What keeps me awake at night - Blindfolded into the bear pit

3rd June 2011 at 01:00
Anonymous views from education's front line

This week: a secondary NQT in south London.

Two girls were having an altercation over a particularly wet and filthy cleaning cloth at the back of the classroom, a group of boys were drawing obscene graffiti on their desks and three other girls were chasing each other around the room, leaving a trail of expletives in their wake.

I was in the first week of my second PGCE placement in a London state school and the teacher I was meant to be observing was, unexpectedly, on leave. The cover teacher who had been dispatched to step into the breach was taking flak from all sides and I was a novice on a very steep learning curve.

My experience of teaching had been based almost entirely in the independent sector, both as a student myself and in the two years I had spent as an unqualified teacher. I suddenly felt that I was completely out of my depth. After 40 minutes of trying to maintain a modicum of order and receiving some very personal verbal abuse for her efforts, the cover teacher sent the class on their way, turned to me and, with no trace of sarcasm in her voice, said, "Well, that went well".

From what I've read in The TES, even experienced teachers can find managing challenging children one of the hardest parts of their job. As a direct response to bad behaviour and not being able to teach effectively, many consider abandoning their careers. It is therefore no surprise that student teachers and NQTs often feel so ill-equipped to manage difficult classes.

In his report on behaviour in 2010, Sir Alan Steer stated that nearly 39 per cent of teachers have had to deal with physical aggression in the past academic year and that 87 per cent had reported incidents involving violence towards another pupil. When I talk to friends from outside the teaching profession, they are often surprised when I describe the lack of guidance for behaviour management in initial teacher training. As far as they are concerned, "crowd control" is a fundamental part of being a teacher.

In the recent Commons select committee report on education, MP Graham Stuart states that the onus is on the Government to draw up a national curriculum to engage and stimulate students so that they are less likely to disrupt one another, adding that teachers should be left to decide how to apply it. However, I think applying changes to the national curriculum at this time would be a waste of time and resources.

Yes, I believe that we can all learn new strategies as teachers to promote positive behaviour in the classroom. But, fundamentally, isn't bad behaviour in the classroom a far wider cultural issue that needs to be addressed? We would all prefer to end more lessons saying, "Well, that went well" - and mean it.

To tell us what terrifies you or to share the unscripted events that have happened in your classroom, email michael.shaw@tes.co.uk.

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