Our cover teacher was late to class and we were having a right old laugh! It wouldn’t be allowed these days, but we walked into the empty chemistry lab and sat at our seats.
Some of us were chatting, some were making silly noises that inspired a raucous of laughter. We were chilling-out like pros!
Then he walked in.
As the most notorious maths teacher in the school all he had to do was walk in with a grumpy look on his face to cause instant retreat into silence.
“Oh no!” was the look that was plastered across everyone’s faces.
“Get up off your backsides!” He snarled.
We stood, and gulped, and he stared at us. He waited until absolutely everyone was paying full attention. It didn’t take long.
“You all know what you’re supposed to be doing, don’t you?”
“I can’t hear you!”
“Yes” we all synchronistically chimed.
We got on with our work without a fuss. Some of us itched with the desire to chat, but we didn’t dare to.
Fighting fire with water
This maths teacher had what only the best teachers possess: presence. One of his defining techniques was the power of waiting, or more succinctly, pausing.
Pausing provides the modern teacher with a number of distinct benefits:
- It can be used as an effective behaviour management tool
- It can be used to make concepts and content really clear
- It allows students time to articulate their answers
- It generates that enchanted and mysterious teacher quality known as presence
- It can increase the perceived seriousness of a situation, which may be appropriate in certain situations
- It de-escalates conflict
That last point is an important one: as a new teacher all of those years ago I would often try to ‘fight fire with fire’, which almost always failed. If a class was chatty I would shout at them to calm them down (N.B. – it had the opposite effect).
Sometimes I would even shout on a one-to-one basis with individual students.
I soon learned that shouting was almost always a bad idea. It creates an atmosphere of instant negativity, and that affects everyone: even the compliant, hard-working, ‘good’ kids.
Ways to use pausing as a behaviour management tool:
For whole-class low-level disruption (e.g. at the very start of a lesson, or at the end of a task), simply wait, silently. Look at the students with a look of “I’m waiting” on your face. After waiting for a short time, you can say something such as “Thank you to those who are listening and thank you to those who are facing me. I’m still waiting for one-or-two.” Normally, in this scenario, the students will say ‘shh’ and ‘be quiet’ to each other, removing the need for the teacher to get loud and aggressive (which usually doesn’t work as a long-term strategy anyway).
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