Oh no… Behaviour Management

1 June 2020 0 By miriam
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

I recently went to an NQT seminar in London. At one point, we had to rearrange ourselves, mingle with other people we hadn’t talked to yet, and pick a topic from the list. Being the brave woman that I am, I said to the two men in my group: “I’d like to talk about behaviour management, and see what you do to tackle poor behaviour in rowdy classes.” The immediate response was: “ You have issues with behaviour management? I HAVE NO ISSUES WITH BEHAVIOUR MANAGEMENT!” …Of course you don’t. No one does, right?… Right.

I then continued to push him a bit, and asked what his lessons look like, how he teaches, and why he thinks he’s got a firm grip on behaviour management, to which he basically replied that his lessons are all fun and games, and he doesn’t believe in students just sitting down and writing in their books. “Okay”, I thought, that’ll do.

It’s not that I don’t like fun and games every once in a while, but my first priorities will always be learning and progress. That doesn’t mean that there can’t be any fun elements in the lessons, but they should be seen by the students as treats, something they can look forward to, when they’ve worked, and behaved well. My already very well behaved year 7 French class went absolutely bonkers about playing ‘Onze’, or, as they coined it: ‘The game that shall not be named’ (Link to a description of the game here).

Why are they so keen to play it? Because it is an occasional, special treat that they have to work for, and behave for. Simple.

Now that I’ve told you this little anecdote, let’s get deep into the topic, as it’s a crucial one, and tricky to handle for new teachers. It always is, and don’t let other people tell you that it’s not, because everyone struggles with it in one way or another, at a point in their career. If not with all classes, then at least with one, or a few singular students that can make your experience hell. And again, many things come down to the school type, and reading the unwritten rules that apply to the school.

How will parents react to you disciplining their child? This, nowadays is a big deal, and if you’re unlucky enough to not have your school’s backing, can indeed cost you your job, so it’s not something that should be taken too lightly. Is the child’s parent teaching at your school? Is the child’s parent another teacher’s friend? Before you know it, you are might be complained about to your boss, and although not officially a reason, this can be blown up, and used against you. I am not writing this to scare you senseless, and this is the worst case scenario, but these things can happen, especially in private school settings.

In other cases, you might be dealing with students whose parents don’t care at all. Never show up to parents’ evening, don’t get back to emails, etc. and their child has just resigned, because ‘it doesn’t matter anyway’. They don’t want to learn, they hate your subject, and might hate you as a result of you trying to push them in the right direction. It’s tough, because you feel the pressure of still needing to progress them, and getting them to work, but you just haven’t got the faintest idea of how to even get them to not disrupt your lesson, if not participating.

If you are doing a PGCE, it might be the case that you are just not being taken seriously by the students, because they know you are learning, and not a ‘proper’ teacher yet. You might even be unlucky enough to not have any support by the ones who should be your mentors or guides. In this case just hold on to the following: it’ll only be for a few months. It’ll be over before you know it. Get through it, without losing your mind, be the bigger person, because you are. Remind yourself that you are the adult here. Despite the fact that they might think they know more than you, despite the fact that they might act super confident, you are the person in charge, you are the person that has been through a lot more education than they have, you are the person who might already have another career under their belt, so DO NOT LET THEM INTIMIDATE YOU. No one has the right to make you feel like a lesser person, not even parents! Never forget that. If need be, make them feel a little less confident by asking them something you are certain they can’t answer. Eventually, though, what you want is to win them over; get them on your side. How to do that, though?

I was once teaching a girl in the French system who was in deep teenage tantrum mode. She was daydreaming, whenever I approached her, or criticised her for being off-task, she’d throw a massive tantrum, and tell me I singled her out and mistreated her. She was definitely not a fan. It was a very small class, but she and another girl were creating this environment that was simply not a healthy environment for learning, and I eventually ended up moving the other girl up, in order to be able to handle the other girl, who was capable, but insecure and lazy. Lo and behold: not instantly, but bit by bit, and step by step, we managed to overcome our difficulties. She became more engaged, I praised her when she put the work in, I showed her that I believed in her, I told her that I know that she is capable, and it completely transformed our relationship. I am very proud of this achievement, and it counts as one of my ‘magic moments’ in teaching. For her, criticism simply did nothing. She needed praise, when she deserved it, and a lot of patience and second chances. But wow, did this girl know how to press my buttons! I still think of her fondly, because she taught me a valuable lesson. It is important to never forget that they are just kids, teenagers. Don’t take anything they do too personal. They have a lot going on, and we, as educators, and grown-ups need to try to make them feel understood. They need to know that we’re essentially on their side, and want to see them succeed.

I now want to share an absolute gem of a resource with you. It is a little pocketbook (literally) that helped me a lot along the way, when it came to behaviour management. It’s called Classroom Presence Pocketbook by Rob Salter, and you can buy it for a few quid, if you follow the link. It really is a great tool, and I can’t recommend it enough!

To go back to the beginning of this post, I’d like to tell you why I wanted to address behaviour management at the NQT seminar: Generally speaking, I believe to be quite good with behaviour management. I set the rules at the beginning of the school year, I use merits, and demerits quite effectively. But there are still classes, and situations that throw me. It’s normal, there’s no shame in it. One thing I find particularly tricky is when I get along very well with a group of students. It’s easy to feel too familiar with them, and let them get away with certain things. I taught a year 11 that I really liked. Again, a very small class of 7 students (a privilege that comes with teaching German in a private school). It was a lovely class. 4 students were super chatty, and the other three the exact opposite. The chatty ones would, as a result of our familiarity, ignore my plea for them to stop talking about non-subject -related topics, and even continue across the classroom, when I moved them apart. Demerits and detentions wouldn’t help, and I was being accused of ‘killing the vibe’, which of course I didn’t want to do, because it was a fun class to teach, and they were good, capable students. We found an arrangement somewhere in between, but I never completely mastered them. The real challenge, though, was a bottom set French Y8. Lots of SEND students, two teacher’s children who didn’t like me and were super defensive, and no support whatsoever. It was a deadly combination that I found very difficult to handle. Constant noise, talking over each other, insults, no revising for tests, bad performance, absolute disconnect in terms of owning up, and taking responsibility for their own actions, and their own learning. They were a nightmare to teach, and I tried everything: fun and games, songs, being strict, tallies on the board, warnings, detentions. Nothing would work. Not even by the end of my placement at this school. But that’s okay. I made my piece with it. What I took away from this experience is that I managed to greet them at the door in a friendly way, each time I taught them. I managed to shake off the bad feelings, before starting afresh. I remembered that they are kids, and I didn’t hold grudges, and it helped. Not all of them were terrible. Not all of them were terrible at all times. Some of them were genuinely lovely, just very passionate, temperamental, and lively J. We have to handle the cards we’re being dealt, and need to find a way to put our best poker face on. All we can do is our best, and sometimes we need to allow ourselves the freedom to say that our best is not 100% at all times. It sometimes is 90%, or even 50%, and that’s okay, as long as we pick ourselves up again, and remember that no job’s worth breaking down. So read those tips, try them out. Abide by the rules set by your school (if you’re lucky enough to have some in place – not always the case). Work in consistency with your department, because it’ll make you stronger, and will give you a stronger backing, and try to find one positive about every lesson you teach. No matter how small. Write it down in a little book of ‘magic moments’ that you’ll take out and read, when sh*t hits the fan.

Bon courage! You’ve got this!