I have just started my NQT year in a comprehensive and am really enjoying it. I have a couple of tricky classes, but feel I am making good progress with most of my pupils. My Year 9 class, on the other hand, is a nightmare. I have several problems with them. When I start a lesson, even though I always have a starter activity on the board, they ignore it and it's hard to get them to be quiet so I can speak. There is constant low-level disruption and even when they are working the volume is loud.
What you said
I have a "settling time" challenge for my Year 7s and 8s. I time them from the moment I let them in to the moment they are sat down in silence with their equipment out. I record the times and add them up every half-term. The class with the lowest average time score wins the challenge; they each earn a credit and a sweet, and I emphasise the importance of teamwork in achieving a good score. This depends on pupils fully appreciating this aspect, but also having a reward that they want to work for.
If they don't buy this you could reward quickly and publicly everyone who has settled without prompting, or time how long it takes to settle and add that on to the end of the lesson. Whatever you choose, make sure it's clear and consistent. For noise during the activity, there is a great resource on the TES website with Super Mario lives that get taken away when the noise level creeps up. If they run out of lives, they have to work on their own, in silence.
The expert view
Year 9s are a beauty, aren't they? This is very common, don't worry. Treat yourself to a reboot. Next lesson give them your rules and emphasise anything they aren't doing properly. They will probably make a fuss about it. Make the consequences clear if they don't keep to the boundaries.
Then, start taking names of every pupil who transgresses. No smileys on the board or frowny faces - there are too many pupils for that trick. The only meaningful question you should ask is: "Has pupil x behaved as I asked them to?" If not, then detain them. Avoid the "it's not fair" comments by keeping every single one who failed to do as you asked. That might be most of them. So what? They deserved it. Keep it this simple and they can howl all they like, because you will be righteous.
Repeat, repeat, lesson after lesson. You wear them down eventually. This is, I might add, a tiring strategy for you too. Make a big deal about lesson starts, for example, and then proceed as above. Yes, there are loads of issues, but the solution cuts through them all. There is permitted behaviour, and there is forbidden. The rest is up to you. Good luck.
Tom Bennett is author of The Behaviour Guru and Not Quite a Teacher. Read more from Tom on his blog, behaviourguru.blogspot.com, or follow him on Twitter at @tombennett71. His latest book, Teacher, is out now, published by Continuum
Post your questions at www.tes.co.ukbehaviour.