Transitioning from student to teacher is challenging. While we may fancy ourselves as Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act II, transforming lives through music with the notion that ‘if you wanna be somebody, if you wanna go somewhere, you’d better wake up and pay attention!’ not many of us would relish recreating the moment where an unruly class super-glue her to a swivel chair.
In the beginning, managing behaviour can be one of the most daunting aspects of teaching, especially for those of us who have not been through a PGCE programme. While we can minimise behaviour issues by effective planning and by pitching and pacing lessons appropriately to keep students engaged, they’ll never be completely avoided, so here are a few top tips:
Establish your Authority
Building a relationship with a class takes time, moreso if you are a visiting teacher seeing them once a week. Make your expectations around behaviour absolutely clear from the start, and prepare for your boundaries to be tested. When they are; respond. It is infinitely easier to relax rules than it is to tighten them, so being firm from the beginning will save you an uphill struggle later on.
Make sure you know the school’s behaviour policy and their rewards and sanctions before you begin teaching. Speaking to the class teacher is a good place to start. Rewarding and sanctioning children inline with the school’s policy will help to integrate you into the school and is a clear signal that while you may not be permanently based there, you have the same status as any other teacher.
Find Your ‘Teacher Voice’
Just as in a piece of music, you can convey moods, emotions and intent by the tone, pitch and dynamic of your voice. Your tone of voice is a good gauge for how serious you are, so if you are telling a child off speaking in a fast tempo, with a high-pitched, wispy voice then the chances are you will not be taken seriously.
Contrast is a useful tool, and varying the pitch and dynamic of your voice, accenting words of particular importance for clarity will make it more engaging to listen to. Similarly, the more you shout the less effective it becomes.
Do not make empty threats
Never threaten anything that you do not intend to follow through with. Empty threats are a clear signal to students that you do not mean what you say, and that they are free to behave as they wish without fear of consequence.
Effective consequences for more serious bad behaviour can be difficult to deliver when you spend a limited amount of time on site. For example, if you are working as a visiting teacher and you rush to leave at the end of the class each week, the children know that you will not follow through with any threats to keep them back at the end of school! This is where communicating and working together with their regular class teacher is important. If the regular class teacher is not with you throughout the lesson, then be sure to establish a way of ensuring appropriate consequences are delivered and to communicate any poor behaviour to them at the end of the lesson. The class teacher and school should support you in using their behaviour management schemes, as it is in everyone’s interest that behaviour is dealt with consistently. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
Be Self –Aware
When standing in front of the classroom you have more influence than you may realise. Your body language, tone of voice, attitude, mood, and level of enthusiasm are all very easily read by the class in front of you. If you’re tired, grumpy and low-energy it’s easy to funnel that into your class, and it will affect their behaviour. While it may seem obvious, it’s important to lead by example, modelling the behaviour you want – shouting, ‘stop shouting’ has an air of hypocrisy about it, which won’t go unnoticed! It’s also important to encourage any other adults in the classroom to model positively too - turning around to discover you’re about to tell another teacher off for talking when you’ve asked for quiet always makes for an awkward moment. Just be sure to address any problems sensitively and in private with the adult in question.
Choose your battles
To a certain extent behaviour is relative, and will vary from school to school and child to child. While it’s important to have high expectations, if standards are unattainable they are likely to cause more problems than they solve. It can be easy to escalate situations with more challenging children by picking at small aspects of their behaviour, so turn the tables by rewarding them for the things they are doing well wherever possible. It can be in response to the tiniest thing, but when it is genuine, praise can go an awfully long way to establishing better behaviour patterns. Positivity and rewards for good behaviour are far more pleasant to dish out, and can be very effective.