The Behaviour Question

4th November 2011 at 00:00

I did two days of supply teaching last week in my own subject (secondary maths) and there is a possibility that it will continue this week. Most of the classes subjected me to the usual disdain as they simply didn't see me as a "proper teacher", but just the "supply". The main issue was getting the attention of the class. No teaching took place because they wouldn't be quiet for longer than five seconds, despite numerous requests. They acted as if I was invisible, often telling me to "hang on a minute" while they finished their conversations. What strategies would you suggest for at least getting the children to acknowledge me?

What you said


I would work on learning their names, or at least the names of those who are most challenging. Talking to them by name, and making it clear you know the school's official behaviour policies and the names of senior teachers, will make it clear your threats aren't hollow.

The expert view

I feel your pain. The supply teacher's lot is not a happy one. Most full-time teachers can rely on developing learning relationships with their classes. But that's not an option for you. In many ways, it's an impossible expectation. Allowing supply teachers to walk into an unfamiliar room and expecting anything other than experimental cabaret theatre is pretty optimistic in many schools.

But without the relationship, you need to work on the other aspect of behaviour management - the structural apparatus:

1. Know who the heads of yearheads of the school are by name. Jot down the hierarchy that exists. Learn the names of the teachers you will be covering for and their line managers.

2. Learn the behaviour policy of the school - for example, if they use consequence codes, coolers or quiet rooms - and mention it specifically in your dealings with pupils.

3. Communicate to the children that you have high learning and behavioural expectations of them. This could be a short lecture or even just a hand-out.

4. Ask a good teacher to come in with you the first time you take the class, and have a seating plan ready. You will only need the teacher for five minutes and you will have something very valuable indeed - names to faces.

5. Know the name of a teacher close by who can assist you. It's OK to step next door for a second if it's to get someone to help you restore order - better that than suffering.

6. Ask a teacher to pop in 10 minutes into the lesson, so they can escort anyone persistently disruptive out of the room.

7. Take the names of anyone who really pulverises your lesson to a line managersenior staff member. Ask them what will be done and on what timescale.

If you're serious about being a real teacher to these students for a short time (and it sounds like you are), then doing these things is necessary to get some real learning done. The majority of the pupils probably want to get on with something, and they will secretly thank you for taking charge.

Tom Bennett is author of The Behaviour Guru and Not Quite a Teacher.

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