It’s Friday and I’m gearing up to period 6 of a full teaching day as my energetic Year 7 class from period 5 frantically romp around the room indiscriminately throwing Bunsen Burners, mats and tripods into the wrong cupboards. I sigh. That’s a job for me later. I cut my losses; so out they go. I can hear my “challenging” KS4 class whose interpretation of “line up” is gathering in loud, boisterous groups prepare to enter. Their voices are raised and some of the boys are pushing each other and pulling on each other’s bags, to the resounding shouts of “Wey!” You get the picture!
Last week’s Friday lesson with this group can only be described as a disaster. Never having taught dissection before I naively assumed it would interest them and maybe engage them. I was wrong. Enough kidney ended up on my ceiling (and in peoples’ hair) to make a pie! And little if any learning took place. So, after that I sought advice from their Head of Year who was really supportive. We discussed a range of strategies and, as she was free last thing on Friday, she agreed to pop in a couple of times.
So, this time it was going to be different! I had a plan! There was a new seating plan, a calming starter, a new set of expectations and lots of short carefully pitched activities to ensure that there was simply no time to misbehave. But if they still managed to give me the run around, I had a new approach to sanctions too and I was confident my no-nonsense strategy would work. This was it, I meant business.
They barely seemed to notice! If they did, they certainly didn’t care! Nevertheless, I doggedly followed through my plan, kept the lesson flowing (albeit with escalating volume to be heard over the noise) and issued my planned sanctions. I repeatedly made it totally clear what the consequences were, yet up the sanction ladder they climbed. By the end of the lesson half the class were on detentions and I’d had to remove some students too. To add insult to injury as their Head of Year walked through the door my class of screaming banshees converted meekly into angelic cherubs, only to switch back as soon as the door clicked shut behind her. Why did they not listen to me?! Through gritted teeth I still insist they stand behind their chairs to be dismissed; it takes forever, but finally I wave them off with a forced smile. A few minutes later I enter the staffroom at the end of the day, slump down next to an experienced colleague (who teaches the same group maths) and pour my heart out. She replies – “they are all right for me”. It took six words to shatter my world and make me feel like a failure.
I really want to tell you; you didn’t fail at all, you won! You didn’t win a resounding victory, or by a landslide, but you definitely won. The moment you won wasn’t on Friday afternoon, no it was the next week: When you made them sit the full detention time with you; when you had the calm and respectful restorative conversations with those students; when you chased the students who didn’t attend; when you escalated it to the next level with the ones who missed their second chance and when you rang home to discuss their behaviour. And do you know what else? You keep on winning, just a little bit every day.
I really want to tell you that the ‘superpower’ that established teachers seem to have is not really a superpower at all. It’s not the way they talk, or even what they say. It’s also not their job title (although sometimes that helps). Going to watch an established teacher who is renowned for “good behaviour management” won’t help at all, because you won’t see any bad behaviour! Some of the teachers who have it, don’t understand how they got it, and some are even less helpful with comments like “they’re alright for me”. When you meet these people let their comments wash over you. They might be good teachers, but they won’t be good coaches and if they ever move school they’ll be in for a shock!
Attainment of the “superpower” comes from repeated interactions with students, building relationships, showing them respect and forgiving them again and again. But there are lots of things you can do to help accelerate your development of the “superpower”. Be fair in your sanctions, and always be disappointed and not angry when you issue them. Celebrating positives is more important than you realise right now, for every phone call you make to discuss a negative follow it straight up with a phone call to celebrate a positive. It will make you feel better too. But the most important thing though is to always follow through with what you say, certainty (not severity) is the key!
Remember every lesson is a new start for everyone, including you: smile, welcome them in, and don’t assume that this lesson will be like the last. Lots of things affect behaviour and a tremendous amount of it is out of your control. We all know what happens if there is a wasp in the room. Don’t be disappointed if all your persistence doesn’t work straight away, it takes time, but it will work! I promise! Your cape awaits you!
Catherine Rushton- Specialist Lead Practitioner for Science
The Nicholas Hammond Academy @teamNHA