Tales from new teachers - Soul-destroying disruption

7th February 2014 at 00:00

The problem

My Tuesday afternoon class is a hostile crowd. They are often mentioned in the staffroom in hushed whispers.

Before teaching them, I thought I would pre-empt the expected behaviour, so asked the teaching assistant to mark on the seating plan which students caused problems, but she advised that it would be quicker to mark which ones didn't. Understandably, she made herself scarce at every opportunity in class and I had to (begrudgingly) admire this.

So what problems did they give me? Honestly, nothing major. No chair-throwing, fighting or swearing. Instead, it was the dull ache of low-level disruption - the chattering, ruler-flicking, roaming, bickering, whingeing behaviour that slowly erodes your soul and makes teaching anything of substance nigh on impossible. And it wasn't just two or three culprits but 32. (Actually, 31. The boy with a hearing impairment at the front was fine.)

The options

Our behaviour policy offered me very little in the way of sanctions, as what they were up to wasn't deemed a serious violation. And sadly such behaviour is not eradicated by a feeble 15-minute detention. I set a whole-class detention one day, as everyone in the room (bar one) genuinely had done wrong, but had to rescind this as I was told by the senior leadership team that it wasn't fair on those who had behaved. "But no one did," I said. "Rubbish," they replied.

I decided to phone the homes of the worst offenders, only to find myself speaking to dejected, frustrated parents who were at their wits' end. "You're the fifth teacher I've spoken to this week," one frustrated mum said.

My head of department suggested several solutions, all vengeful, none necessarily practical or indeed legal. My husband announced that he would "sort them out" if I wanted him to. Perhaps not.

The result

Reasoning that the devil makes work for idle hands, I upped the level of challenge in the class significantly. An obvious solution in hindsight. Suddenly the cocky kids were not so cocky and actually had to work rather hard to keep up.

I created resources for the less able students, too, as my biggest fear was leaving them behind. I realised that I had previously been over-catering for them to the detriment of the more able students. As a result of the changes, grades have improved dramatically. Behaviour, while not exemplary, is significantly better. Perhaps, one day, the teaching assistant may even return to the class.

The writer is training to be a secondary history teacher in England.

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