What keeps me awake at night - I failed before I'd really started

22nd July 2011 at 01:00
Anonymous views from education's front line

This week: a former primary teacher, now a tutor in the east of England

What keeps me awake at night is failure - like my first real teaching job. Before starting at the challenging inner-city primary, I bought a book about "positive behaviour strategies". I took photos of my class-to-be and made a welcome display. In July I observed their current teacher. The children took the register without a word from her. Smiling, she went on to numeracy, sent most of the pupils off to work and gave a few extra help. "You can see she doesn't understand when you're talking to the whole class," the teacher whispered to me. She knew her pupils well after two years. I didn't know their names.

Eagerly, I designed new classroom materials featuring dinosaurs, sharks and lions so the children could be in teams. Then I rewrote literacy and numeracy strategy unit plans on to the school's grids. Fresh from my PGCE, I thought that was what plans should look like. But I had crammed in so many objectives it was barely readable. I couldn't glance at it and follow it. Over the summer I was the only teacher in school, painting my classroom a cheerful colour. In the cupboard were three different textbooks to be photocopied and shared between 30 pupils. As I had been given a set of textbooks for each pupil during teaching practice, this was a shock. But I thought my preparation would make everything alright.

The children humoured me as I started term with a whole-class chat about "what you are looking forward to". I had no idea that I had to teach them how to work.

When their amazement wore off, I couldn't make them stop and look at me. So I shouted. Every day I started at full volume.

Colleagues complained about the noise. I used the school's sanctions, but the pupils soon stopped caring. Sending the same children to senior staff became embarrassing.

Soon some pupils were using pencils as weapons. I lost my positive attitude and my voice. I told my manager I couldn't make them line up quietly before they entered the classroom and she said, "That's because their expectations are low". At break time my manager came in and said, "Lock them out". I smiled and she said, "I'm serious. Lock them out". The staff all wore keys round their necks.

I lasted about two months before admitting defeat. I was told to leave without saying goodbye. So, on my last afternoon I told the children it was choosing time and got out all the toys. Peace reigned.

The "positive behaviour strategies" book had failed to mention that displays, decor and cheerful chats are the icing on the cake, not the main course of class control. Now I understand the mask: if you don't wear one and you are too friendly, young children don't feel like you are in control. Thankfully another school took me on, and I became a reasonably successful, fully qualified teacher.

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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