Thanks for your email. I’m really sorry to hear that you’re struggling to get your class to do what you want them to. I know just how hard it can be as an NQT, and as you say one of the toughest bits is the behaviour management. It’s a learning process, so don’t feel bad that you haven’t got the hang of it yet. Be flexible, open, willing to try new approaches, and you will get there eventually – honest.
I understand from your email that you’ve tried the threat of sanctions, you’ve tried humiliating the students, you’ve even offered them an (RCoT shaped) carrot. But, as you say, still you cannot get the majority to listen, behave and move forwards in the way that you want. I’ll try and offer you a few thoughts, ideas and suggestions that might help.
There are different ways to get students to do what you want or need them to do, so that you can ensure they learn and progress. The most obvious and instinctive approach is to punish them if they won’t do what they’re told. This is the natural human reaction when faced with what you perceive as an ‘attack’ from your students. Unfortunately, as you’ve found out with your class, this tends to lead to confrontation, aggression, and a bunch of really disaffected students. In addition, there has to be an ‘ultimate sanction’ for the punishment route to work, and your students have to actually care about you applying that ultimate sanction. Have a think about what your ultimate sanction is, and whether it is realistic. You mention exclusion – but you can’t exclude the entire class, can you? You’re going to have to learn to work with students of all different types and from all different kinds of backgrounds, because those are the people you have in your class. It’s your duty as a teacher to care about and work hard for every student you encounter, no matter whether you like them or agree with what they think and feel or not.
When it comes to managing the behaviour of those students who really annoy you, whilst humiliating them and being sarcastic to them might make you feel better, it doesn’t really move anyone forwards. Try not to let your emotions come into the equation when you’re teaching – you need to take a calm, rational approach to behaviour management. What your students are after is to wind you up: you have to prove that this is impossible. No matter how far they push you, always respond politely and model adult behaviour for them. Try never to denigrate their work – even if you don’t like what they’ve produced, look for the positives and try to see things from their perspective.
The best approach to behaviour management is to try to motivate your students to behave as you wish, and to persuade your students that your approaches are best. You’re not going to do this by shouting at them and being rude to them. The way forwards is to encourage, to listen, to respond, to offer choices, whilst still staying true to your key expectations. At the same time, though, don’t be too rigid in what you believe. You’re new to this, and I understand the desire you feel for certainty, but I’m afraid that teaching (which is all about human nature) doesn’t lend itself to simple solutions.
Have a think about the way that you’re using verbal and non-verbal communication as well – often these are central to whether a teacher can get behaviour sorted or not. Make sure that all your students can understand exactly what you’re saying – never use fancy words or clever sounding allusions to make yourself feel good. This runs the risk of excluding some of your children from the learning, and making them feel stupid. (You might believe that they are, if you’re that kind of person, but your job is to boost and motivate them, not to ‘big up’ yourself.) Make eye contact with your students, and don’t believe that nonsense about ‘don’t smile until Christmas’. Smile at them: show them you like them. It has to be a genuine, caring smile, though – your students will be able to tell. Make sure your voice doesn’t sound strident or aggressive: you’re aiming for an air of calm assurance not a hectoring, lecturing style.
I would strongly recommend that you value the experience of your teaching colleagues. Listen to them, watch how they manage behaviour in their classrooms, look at how they respond to their students’ needs, see how they motivate their children. Notice how a calm, quiet teacher, who relates well to his or her students, can have them eating out of the palm of the hand. Notice too how those teachers who tend to shout at their classes often simply end up with pointless confrontations and a line of unhappy children outside their classrooms.
In life, if we want others to do something for us, that we believe is in their best interests, then the very best approach is to help them see why it matters to do it. To do this, we need to listen as well as talk, take account of different perspectives, find out what their intrinsic motivations might be, and be willing to be creative, flexible and adaptable.
I wish you all the best of luck in your first year in teaching. I do sincerely hope you manage to get your class under control, because the future of those children is at stake.