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Classroom Management

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Dealing with Pupils
 

 

 

Although it is a rather central feature of the job, how you will interact with the pupils is probably the issue that worries the majority of student teachers the most. We all remember certain teacher phenotypes from our own school days:-

1. The teacher who can't control the class. Teacher stands nervously at the front of the class whilst a variety of missiles and abuse are hurled at them, even pupils who are normally quiet and hard working join in. Teacher often abdicates responsibility for discipline, "I'm going to get the head. I WILL!" Teacher leaves room to get head, pupils promptly sit in quiet ordered rows apparently working hard when the head arrives. Head leaves, riot recommences. Other teachers are heard to complain that they can't work properly due to the intense noise coming from the room. All teachers dread this scenario.


2. The miserable, hard cynic. They rule the class by fear. Usually middle aged teachers embittered by years at the chalk face, overlooked for promotion, they're seeing out their days in the hope of a new early retirement scheme. Classes sit in silence, they copy out texts, no pupil dares to even slightly transgress. There are no rewards only punishment. When the subject becomes an option only a handful of die hard students pursue it.
3. The trendy teacher. All the "kidz" love them. They are usually young and are able to identify with "kidz culture". Lots of discussion work, lots of playing games, they really care about the "kidz" and want to know all their problems. Usually keen and ambitious, spend lots of time volunteering for extra work for the senior management. Pity that the results aren't all that good, or that work isn't marked all that frequently, still they're a good friend to all the "kidz" taking them on lots of non-educational trips.
You will find that in reality most teachers are professional, hard working individuals who don't fit any of these awful stereotypes. Possibly the most important thing to work on for any teacher is, however, the relationship with pupils. Below are a few tips that we feel might help you on your teaching practice.
Pupils have an innate ability to sniff out a student teacher.

You may think like a teacher, dress like a teacher, talk and walk like a teacher but as yet you are not a real teacher. Accept this graciously and try to bear in mind that they will never view you in the same light as their regular teacher. They may, however, prefer you - although beware, they speak with forked tongues!

Pupils often have a view of what a student teacher is, and it is rarely that of a hard bitten authoritarian. You will find it difficult for them to accept that you are serious, don't expect them to always behave as well as for established teachers despite what your course tutors tell you. You must work at controlling them but you will find that it is far easier in your first proper job when you are a "real teacher" and have real authority. But beware - authority comes with qualification but do not just take it for granted. Respect must be earned.

The established staff will tell you "never smile before Christmas". There is some truth in this - it is better to go in hard, set firm limits and slacken off later when the pupils know what you find acceptable.


Be fair, but firm.

Be consistent with praise and punishment. Do not be seen to have favourites, every teacher does have preferred pupils, the best teachers aim to treat all equally. Pupils resent being chastised one day and let off on others. Draw a clear line over what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behaviour and stick to it. Dictate the tone of your lesson, children cannot cope with inconsistency; they crave the stability of routine. Do not expect to be able to pull round a class that you have allowed to transgress the boundary by suddenly cracking the whip.

Children love to be given fixed rules, they do not really seem to like excessive freedom. This is the same for behaviour and for work tasks. Put yourself in their place: how would you feel to be punished for an act that you did not realise was wrong. With work, spell out tasks clearly, don't expect them to read your mind over what you want them to do, otherwise when homework arrives you will find answers of 2 lines at one extreme, up to at the other, 20 sides.


Be organised.

Pupils want to feel that they are getting a "good deal"; they do not like to feel that due to your disorganisation they may have missed chunks of the syllabus, or that you have lost course work. A disorganised teacher is a gift to the shirkers.

Ensure that when you arrive at each lesson you know what you are teaching. You will need, unfortunately, to plan each lesson out in punctilious detail at the start of your career. Aim to arrive in the classroom before your students (although this isn't always possible- the worst timetables leave you walking from one building to the next with boxes of books in tow). Have equipment ready and know your room. Where are the text books and paper kept? Do you have a board pen or chalk? Where are spare exercise books? There are bound to be a few miscreants without books, pens, paper etc.- sorting them out wastes time. If you lend them a pen note it down and get it back at the end. A risky strategy that sometimes works is to ignore their whines if they don't bring the correct stationery - it is their problem to bring pens, pencils, rulers etc. Or, just lend them a pen on one occasion. If they have to copy out all the work several times after school, it is amazing how many pupils suddenly improve their memories. Try not to get into the situation of allowing them to ask each other for stationary - this leads to bedlam.

Never give the impression to the pupils that you are disorganised, even if you are!, - it sets a bad example and they will exploit it; e.g. "but I wasn't there when the work was set/handed in" or "I definitely handed it in, it was on the pile - you must have lost it"


Passive Discipline.

A good teacher neither terrorises nor continually criticises their class. Rather, they have positive relationships built on expectation, and clearly set out classroom rules. Carefully chosen words of praise are more effective than a confrontational screaming match. You will notice that the best teachers have well controlled classes but appear to do little directly to make them obedient, they very rarely shout, the pupils appear to know what is expected of them, they can be humorous and light hearted yet the pupils do not take advantage; they rarely resort to formal school punishments. In reality they constantly work hard on this and it is a skill that you will gain by experience. Some useful pointers that might help are listed below:-

Try to always appear confident even if it is not true. Be direct and make sure that you direct the pupils to do what YOU want.

Give clear instructions as to what you expect of them. It is often a sound investment to spend the first lesson writing out what the rules of the room are and how to set out work; when it is handed in etc. In class, use discussion to obtain these rules so that the pupils effectively arrive at them themselves. Why do we need these rules? What are our objectives this year/term - spell them out clearly then the pupils know where they are going.

Insist on good standards of uniform - ties done up, blazers on. Make sure that they know that you are watching them.

