The Behaviour Question

11th November 2011 at 00:00

I really want to stop shouting at my pupils, but sometimes it feels like it's the only way to get them to pay attention. I feel it is unprofessional and I'm worried about the effect on my health - my throat is sore and my voice is going. I'm an NQT with a Year 5 class. How do I get them to listen to me?

What you said


Try whispering! Believe me, it works - though not for ever.


If you're trying to get their attention, use non-shouty methods: clap, rattle a tambourine. With my Year 7s, if I can't get quiet I start by writing a sentence on the board, something like: "I'd like to tell you all something, but you're being so noisy that you can't hear me." I normally give them about a minute to settle. If they still aren't quite there, I then write underneath it: "Minutes staying behind at breaklunch time ..."

The expert view

You're absolutely right about shouting. It sometimes feels like the right thing to do, but that's usually an emotional reaction to frustration. Shouting is an intimidatory tactic that just provides sport for the children and undermines your authority. And once you've done it, where do you go from there?

So, first of all, stop shouting. I only ever shout at a class if there is a safety issue or because there is so much noise that I temporarily have to raise my voice to the point where I can cut through it to issue my initial instruction - for example, in a playground or on entering a noisy room.

Always speak slightly above normal conversational level (projecting to the back), and speak slowly and carefully as a default. Say as little as possible - if that (to quote the novelist Elmore Leonard). And make sure you communicate with maximum impact by saying only what you mean and always doing what you say you will.

Replace shouting with effective communication: if you say you want silence, then say it once, twice, three times. Then start taking names and keeping kids behind later on. They will soon get the message that you aren't to be ignored.

It isn't the volume of a command that makes it an imperative, but the sincerity and the consequences of that command. If you maintain this simple policy, then you show them that your words have meaning. But if you don't set clear behavioural boundaries and reinforce them with tough love, then the words will fail to engage. They stay as just words, and words can be ignored.

Back up your words with actions and you'll never have to raise your voice again. Besides, you deserve better than ruining your throat every day until you can barely speak. Your voice is one of your main tools in teaching, so look after it.

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

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