I get sick at the thought of going to school because of a horrendous Year 9 class. I've tried textbook behaviour strategies and don't know what else to do. What's the answer?
Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own Ted says
Strategies out of a textbook do not always fit real life problems, though they may offer clues. You need to personalise what you do, make it fit more closely to the pupils, yourself, the subject you are trying to teach, and the general school context.
The first and obvious question is: do other teachers have similar problems with the class? If so, then this is a whole-school issue, not just a problem for you. If not, then you should talk to (or observe, if possible) some of your colleagues to see if they have positive suggestions or successful strategies.
You need to analyse why you find the class so "horrendous". Is it all of them, or just a few? Who are the pupils you find most difficult? Sometimes two or three disruptive students can distort the image of the class and other members of the group might be grateful if you dealt with them effectively.
Are your lessons interesting and demanding, or routine and tedious? Are pupils active, or expected to be passive? Have you talked to some, one-to-one, to see how they perceive things?
Involve the class more directly in your planning. In a number of secondary schools where they have consulted pupils about the girls' PE programme, for example, the sick notes virtually disappeared when they introduced more aerobics and girls were allowed to wear leotards. Positive action is better than hand-wringing.
Although you say you have tried "all the textbook strategies", have you given them enough time to take effect? Children respond to routine and can become unsettled if you are chopping and changing. Start the lesson promptly and keep them working until it ends. You will then set the expectation that they will work. Set tasks that pupils can do; be positive and recognise success sincerely. Remove troublemakers for several lessons so you can establish routines. Have a colleague teach co-operatively with you. This will not only share the problem and provide moral support, but he or she might be able to give constructive criticism of your classroom management.
Alasdair Macdonald, Glasgow
Use the carrot and stick method You should not be dealing with this class alone - you need your department's support. I am in my third year of teaching at secondary level.
I started at a new school in September and have two Year 10 classes where I experienced exactly the same feelings. I spoke to my department head who gave me great advice.
Forget about teaching. Without discipline, you cannot teach. Design activities where pupils are forced to work alone - calmly . At the start of the lesson tell pupils that they will receive either an hour's detention after school or a commendation. Explain what behaviour will lead to which.
This way, pupils decide their fate. I was amazed at the results; the class worked in silence apart from a couple of individuals who ended up with an hour after school.
The stakes were upped to three good lessons for a commendation, but still an hour after school for unacceptable behaviour. I have regained control and am building good working relationships with the pupils. Even the offenders are much improved.
Give troublemakers responsibility
One way to make a noisy and lively class easier on the nerves is to "institutionalise" the behaviour. This can be done by holding debates or doing group work. Troublemakers can be given key roles - as proposers, seconders, or leaders. Students should be instructed to discuss the given topics among themselves, an instruction which often results in silence.
To ensure some educational outcome, tell the students that the debate will be conducted in a future lesson. If you choose group work, leaders, usually the troublemakers, will be required to present the paper. Students often behave better when responsible to their peers.
Anthony Ireland, Lancashire