One of the odd things about being a teacher is that your teaching behaviours can begin to bleed over into your home life. You act a lot at work so you find yourself doing it when you’re not being paid to. Maybe you find yourself giving someone a disapproving look on the tube because they dropped a crisp packet, or you sigh exaggeratedly when your partner leaves the kitchen in a mess. I can’t be the only one to have heard “Don’t use your teacher look on me” or “You’re not in the classroom now.” But there are some very good reasons why teachers get into the habit of using non verbal communication, and why we struggle to stop doing it in our spare time. It helps us maintain the flow of a lesson, it encourages children to regulate their own behaviour, and it teaches them to read social cues – to know what human beings mean by how they look as well as what they say.
Once children know what is expected and what you need as a class, those who struggle most with behaviour will be the ones who can’t read or respond to the social context, or who just generally struggle to control their bodies (school typically asks for a lot of sitting still). Those children who struggle most might need a more explicit explanation of what is expected, to help them achieve it, but in the end the goal is for them to read the situation and understand how to control themselves in order to learn (not least because it’s a LOT less work for everyone concerned). This is hard to achieve, especially at secondary, but it’s still an important aim. The alternative – punishment, consequences, whatever you choose to call it – tends to be time consuming, and has the habit of doing damage to relationships. If you want children to see learning as the most exciting thing of all then learning needs to become the ultimate reward.
The children are wriggling and fidgeting. Daryn is annoying Mary and Nancy is shuffling her way to the back of the carpet again, as though she just wants to escape. Kate is plaiting her hair and Tim is gazing off into the distance like he can see something that no one else can see (which you often suspect he can). You pause. Maybe you heave a little sigh. Then you look at the picture book that is sitting in your lap with a wistful look in your eyes. At this point, Andrew goes to stand up (perhaps he has had enough of waiting for Daryn and Mary to finish fussing). You give Andrew a look and a shrug and he sits back down again. He knows that it isn’t really you he is waiting for. Finally, you bring out your most powerful weapon. You raise a single deadly eyebrow and you say in a (not too scary) pretend witch-y voice: “I wonder what Winnie the Witch would make of having to wait so long for everyone to be ready? You don’t suppose she might turn you all into frogs? Should we find out?” Now all the children turn towards to you and most of them lean forwards a bit. You open the book. And Kate finally looks at you, with eyes lit up, because she doesn’t want to miss a word.