Imagine that you are a small child in a large crowd of adults. Imagine how overwhelming and scary the feeling of huge, looming people would be. Now imagine that, for some reason, you had to control that crowd – move them around a confined space, for example – and tell them off for not moving where you asked them to go. That would be a pretty daunting task for you, right?
Well, this is basically what it feels like being a tiny teacher in a secondary school classroom. Even some of the Year 7s tower over me.
There is an argument that size shouldn’t matter when it comes to behaviour management. It’s about body language, consistency, tone and relationships. Now these are all important, sure, but denying that size plays a part is foolish.
Over the course of my relatively short (pun intended) career, I have discovered that the standard behaviour management techniques typically do not apply to very short teachers – of which I am one. I know of many physically imposing teachers who have perfected the art of a military-style broadening of the shoulders, grounding of the feet and a loud shout down a corridor of noisy and misbehaving youngsters. This controls them with great and immediate effect. If I attempted the same techniques as these teachers not only would I look like a squeaky, angry guinea pig, I would look like a squeaky, angry guinea pig being ignored by a corridor full of kids. So, this is how I manage behaviour as a tiny teacher.
At the start of the year, I establish a place. My “place” in the classroom is usually at the front, in the middle of the room. From the beginning of term, I train the students that when I return to “my place” I am ready to do some teacher-led activities.
I don’t say anything. Standing still in “my place” and not talking yields the following results: initially there is an awkward period of just standing there holding my ground, feeling self-conscious, then one or two kids notice that I am in “the place” waiting, they tell other students, who in turn tell others. Within a few minutes, the group task has ended and a class of quiet students are sitting in front of me. It doesn’t happen instantly – it needs constant practise – but if you stay patient and keep repeating it, in time you will have a fail-safe method to start and stop noise.
If you have an interactive whiteboard, you can use the timer tool on it, with the alarm switched on (I like the one that looks like an egg-timer), to make the class silent. If not, a good old-fashioned clock works well, too.
Likewise, using a variety of silence signals can assist such as “5-4-3-2-1”, or a clap and response like “Clap once if you hear me”, “Clap twice if you hear me”, etc. The more that you do it, the more that your students will get used to it.
Not you, them. When the time comes that you do need to do some reprimanding, wait for the lesson to end, keep the said student or students behind (it’s always good to avoid conflict in front of other pupils where possible) and before you begin your telling off, ask the student to sit down while you remain standing, thus surreptitiously giving yourself a height advantage when it is needed.
Don’t feel bad about getting help sometimes
Accept the fact that there are times when it would be preferable to call on the assistance of a taller or louder teacher. I have walked into a classroom full of Year 11 boys behaving less than desirably at lunchtime and known immediately that the best course of action was to get a taller teacher to walk in and “boom” them out of the room. There is nothing wrong with knowing your limits. There are times when my taller colleagues have asked me to step in because they knew that I would be better at dealing with a situation, too: it’s all about playing to your strengths.
Katie White is a teacher at Kingsbridge Community College in Devon @MrsWhiteWrites