Seonaid, English trainee
Your training year is an ideal time for you to test your nerve with trickier classes. You are basically ‘borrowing’ them from your mentor this year, so you can trial techniques and use your time to reflect on their effectiveness, safe in the knowledge that you will be giving them back!
Many of my graduates report that their NQT year is far easier when it comes to establishing a strong presence with their students. We could compare it to passing your driving test. Once you have a licence and you’re on your own in your car, without the instructor watching your every move, you simply have to respond on your own and develop your courage. In a few years’ time, you will have the teacher swagger nailed… trust me!
In the meantime, use this year wisely and build the foundations for your own teacher persona. Work out what sort of teacher you want to be.
Pinched from behaviour experts over the years, and mixed with my own experiences, here are my top tips for becoming more assertive.
Expert teachers can silence a room simply by entering it. You can’t be that teacher just yet, but you will get there by being consistent in your approach and watching how people who have banked hours of classroom time do it. Maintain the school’s expectations and know their policies (this is fundamental to demonstrating Teacher Standard 7) but establish your own classroom expectations with students and stick to them as a team. Be open and honest about what you expect from them and what they can expect from you.
On entry, close the gap at the door and welcome them politely with a smile. Don’t expect conformity overnight. It takes time for students to trust that you will follow through. Find out as much as you can about who your students are and what makes them tick, then use that to inform your lessons.
Novice teachers are often encouraged to use the consequence system when necessary. This is good advice, but a well-planned lesson with a positive atmosphere should have fewer behavioural issues. Always lead with positive praise and reinforcement. Don’t let your first action of the lesson be a C1. Reward the behaviour you want and thank students for it. You could even try ignoring the behaviour you don’t want and see what happens. Bill Rogers mentions ‘tactical ignoring’ in his work, and I would highly recommend you read about this, but it might contradict your mentor’s practice and could be risky. Use your judgement. Show students that the ones who listen and work hard get your attention.
When I hear a teacher losing control and resorting to shouting, I imagine my own children on the receiving end of the bellowing, and it makes me sad. We are not in this profession to shout at children; we’re here to teach them and to improve their life chances. If we can’t stay cool, and avoid becoming another child in the classroom, then maybe teaching isn’t right for us? Managing your own state is crucial to becoming a successful, responsible adult in charge of a classroom.
Breathing is important. There are lots of good apps that can help you with this. I would also recommend music, both in your classroom and in your car or at home, as a means of changing your state (and the atmosphere) when things gets tough.
Do not underestimate the power of your voice. Making it slightly deeper when you are addressing a class will lead to better responses. You will notice that in times of stress the pitch of your voice goes higher, and that will have less impact. Practise raising the volume and deepening the pitch without losing control. Your voice sounds very different if you’re smiling compared to if you’re frowning. Trial some different techniques and measure the impact. Non-verbal gestures are important too!
If you’re on placement in a particularly challenging school, or you’re really struggling with a particular class, Bill Rogers suggests we can manage the stressful experience of negative classroom behaviour by reflecting on our own internal ‘self-speech’, which often tells us that students should show us respect. In essence, you need to earn respect from your students just as much as they need to earn respect from you.
Rogers, B. (2015) Classroom behaviour: A Practical Guide to Effective Teaching, Behaviour Management and Colleague Support. SAGE publications.