Praise, don't raise your voice

11th May 2007 at 01:00
Learning a range of platitudes is an initiation into teaching. And among them is: "The PGCE is the worst year of your life." It is, but the NQT year is worse. This time last year, I had landed a job in the perfect school, passed my PGCE with aplomb and was euphoric.

My priorities in order, I had raided the stationer's, excitedly scribed my class lists into my planner and was convinced the hard part was over. I was in for a shock. Before long, I was seriously considering becoming a manager at Tesco. I was even vaguely wondering what non-life-threatening illness I could procure.

Year 9 was clearly plotting against me. Typically, the pupils treated my classroom like a social gathering place, only peripherally aware of some woman in the corner. I knew they were learning nothing but everything I tried, failed.

At the lowest ebb, the girls would nonchalantly insist they had more important things to do than come to class right away and that they - with a Catherine Tate wave of the hand and a Farrah Fawcett flick of the hair - would be: "There in a minute, Miss."

"I can't be bothered doing this, Miss", one of them said yet again and promptly put her head on the table signalling her intention to do nothing.

Rather than recognise a misguided attempt for attention and tactically ignore her, I erupted and a confrontation followed.

At least it was in the corridor and not in front of the class - a betting ring might have commenced and the odds would have been against me. As she became more distressed and sobbed that I only saw the bad in her, I realised I was Frankenstein, wielding the tools of my own destruction. I had made my own monstrous bed; I wasn't doing anything I had been trained to do.

I finally did what I should have done all along. I began using praise and giving stickers for anything - putting hands up without shouting out, getting rid of chewing gum, not calling me a hippy.

The one platitude that could have given me solace I had ignored: "Most behaviour problems can be solved with praise." The change was instantaneous and now I hum the sweet choral harmonies of: "Those who can, teach."

Lisa Goucher is a new teacher in Rochdale

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