Insist on good standards of manners, and language. Even if they never learn anything about your subject make sure that they at least leave with good manners - this is nothing to do with IQ! Get them to raise their hand and ask permission to stand up, go to the toilet etc.. Pick them up for not using please or thank you, poor language etc. Insist on them moving in an orderly fashion in the room and out of it.

Insist on good presentation of work (underlining with a ruler, each piece of work has a title, date and is ruled off etc.),

A really important rule inside the classroom is to insist that pupil raise their hands to be acknowledged, rather than calling out. Tell them during discussion sessions to put up their hand, reinforce this repeatedly, reward appropriate behaviour, ignore calling out and reprimand it.

If you see any pupil misbehaving in a corridor, on the yard, on the staircase, be seen to deal with it.

Seating plans - It is your classroom, not theirs. Seat them where YOU want not where they want. It is often useful to alphabetise a class if only to learn their names and the old favourite of boy-girl-boy-girl often reduces inattention and chatter and breaks up cliques. Do not worry too much about their feelings on this, they will moan, but they spend ample time with their friends at breaks/lunch/after school etc. Move individuals if needed, they may again begin to claim victimisation, this is best ignored while they cool off for a few minutes. After a cooling down period make a real effort to involve them in class activity, and find a reason to praise and reward their improved behaviour. Point out to them how much better their work has been in their new location. (Beware of doing this in front of the class, a quiet word at the end of the lesson is usually very effective).

Use names rather than blanket punishment - difficult at first, but knowing their names is a key goal, either seat them alphabetically or give them badges.

Use praise for adherence for rules. Pupils do crave praise and respond well when it is given, provided this is not overdone.

If possible have them line up in single file in silence outside the room with the bags off their shoulders - rucksacks being swung around are a constant source of irritation and a hazard. They walk into the room in silence and either stand at their desk and wait or get their equipment out and wait for the start of the lesson. A lesson that starts in chaos is going to get worse! They might as well start in an orderly fashion. Don't worry that other staff allow them to wander in - they have taught those pupils for a long time and know all their habits - you don't.

Insist that latecomers apologise to you and the class. If there is a problem, try not to disturb the lesson, don't start shouting, approach the pupil at a later time in the lesson when the class is on task.

Never seek confrontation. Only punish when you know the full story, e.g. a child may be late as a relative has died. If you are not sure about a story check it out with the form tutor/ year head/deputy head. With the best will in the world there will be times when criticism is both appropriate and necessary. Ensure that you are criticising the offence and not the person, e.g. "that was a silly, irresponsible thing to do", rather than simply "you are a stupid and irresponsible person". Try to save the shouting for when you really need it, otherwise they'll just ignore you, and always maintain self control. Every one needs to shout at some times, it will have more impact if you don't do it often and it reminds them that you can have a nasty side if needed. Try to avoid public criticism of notorious misdemeanours as you will only improve their reputation.
Another tack is to approach criticism constructively, suggesting what should be done rather than what should not, e.g. "listen to the instructions carefully so that you know what to do" is more effective than " I'm not going to repeat this again".


Challenging Behaviour.

There will be times when even the best teacher experiences testing behaviour. It is impossible to foresee every possible event every time. The knack is knowing what to do when a real problem arises. If at all possible prevent potential behaviour problems before they happen.

Body language - Raised eyebrows, a frown, even a smile to indicate you know that they are tempted will deter the majority of students from imminent misdemeanour. Some confrontational pupils can be dealt with using humour - although when the situation has defused, speak to them individually and point out their behaviour is unacceptable. Know the schools discipline procedure and apply it. Follow the system properly, and remind them , i.e. verbal warning, sent out of class, break time detention, after school detention, work report, parents contacted etc. Inform year/pastoral heads and form tutors of problems, they may be able to offer solutions. Do not get into big arguments, it is better to just send them out if possible and deal with the situation when the pupil (and you) have cooled off and the rest of the class is on task. Even the nicest classes relish the performance of teacher vs pupil - and children are very like sheep, where one dominant personality goes, the rest will follow.

Do not be afraid to ask for help if needed. Everyone will struggle at some time and it is nothing to be ashamed of. The vast majority of senior colleagues will back you up. Often, you will not be alone in experiencing problems with certain pupils and it is reassuring when you find out that more experienced staff find pupil X a handful.
Do not dwell on the bad lessons or take them personally. Decide what could have been done to make them better and how you would try to prevent it happening again. Was the work appropriate? Did you explain properly? Did you try to do too much/ too little? Do not mention the problem in a future lesson - start afresh and do not bear a grudge, children change with the wind and more often than not will have forgotten by the next lesson.


Personal Appearance.

First appearances are important. They speak volumes before you even open your mouth. As a student teacher, it is unlikely that you will have the budget to purchase designer label suits, but make sure that your clothes are clean, well pressed, well co-ordinated and that your shoes are equally smart. Imagine yourself from a pupil view point, a person who cares about their appearance seems more likely to care about their job, and their organisation.
And…….. think back to your own school days, which staff do you remember having bad breath, greasy hair, and BO? Do you want to be remembered with them?!


In conclusion.

Children want teachers to be smart professionals. They want to be taught by someone they trust, firstly to deliver the subject, and secondly to be able to listen to and deal with any of their problems (and there will be lots of these). They do not want more "friends", or judgmental, arrogant authority figures who ignore them. As a form and subject teacher you must above all be fair, in control, and easily approachable. It is a difficult juggling act to get all these qualities at first and virtually everyone desperately wants to be liked. The barriers between you and the pupils will eventually come down - but it takes time for you to earn their trust and for them to earn your respect!

If you have specific problems that we could help you with, then turn to the Zephyrus Stress pages and e-mail them to us.