurus, you have to follow the voice you most trust and respect. All of these titles have something to offer. But treat with caution any promises about eradicating the Sunday evening blues - there are some things no book can do, although you may learn to do them for yourself.

Geoff Barton is headteacher at King Edward VI school, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. He also writes English textbooks

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