Show them who's in charge

14th January 2011 at 00:00
Managing behaviour is one of the biggest worries for new teachers, causing stress and anxiety. Former teacher Kathy Oxtoby advises how to tackle it head on

Dealing with poor behaviour is one of the most daunting challenges facing teachers at the beginning of their careers. Feeling ill-equipped to manage difficult classes "is a common cause of stress and anxiety for NQTs", says Julian Stanley, chief executive of the Teacher Support Network.

Even experienced teachers can find managing challenging children one of the hardest parts of their job. According to a 2010 behaviour survey from the Teacher Support Network, Parentline Plus and the NUT, more than 70 per cent of teachers have considered leaving the profession as a result of poor behaviour in schools, while 79 per cent of teachers said they felt "unable to teach as effectively".

A crucial step to positive classroom management for new teachers is to familiarise themselves with the school's behaviour policy and to make those rules explicit to students, because consistency is key, says Harriet Queralt, assistant headteacher and professional tutor at Aylesbury High School. "If the school expects students to line up outside the classroom before a lesson, make sure you comply with that policy - it shows them you know what you are doing," she says.

As well as establishing a regular classroom routine, teachers can also work with students to agree on a set of class rules, Ms Queralt says. "This approach gives students collective ownership of 'the rules'."

While adhering to school policies and procedures is vital, this should not prevent new teachers from building positive relationships with students, she stresses. "It's about getting a balance between upholding standards and setting boundaries and having good relationships with students - if you're too strict you could spoil it."

The idea that to gain the respect of students new teachers should "not smile until Christmas" is outdated, she feels. Likewise, John Westmore, deputy head of Hollickwood Primary advocates a friendlier approach. "You should smile from the outset. After all, if you watch a show, you wouldn't want to see the entertainer looking glum," he says.

Learning students' names and connecting with them, while establishing clear boundaries about what is acceptable, will build students' confidence in you and help your own confidence, says Mr Stanley. And focusing on positive rather than negative conduct can encourage good behaviour in the classroom. "It is tempting to focus on negative behaviour, but in doing so you are 'switching off' those students who are behaving in a positive way," says Ms Queralt.

Mr Westmore agrees it is natural to want to focus on the student who is misbehaving. But, he stresses: "You should not be drawn into that student's agenda. Focus on the good behaviour - do not dwell on the bad behaviour. Thank the other members of the class who are responding well, and this will help you establish control over the class."

Most schools have a range of measures in place to reward positive behaviour and NQTs should use them to promote good conduct in the classroom. These include awarding merit points and sending letters home praising good behaviour, so parents recognise when their child has behaved well.

When faced with challenging behaviour, new teachers should stay calm, not be drawn into a confrontation in front of the class and avoid making threats or delivering punishments that can not be carried through. "If a few children are misbehaving, don't single them out, get on with teaching the whole class so you don't lose focus," says Mr Stanley. He advises NQTs to have a word with the student individually, rather than making them the centre of attention, and to be clear about sanctions.

While these measures can help control a class, NQTs should not be afraid to seek the advice of experienced teachers. "There is huge pressure on all teachers to manage students, but even more so with NQTs because they do not want to appear incompetent," Mr Stanley says. Observing how experienced teachers deal with situations can help a new teacher enhance their classroom management and learn coping strategies. "New teachers often feel they have to stamp their mark on how they manage a class, but seeing how others deal with situations in a more understated way can be very useful," says Ms Queralt.

Having observed different classroom management skills, new teachers should then not be afraid to experiment with ways of dealing with challenging students and should be encouraged to tailor their approach in response to individual classes. "Find your own style," says Mr Stanley. "Take a step back and look after yourself in the process. You can't instantly be a super-teacher. Recognise your failures and ask for support."

Mr Westmore emphasises the need to be consistent and learn from good practice: "It will get better, and you will get better too."


- Familiarise yourself with the school's behaviour management policy.

- Be direct in your language. Don't say "would you mind ...", say "what I want you to do is ...".

- Grab attention at the beginning of class, eg a PowerPoint slide that states the lesson's objectives.

- Do not confront students in front of the rest of the class. Talk to them personally about their behaviour.

- Be positive. Rather than saying "it's rude not to listen", say "could everyone be quiet because you might miss something".

- Have a seating plan for students to help you control the lesson.

- With younger children, practice focused fidgeting. Give them stress balls to squeeze.

- Try the "chatterboxing" technique. Ask a question, then positively promote that you want them to talk in groups about the answer and the task.

- Classroom disruption can often be caused by students not understanding instructions. To make the process easier and to act as a visual memory aid, teachers can move to a different place in the classroom as they deliver each instruction.

- Learn from experienced teachers and do not be afraid to ask for help so you can benefit from observing their behaviour management techniques.


TES Resources:

TES behaviour forum:

National Union of Teachers:

Teacher Support Network:

NASUWT information on behaviour management: http:bit.lyNASUWT.

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