Tales from new teachers

11th April 2014 at 01:00
when energy levels rocket

The problem

The sea of noise hits you. Instantly, you feel isolated and alone, even though you are standing at the front of a room full of 14- and 15-year-olds. Their bodies are filled with hormones, their systems are in overdrive owing to high lunchtime doses of energy drinks, crisps and sweets. And now, with the sound of the bell still echoing, it's up to you to calm them down, confiscate the cans of soft drink and get them to work. Not an easy task for any teacher and certainly not one who is just starting out.

Every Thursday afternoon I found myself in this predicament - in front of a class overloaded with energy and sugar. A class more interested in who had said and done what at lunchtime than in whatever work I set them.

I had to find a way of prising the cans and crisps out of their hands, relegating the playground gossip, suppressing the songs on their mobile phones and replacing it all with the lesson and the tasks that required their full attention.

The options

Step one is admitting that there is a problem. I was a new teacher, I was bound to have difficulties and this was clearly one of them. Although it is hard to admit you are struggling in your first year of teaching, you find that people are really supportive rather than thinking you are weak. When I consulted with colleagues, they offered sympathy and various nuggets of advice. Having taken on board the tips and reflecting on my own practice, I came to the conclusion that I should embrace the students' energy and try to channel it productively and positively.

The result

Following this change in tack, I made it my quest to tap into the students' high spirits. I added competition through quizzes, and gave them hands-on tasks such as creating posters and making PowerPoints. I channelled their boundless energy by propelling them to the front of the class to present to their peers, something many of them were ordinarily reluctant to do. When using these active, student-centred activities I found the teenagers were more engaged and seemed to relish the opportunity to demonstrate what they could do.

I realised I had taken the knee-jerk reaction of retreating when faced with their animated, opinionated and adrenalin-filled antics after lunch. What I needed to do was to be brave, show them I trusted them and give them an outlet for their energies instead of being strict and rigid. There was no point trying to contain them. I had to let them flourish and express themselves.

The writer is a newly qualified teacher in Scotland

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