The power and the Gloria Gaynor

7th September 2001 at 01:00
Diane Allison with tips for probationers

As a new teacher, you've probably been too busy to count up all of your achievements so far this term. In fact, you might be thinking, "Achievements? What achievements? I'm just lucky they haven't fired me yet!" Let's take a moment, then, to reflect on all you have accomplished.

You made it through the first hideously nerve-racking meeting with the staff and pupils. You know most of your kids by name and are learning to bluff it with the staff you were introduced to in the first week and whose names you instantly forgot. You've made up seating plans, forward plans, worked out the stranger quirks of the registration system and have made a start on all your courses. You've absorbed huge quantities of information, skimmed over the school development plan and panicked over the department development plan.You've used the photocopier and lived to tell the tale, not to mention someone else's mug in the staffroom. After all that, I'd say you deserve a break. So relax, put your feet up and let's talk.

Ihave a feeling that, more than anything else, pupil management, discipline, whatever you want to call it, is the topic you want advice about, so here goes.

You know how, in Ally McBeal, Barry White sometimes appears and sings to John? Well, I have it on good authority that your imaginary song chum over the next few weeks is going to be Gloria Gaynor. Can you hear her?

At first you were afraid, you were petrified, Kept thinkin' 3F was the class that made you want to hide, But then you spent so many nights thinkin' how to stop things going wrong, And you grew strong and you learned how to carry on ...

Can I cut in? It seems to me that there are two main kinds of indiscipline in every school. The most common type is what in the trade is called low-level disruption (talk about covering a multitude of sins with a few words!) and that's what I'm going to help you with today.

Constant chatter, an aversion to facing the front, always forgetting to bring a pencil, having to be asked to take a jacket off at every lesson, interrupting instructions with a silly comment, easily going off the task, arriving late, chewing gum, throwing bits of rubber at pals, always wanting to go for a wander to the toilet - there are about a zillion examples of this type of behaviour. The good news is that your school will have a policy on how to deal with it effectively. My advice is to read, learn, put into effect and review.

The secret is a proportionate response. Don't worry if, so far, you feel you've been overreacting or letting things go when you shouldn't. Every teacher I know still gets it wrong from time to time, but once you've been using your school's system for a while, you will get better.

Here is the menu: a verbal warning; moving seats; a punishment exercise; a word in the corridor or at the end of the lesson, a detention or a visit to the quiet roomsupport base (for the pupil, not you, however tempted you may be).

A combination of one or more of these sanctions usually brings about the desired change in behaviour, especially when coupled with the praise and attention you are giving to pupils who are working hard and behaving well.

I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to accentuate the positive and keep your sense of humour and perspective, especially when it feels like those all around you are losing theirs. With some individuals you will be all too aware that there is a battle of wills going on. Try to be consistent, remain calm and, whenever you feel like progress is slow, remember Gloria's words of comfort and hang in there. Once they see you are holding your ground, things will improve.

You have all your life to live, and you have all your love to give and you will survive.

Diane Allison, author of The Year of Living Dangerously (Edinburgh City Council, pound;4.99), teaches in Midlothian

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