If you’ve read elsewhere already, you might already know that I moved up to ‘Big School’ a few years ago, and overall it’s been an incredibly positive change; I’ve regained a life and interests outside of the classroom, along with a love of teaching that I thought might be lost forever. I guess I’m a born-again teacher!
The only area in which things are harder, rather than better is… (I’m sure you’ve guessed it) student behaviour. Yikes.
Now, I didn’t go into this with eyes closed – I had previous secondary teaching experience, and had some rather challenging classes in year 6 (especially post-SATs!). Nevertheless…I don’t think I was really prepared for the exhaustion of planning for a difficult class and pre-empting so many things to help the lesson run smoothly; actually delivering the lesson while keeping on top of behaviour, pupil arguments, students that ‘don’t get it’, students that daydream; following-up on the lesson with emails to the Head of Year (to note personal issues between students or concerns about pupil wellbeing, any concerns and consequences about attitude/effort/respect), arranging detentions with pupils who have misbehaved and their group tutors (and then repeating this numerous times when the pupil ‘forgets’ to come), making calls home or arranging specific targets for persistent offenders and the list goes on. In fact, I haven’t even mentioned marking books and making alterations to the next lesson yet!
Obviously, I don’t do this for every class, every lesson, and many groups that start out like this can be arduously but quickly moulded into a set of effective and respectful learners through your high expectations and consistent behaviour management.
And you’d hope that your school has a proper system in place to support you and back you up when you need it. You’d hope. In truth, the friends that I have in Secondary education often say that it’s not the behaviour itself that is the problem; it is the fact that people in charge often underplay the child’s actions or ignore the situation altogether, refuse to provide or instill a consistent model of consequences throughout school, or even worse, assume it’s the member of staff’s fault and begin an investigation into their teaching rather than the child. If you’re in a situation like this, standing alone at the front can feel very lonely sometimes.
That’s why it is so important to maintain your high standards, regardless of the support you are or aren’t getting from your school. The kids will respect you for it and more importantly, you’ll respect yourself, knowing that you are ‘doing right by the kids.’
And that’s who it’s about at the end of the day: the kids. They need to learn that negative actions have negative consequences; they need to feel that fear, anguish and upset at least once, facing up to what they’ve done wrong and suffering the repercussions– that’s how they learn to do it right next time! If your students leave your classroom believing that they can treat others cruelly and disrespectfully, take and misuse property that doesn’t belong to them, stop the learning of 30 others so that they can be the centre of attention, or refuse to follow instructions… then what real chance do they have when they apply to college/try to keep a job/try to build positive relationships? It’s this thought that keeps me going when I’m feeling deflated.
I’ll be sharing tips and tricks, wins and fails, based on positive behaviour management under the title of ‘Behaviour, Respect and Acceptance.’ I chose the word respect because it is the backbone of a nurturing and supportive learning environment: your respect for the pupil’s, their respect for you and each other. If everyone respected each other straight away, there would be lots more learning and very few problems (though it might be rather dull!)
I chose the word acceptance as my own form of what the government tend to call tolerance, meaning religious, sexual, cultural and racial tolerance of each other. I would much rather my students ‘accepted’ each other with an attitude of respect and curiosity, as opposed to ‘tolerating’ each other’s differences. This has always been an important and challenge part of teaching, but I hardly need to point out just how crucial it is to tackle this head-on, in light of recent current events in Britain and across the world.
As educators, we have a hugely important role to play here in opening up young minds; disarming hate-speech; and shaping attitudes, and actions, for generations to come.