Compliments all round

6th May 2005 at 01:00
Michelle Grant claims a smile goes a long way and helps form good relationships

After my PGCE in dance I was thrilled to find a job in a girl's school where dance is taught as a discrete subject and is valued by the school, its staff and the leadership team.

What I hadn't considered was that as one of two dance teachers I would be teaching almost every student across my two-week timetable. It was a daunting thought for me at the beginning of September - to remember the names of 900-odd girls and build a positive relationship with each of them.

On my first day with my tutor group (a class of 28 Year 7s), I was probably more nervous than they were. A hundred questions went through my mind - how should I address them? How do I introduce myself? What impression do I want them to have of me after the first day?

I realised that when all else fails, all you have to fall back on is yourself, and the only teacher I could be was me.

A smile makes me feel at ease so surely this would be the same for my students? I made it my task to make each of them smile as they entered the room. I know girls love compliments, so I tried to find ways to give each of them one that first day. Immediately they seemed to relax. I spoke firmly about my rules but wanted to know about them as people too.

At the end of my first term, having struggled to imprint students' names and faces in my mind, I thought about my relationship with them. Having a rapport with every student is tough for any teacher, but I was happy in the thought that beyond the testing behaviour - "kissing of the teeth", "dirty" looks and "under the breath" comments that followed some of my instructions - the majority smiled when they saw me outside school, said hello in the corridor and spoke to me respectfully.

Now, at the beginning of final term of my first year, I know that I made some important decisions at the start with regards to the way in which I approached the girls. Although, sometimes, their behaviour comes across as challenging, forceful and intimidating, I've realised that knowing what may have caused them to behave like that is the first step to understanding how to deal with it.

When I think back to the teachers I had as a student, I always had respect for the ones who seemed to care about who I was and what I did outside school, showing that they valued me as a person. Maybe it is an idealistic and naive approach, but so far, I'm making it work for me.

Michelle Grant is a dance teacher at Charles Edward Brooke school in south London

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