I read somewhere once that you are a part of everyone you’ve met and I really do believe in that. My personality is a combination of all of my friends and my teaching style is a combination of all of the great teachers I have observed and worked with.
My training year was based in a department with particularly feisty ladies who showed me that you don’t need to be big physically to have a strong presence in the classroom. You don’t need to shout to be heard and sometimes you don’t even need to speak at all. One of the first lessons I ever observed was a petite lady who used to get students to put all of their pens down once they have finished writing so that she could see they were ready. Since then, I have taken that and transformed it into jazz hands so that all students have to show me their jazz hands so I know they’re paying attention. Simple and fairly obvious but not something I had considered before then.
At my next placement school I was placed with an incredibly strong woman named Alison who had naughty Year 11 boys working in silence. It seemed like magic. Her trick was using very short commands, remaining very calm at all times and getting the students to do all of the organisational work in the classroom. Instead of running herself ragged handing out books, opening windows, organising pens, writing the date on the board and closing the door, she had students do it for her. Certain students would always do the books, windows, pens etc which left her ready to start the lesson calmly and quickly. I know it sounds simple but back then I hadn’t even considered that they would happily help me and take ownership over small tasks.
After having completed my PGCE, I moved to my new school and confidently told the head teacher that my strongest asset was my behaviour management and that the school I trained in was much more difficult than this one. Mistake number one. NEVER assume that just because you can control one or several classes in another school that you will be able to replicate the same success in a new one. My new timetable came complete with a notoriously difficult class of Year 11 boys and various other ‘challenging’ classes. It served me right. I had to go back to basics with behaviour charts, endless detentions and introducing firm boundaries with my new classes. Luckily, I was in a department with some incredible teachers who took the time to support and coach everyone.
Support for the Year 11 class came in the form of Andrew, a quirky, funny Drama teacher who also did the most interesting English lessons. He showed me how to use my voice for control and how humour at the right time made a real difference. Claire, the kindest person and teacher you might ever come across, did coaching for the whole department and showed us that English lessons don’t need to be all about writing and that students can show understanding in a variety of different ways. She also taught me that if a student can do something achievable at the very start of the lesson then they will feel more positive about accessing the rest of it. I have never forgotten that and it’s now part of every lesson I teach. My preferred starter involves pictures to start discussion – it might be an odd one out, links to characters and themes or how the pictures might symbolise something else.
Since then I’ve worked with several teachers who have influenced me. I’ve taken the ‘silent glide’: a particularly effective way of approaching students as quietly as possible and appearing suddenly in front or at the side of them. No speaking required but they know I’m there. Works a treat.
But one of the main things about behaviour for learning is that behaviour isn’t always perfect. Teachers and students aren’t perfect and lessons shouldn’t be about ruling with an iron fist or students too scared to speak their mind. It should be an atmosphere which promotes bravery, mistakes and support. I am in no way a behaviour management expert but sometimes it’s nice to hear honesty and opinion from a female teacher who has worked hard to develop strategies and maintain consistency.
The point of my post it to remind any new teachers or even teachers dealing with the first term tiredness that keeping calm and carrying on really IS what it’s all about.