As a secondary teacher, we’ve all had a class which just won’t settle down. Anyone who says otherwise is lying. Granted, it happens less the more experienced you get but everyone has had a tricky class. Don’t take it personally- there’s always that teacher who says ‘oh but they’re always fine for me’ in the staff room!
Day 19 of Blog Every Day in May is ‘out of your comfort zone’. Teaching is definitely within my comfort zone, but there’s always that one class who pushes you out of it. So here’s some tips I’ve picked up along the way to help with that really challenging class:
1) Be really prepared. I mean Powerpoint is on, computer logged in, chairs set out, resources on your desk, any potential ‘weapons’ removed. Be one step ahead. Meet the class at the door. Say ‘hello’ and positive comments as they walk in. If a pupil is wearing a coat and they need to take it off, keep it positive, saying something like ‘I love your coat, is it new? It does need to come off though’.
2) Shake up the seating plan. It’s tempting to put the chatty ones at the front so you can keep an eye on them, but think about putting some of the ring leaders at the back so that they can’t turn around and attract attention. If you can, give them a desk to themselves. In music teaching, I prefer having the class sat in a circle in boy girl boy girl- it’s quick to do and you can see everyone. Whatever you choose to do, explain to the class in the corridor what you intend to do and say that you will hear ‘comments’ once everyone is seated, not before. You’re obviously not going to change your seating plan unless someone points out a massive error, but if you make them feel like you are listening to them, they’re more likely to cooperate. Listen on your terms though- only once everyone is seated and they’ve got their hand up.
3) Don’t shout. It’s tempting, but you lose everything. Shouting should be a last resort. Lots of pupils, sadly, are shouted at at home, so it’s the way they’re used to communicating and you’re supposed to be readdressing their behaviour, not reinforcing it. Keep calm. Don’t be a pushover, you can raise your voice, just don’t shout. Use deep, clipped tones when you’re asking for attention and change back to normal once you have it. When talking to individuals, it often works if you say ‘I’m not shouting at you, why are you shouting at me?’.
4) Work through the consequences system, or make up your own if there isn’t a school policy. I like warnings- getting to ‘warning 3’ means 10 minute detention, ‘warning 4’ means half hour detention. I let the pupils ‘work them off’ in particularly difficult classes. This is because some pupils could potentially get to warning 4 in the first 10 minutes of the lesson, and if they know they’ve already got a detention, why would they start behaving all of a sudden? Don’t, whatever you do, forget to reward the well behaved ones.
5) Don’t get into arguments in front of the class. This is how you lose respect and you dig yourself a hole. Someone at some point will complain about the warnings they’ve got. Say ‘I’ve heard you, if you’d like to talk about it, we’ll have a chat in a minute, but for now we’re doing…’. Sound like a broken record, repeat the same thing over and over again- they’ll get bored before you do. You also might have got it wrong if there’s lots of pupils to keep track of and you will need to apologise for that. But on your terms. You can also do consequences without saying anything, just stand next to the white board writing pupils’ names and warnings on or ask a trusted student to write the names down when you ask them to. And keep giving out rewards to those who deserve it!
6) Ignore them. Freeze your interactive whiteboard and pretend to get on with something else, periodically adding to the consequences and rewards list. Or set a timer going on the board and sit and watch them. Or give them a minute on the board for every time they don’t settle down when you’ve asked them to. Stand looking pointedly at your watch. Don’t enter into discussion, you asked for quiet and you didn’t get it. The amount of time they waste, is the amount of detention they get as a class. And then make them do the detention, preferably with the support of a more senior member of staff for backup. Use your discretion though- if there’s one pupil who genuinely didn’t do anything wrong, they shouldn’t have to do the detention.
7) Ring home. You can’t ring home for everyone, you’ll be there all day. Choose the worst 3 and the top 3 and ring home. Word will get round that you ring home for good behaviour too.
8) Use detentions to build bridges. First of all, show you mean business by collecting the pupils for detention, either by sending another pupil from your P5 class (scary year 10/11 always come in handy) or going yourself if you have a free. Ask them why they think they’re in detention. Be prepared for the fact that you might have missed something that you should be doing to help them e.g. worksheets photocopied onto blue for dyslexic pupils, and this is why they’re messing around. Chat to them about what they like to do– find something in common and then mention this to them in passing in the next lesson to show them you remember. I like to finish detentions with an agreement, the pupil will do X in the next lesson and I will help them by doing Y. You’re possibly already doing what you’re agreeing to, but they don’t need to know that. You can (quietly) refer to your agreement if they’re causing problems in the next lesson: ‘That’s not what we agreed, I said I’d make sure I gave you positive points and you had to quieten down quickly to get them. If you continue I’ll have to give you warnings, and neither of us want that’. Handshakes mean a lot to pupils- if you agree on something, shake on it.
9) Ask for help from your colleagues. Is there a behaviour specialist or Ed Psych in school? Get them to observe. Do any other teachers teach the same class? Observe them. Do you have on call in school? Ask them to wander by every now and then or call them if you need to. Ask your head of dept if you can send some pupils out to them for one week once they get to warning 4. It is not a failure to admit you’re having trouble with a class, in fact, it only improves your practice getting new ideas.
10) Have a task sheet which explains the whole lesson so you don’t actually have to ‘teach’ them directly. Pupils who want to get on with it can. You keep those pupils on side, and you can focus on the behaviour of the others for that lesson. Reward the pupils doing the work. Let the well behaved choose a song to listen to or play (education) games at the end of the lesson. You’ll find several problematic pupils will ‘switch sides’ and start doing the work.
Remember: you are the adult in the room. Things happen on your terms. However, it doesn’t matter which way you look at it or how unfair they’re being, you are the adult. This means you don’t let your emotions or feelings get on top of you which make you act in anger or frustration- how can we ask our pupils to manage their emotions if we don’t do it ourselves? Children aren’t born naughty, something has made them behave that way and it’s our job as teachers to work it out as best as we can. Start every lesson with a clean slate. If you’ve tried everything and nothing worked, start from the beginning and something will work the next time. Stick with it, lots of the pupils who tested me most at the start have nearly always ended up being some of my favourite pupils.