Shall I behave for my teacher? This is a question that many children ask themselves, consciously or subconsciously, when they meet a new teacher. Children have a kind of sixth sense when it comes to behaviour: they can tell within moments whether or not a teacher is confident they can control the class. Even the most honed acting skills cannot fool them, they see straight through your facade.
I started working in schools when I was 19 and my first job was as a Teaching Assistant in a Pupil Referral Unit with primary aged children, who had been permanently excluded from school. Whilst working at the PRU I acquired countless techniques and strategies to manage behaviour, but the single most important lesson I learnt was the importance of self belief. As I said above, if a child senses you do not believe you can control them, they will take every opportunity to misbehave and test where your boundaries lie – what you will and will not accept and whether you will or will not consistently apply them.
It’s important that we as teachers get behaviour right from the very start, and seeing as many of us like to begin the day with calm music to help set the tone for the classroom, here is my playlist of ideas for getting the behaviour correct from day one:
“Knowing me, knowing you.” – Abba
Start getting good relationships with the children, get to know a little bit about them: What are their interests? Have they got brothers or sisters? What are their hobbies? It’s good to have something you can ask them about: in the morning, at break time or lunch time. It shows them you are taking an interest in who they are. Keep it professional, we are teachers, not friends, social workers, counselors or family members. It is important you don’t get too emotionally involved. Leave that for the experts wherever and whenever they are needed.
“All the small things.” – Blink 182
Catch the small things and the bigs things won’t happen. It is useful to catch the smaller, things, the things that seem almost insignificant, the ones you might consider overlooking! It is essential to overcome any and all low level disruption. If a child is playing with their pencil or pen whilst you are talking – reprimand them. If a child is not looking at the front just after you ask them to, or they turn up a minute or two late, make a big deal out of it!
If you make them realise that they will be sanctioned for the small things, they are highly unlikely to try anything big. Give them an inch and they will take a mile.
“High Hopes” – Bing Crosby
Have high expectations. Not just of the children’s behaviour, but of their standard of work too. It all counts. If you have consistently high expectations of the children, they will respond to it. Always expect more.
Often the advice from college tutors and teachers is to give 10 positives to every 1 negative. I’m not sure this is realistic. I would go for 50:50. When it comes to positives, they should be hard to earn. If you give them out all the time, they will become meaningless to the children.
“R-E-S-P-E-C-T” – Aretha Franklin
As a teacher your aim is to earn respect from the children; to want to be respected not liked! The children want the same. They want to know you have respect for them, for who they are, that you are not judging them.
“It’s oh so quiet.” – Bjork
A teacher voice? I do not use one or have one. I use my normal talking voice, a quiet one, where the children need to really listen to hear what is being said. If a child is not conforming, then a lower, sometimes quieter voice is needed. Once you start to rise above them, they get louder, the other adults in the room get louder, and it starts to sound like you are losing control –
which you probably are!
“Help!” – The Beatles
Sometimes help may be needed – do not suffer in silence. It may be school policy, that if a child continues to not respond to sanctions and consistently misbehaves, that you send them to another teacher or member of the leadership team.
In doing this you are saying to the child that you cannot deal with their behaviour, and that you’ve lost the battle and are having to send them out of the classroom. This sanction is also, 95% of the time, a short term fix.
When they return to you, they will probably behave for a day or two while they can still remember the sanction, however it will soon wear off and you will need to send them out again… and then again ……. (Or you can choose to work on the longer term strategies, which result in them staying in class and improving their behaviour, whilst you reaffirm your place as the teacher, in charge and in control of your class.
“Don’t panic!” – Coldplay
Stick to you sanctions! At some point you might find yourself getting really fed up with a certain behaviour and without thinking you snap, “You are missing all of your break times for the whole week!” Then you stop and think, “I’m on a course tomorrow” or “I have a meeting at break” or most likely, “Why did I say that?”
Make sure you think before you speak, or even think before you sanction. Do not threaten if you cannot or will not follow through with it. As a result of such inconsistency the children will soon learn that if they misbehave the teacher will not actually do anything.
“No matter what.” – Boyzone
Certain behaviours have certain sanctions. Be consistent and these must be applied to all children no matter how good and not so good they are. Fairness and consistency is key. A common sanction is taking time off their break or lunch time. It is pretty rare to find a child who likes to miss out on their breaks from class, so they are likely to work hard and behave, in order to avoid these sanctions. However keep a look out for the children who want to stay in because it’s cold outside!
“Come together.” – The Beatles
Work with your support staff. The best scenario is that they are seen as teachers too. They are an extra pair of eyes in the classroom, use them! If they see a child misbehaving then just like it is important that you deal with the behaviour and not send them to another class or teacher, they need to deal with it too. Team work!
“I’m gonna be strong.” – Gene Pitney
Do not be defeated, and even if you are, make sure you do not show it. As soon as the children see, or sense you have lost, they will run all over you.
“Part of your world” – Jodi Benson
One of the most effective behaviour management tools has to be simply, good, engaging lessons, which are part of an interesting curriculum approach. If the lessons are ones that children want to be part of, have good pace and challenge the children, you are off to a great start. It’s all in the preparation. Lure them in to be part of your learning world!
“Man in the Mirror” – Michael Jackson
Jackson sings, “I’m looking at the man in the mirror, I’m asking him to make a change”. The song is about looking in the mirror and making a change to the world. You need to do this in the classroom. If a child is misbehaving, you need to make sure you look in the mirror first. What could you have done differently? How could you have prevented it from happening? If a child misbehaves, should it be them that stays in for break? Or should it be you, as the teacher, staying in and reflecting on how you could have changed so
that situation didn’t occur?
“Don’t look back in anger.” – Oasis
Every day is a new start. Don’t look back to previous days and hold grudges. Children should come in each day knowing they can start again and have a chance to make things right.
“Push it to the limit” – Corbin Bleu
Go in hard. When you first meet your class they need to know that you are no pushover. The firmer you go in, the better. It is much easier to ease off if you need to than get firmer if you go in too soft. Stand in the doorway, partially blocking it, to send out a message that the children are entering your classroom and you are the person in charge in here.
“Are we human?” – The Killers
Last of all, and one of the most important behaviour techniques, is showing a sense of humour. Not when you first meet a new class, but as time goes on and they have an understanding of what is expected from them. A little joke or two definitely works. It often diffuses a situation and it also shows that you are human too.