As a teacher, you cannot keep an eye on your class for every second of every lesson. You may have to write on a whiteboard, speak to a guest or read a student's work. And as soon as your attention wavers, a member of your class will notice and take the opportunity to misbehave.
That is why you need a "spotter" moving among the students - an observer who can see what you can't and nip problems in the bud before they blossom into full-blown issues. That person is your teaching assistant (TA).
Having worked as a TA for the past 14 years, I have developed a variety of skills that can contribute to successful classroom management. TAs are recognised for their role in the learning process but their contribution to a positive learning environment can often be undervalued.
Here are four key ways in which your TA can have a significant impact on behaviour.
1 The overall observation
The simple act of sitting at the back of the classroom as the lesson is introduced offers a unique perspective on the class. Teachers should tap into this wealth of information by holding a debrief with TAs each week to review seating plans, monitor contributions to the lesson and assess pupil dynamics.
2 The `get on' glare
Give your TA the confidence to enforce behaviour expectations. A well-placed glance is often all that is needed to quash potential disruption. The pupil suddenly becomes aware that the TA is watching. Realising that the teacher could soon become involved, they swiftly return their full concentration to the lesson.
3 The inconspicuous interception
Occasionally, the glare is insufficient and a more proactive approach is required - when a pupil's pen suddenly "explodes", for example (a phenomenon that seems exclusively to affect teenagers). This incident could easily escalate, resulting in a teacher-pupil interaction that wastes valuable learning time. Let your TA know that when they see such a situation develop, they have your permission to deal with it quickly and efficiently - binning the pen, providing a replacement and a tissue - all before the issue becomes public knowledge.
This method also works for more deliberate forms of defiance. You can silently reprimand a gum-chewing child by presenting them with the bin. A subtle nod to the teacher is then all it takes to communicate that the issue has been resolved. This technique allows for the easy confiscation of phones and other objects, too.
4 The caring consolation
It is not only misbehaviour that can lead to disruption; a distraught pupil can pose just as much of a threat to the learning process. All may appear calm until a child's face suddenly begins to crumple before your eyes. This can quickly descend into a version of The Jeremy Kyle Show, with pupils taking it upon themselves to give advice.
Removing the pupil from the classroom and discussing the issue in a more secluded environment prevents the drama from escalating. The problem can then be addressed and resolved while the rest of the class continues with the lesson. You need to give the TA your support to handle situations like this.
The techniques outlined above will succeed only if the TA and the class teacher have a positive working relationship. Both must open up lines of communication to discuss and coordinate behaviour strategies. Take a unified approach and resolve any issues after, not during, the lesson. If you fail to present a united front to the students, they will see this as an opportunity to pit you against each other.
That's not to say you can't have different methods. When I worked with a relatively strict member of staff, he joked that he was the bad cop to my good cop, as I tended to adopt a caring role rather than being a disciplinarian. He was happy with this set-up, but I would have been equally happy to adapt had he wanted me to.
It's all about communication. TAs can be a crucial tool in behaviour management, as long as they are enabled to fulfil their potential.
Abigail Joachim is a higher-level teaching assistant in the English department at Westbourne Academy in Suffolk
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