Classroom Management Starts with You
Ten Bad Behaviour Habits That Teachers Need to Shake
One thing I have noticed when working with teachers who are taking their first steps in classroom management is that the process is often so similar that we might all have been engineered in the Matrix. We experience so many common problems and pitfalls that we should by now be pretty good at preparing new teachers for the rigours of the profession.
Unfortunately, I often see teachers who have entered classrooms with odd ideas about how classroom relationships work and how to create a productive learning environment. When I observe teachers for behaviour advice, the same problems come up time and time again. Sometimes these problems seem learned from birth. Other times they are bad habits the teacher has picked up as they went along, and just never learned to discard. I lay these before you now so you can see if you fall into any of them.
1. Settling for bad behaviour
It is so easy to accept what was previously unacceptable. Behaviour that you would have once seized like an intruder now becomes an unwelcome resident in your room. Why? Because it is easier to say something is no longer wrong, than it is to deal with it and do something to deter it. The path of least resistance is a familiar one to many of us who have dealt with difficulty over a period of time.
2. Never calling for help with classroom management
Once you have been teaching for a while, it can become hard to ask others to assist you. After all, you don’t wish to appear rubbish, do you? The strange thing is that the only way to be rubbish in this situation is by NOT calling for help. Sadly, there are some line managers (you know who you are) who persist in perpetuating this dangerous tendency in new staff by labelling those who ask for support ‘weak’ or ‘troublesome.’ As long as this attitude persists, teachers won’t call for assistance. Once the kids realise this, it’s PARTYTIME
3. Giving up on a new behaviour strategy too soon
You know how it is. You try a new strategy because a colleague (or some clown in a newsletter) has recommended you try it: lollipops in a jar, golden stars, seating plans based on chaos theory. But nothing happens. Worse still, classes seem to react badly to it. So you give up. Reader, beware. The strategy might simply not have had time to take root. Almost every trick in the book takes time, be it a few weeks or a whole year. Do not expect miracles. Think steering the Titanic, not turning a Segway on a sixpence.
4. Not giving up on a poor behaviour strategy.
Sometimes you may be instructed to do something which flies in the face of all your experience. For example, I know a lot of new teachers are told they must have their classes facing each other in horseshoes. But if the class is tough, this can be a disaster when the teacher is already working against students’ natural instincts to socialise. These strategies can be hard to shake when they come from someone you trust. The best way to solve this is by getting some fresh perspective. Ask to be observed by someone with a very different style to you and see what they think about your strategies.
5. Being too open/ friendly/ emotive in the classroom
Kids need to see that you are the authority. They don’t need someone who tells them all about their life and what they had for breakfast. Kids often grow to see such people as big chummy pals, rather than authority figures, and it can be damn hard to claw your way back from that. This isn’t to say that you can’t reveal careful parts of your life, but it has to be a) when you are comfortable and b) once the relationship is there.
6. Groundhog Day lesson plans
Lessons should be varied in time, pitch and task. This is not to be entertaining, but because it helps sustain interest. I am not averse to periods where lessons are a bit dry; education is sometimes more hard work than it is fun. But you are a fool if you do not introduce some variety into your lessons. The same style and structure day after day will only let the kids know that you are doing as little as possible for them.
7. Not following up on behaviour management techniques
I see a lot of teachers who do half the right thing. They set clear boundaries and lay down the law for those who stick two fingers up at the righteousness of the room. But then…nothing happens. The teacher’s mouth says ‘detention’, but their body says ‘pub’. Or they say ‘I’ll call everyone’s parents tonight’…but then don’t do it. This is teaching the class that you don’t mean what you say. So why should they listen?
8. Letting kids talk over you
This is fatal. It is the end of your authority. The classic advice is ‘don’t start until they are quiet.’ But what happens if they are never quiet? Taken literally this becomes a stick to beat you with. So, ATTEMPT to get complete silence. THEN start naming names and handing out sanctions. THEN see who’s left. THEN have someone removed. THEN see if you can start. You may still not have complete quiet, but you will have done everything you can, and you will do more after the lesson. The important thing is that you didn’t just plough on.
9. Getting personal when handling behaviour
It is the biggest temptation in the world: one child goads you so much and so personally that you return with a comment about their weight, or how thick they are. If you do that, then you can kiss goodbye to your chances of teaching them. Keeping your cool is difficult, but don’t forget that you are the grown up. Deal with their behaviour alone. Their character, no matter how unlovely, is of secondary concern. These children are not your children. It is their education that is your responsibility. Do what you can to safeguard and promote this first and most of all.
10. Allowing quiet children to do bugger all
Is this you? It was me for a while. Here’s the trade-off: you sit quietly, and I won’t bother you. Success! Except it isn’t. You have to keep your bar high and see poor output as just another form of misbehaviour. If they aren’t trying, then you aren’t making an impact. So, even though it might make the job harder, take them to task for this. Treat it as if they were capering about on desks. It might be invisible, but it’s bad behaviour too.
All of these habits are subject to being rebooted. But YOU are the only one who can do this. So do it. That is how you show you are committed to professional development and to the welfare of the kids.
Tom’s new book Teacher: Mastering the Art and Craft of Teaching,is released on the 7th of June 2012, by Continuum/ Bloomsbury