Plan for an easy ride in the lion's den
Whether you're just beginning your first year as a teacher or preparing for your first student teaching practice, behaviour management will be high on your agenda. Managing behaviour requires a subtle blend of skills and techniques - and although there is no magic wand to get your children to behave, there are some strategies that will help you. Remember that if you get the basics right, everything else will usually slot into place.
First and foremost is your attitude. You must deliver the message that you mean business. You want your pupils to perceive you as being totally in control of the classroom. So aim to appear confident, despite those butterflies in your stomach. If you have an aura of confidence, the children will believe that you know what you're doing, and will put their trust in you.
You must also know exactly what you want from your students, even before you meet them, and tell them as soon and as clearly as possible. This is more difficult than it sounds because there are lots of decisions to make. For instance, do you want the class lined up outside the room, or can they come in as they arrive? Do you want total silence while working, or is it okay for the children to talk a little? A useful way to communicate your expectations is to use "I expect" statements such as: "I expect you all to face the front and listen to me in complete silence when I'm talking."
Make sure you know exactly what you will do if the children do misbehave. What strategies and sanctions will you use to control your class, and at what stage will they be applied? When misbehaviour does occur, it is vital to stay calm and polite. As soon as you rise to the bait, you are giving pupils an incentive to misbehave further in the future. Getting the basics right also requires you to stay positive at all times. Rather than focusing on incidents of poor behaviour, look for students who are doing what you want and praise them loudly and profusely.
In short, to get the basics right, you should:
* Be confident: look as though you know what you're doing (even if you don't feel as though you do).
* Be certain: know what you want from your children and communicate your expectations to them as clearly as possible.
* Be decisive:make clear what you will do if the students don't do as you wish.
* Be calm: don't rise to the bait of children who try to wind you up.
* Be polite: never stoop to the level of the poorly behaved student.
* Be positive: look for and praise positive behaviour.
Once the basics are in place, the next step is to establish a strong teaching style. This is especially important if you are working in a challenging school. Walking into class is like stepping into a lion's den: just as a predator sizes up its prey, so your children will pick up on any signs of weakness. The temptation is to back yourself against a wall, watching in desperation as a riot begins. But you must send messages that show who is in charge.
The teacher is a physical presence in the classroom, and your students make judgments about you based on what they see and hear. Keep your eyes and wits about you, anticipating misbehaviour and intervening early. Keep an alert expression - this will communicate a positive, assertive message to your pupils. Our voices send strong signals about our emotional state, so keep your voice calm and controlled at all times. An excellent tip is to take a moment to listen to yourself, hearing your voice as the class does. You may be surprised at how loud and tense you sound.
Your style is also defined by the way you use the space. Stay on the move around the room and, when you spot early signs of misbehaviour, get close to the troublemakers. Vary the levels of your physical presence:a teacher who towers over the students sends an authoritative and perhaps confrontational message. Better instead to crouch down and show that you can communicate eye to eye, with respect for each individual.
Take time to think about the psycho-logical aspects of your style as well. The technique of "turning on a penny" is useful here. Most of the time, if the class does exactly as I wish, I am sweetness and light - but the minute little Jimmy dares to step out of line, I turn to him and growl viciously, "How dare you spoil this lesson for my wonderful class?" before returning to my previously positive mood. Remember that a crucial part of dealing with difficult behaviour is the ability to keep a distance, refusing to let it have an impact. A useful strategy is to feel sorry for, rather than angry with, the troublemaker.
Getting behaviour management right can be a challenge, but these strategies should help to overcome any difficulties you may have in the early phases of your practice. Remember that it will all become easier with experience. And don't forget that your colleagues will help you; after all, they have all been through those difficult early days too, so turn to them for support and advice when you most need it.
Sue Cowley is a former teacher who now works as an educational writer, trainer and consultant. She is the author of several teaching books, all published by Continuum, including Starting Teaching: how to succeed and survive; Getting the Buggers to Behave; and The Guerilla Guide to Teaching