Sometimes I find myself wanting to talk – or write, or tweet – like a student. Not one of the mature, enthusiastic students, or the ones who ask challenging, interesting questions. I’m not referring to the kids who impress you with their optimism and their insight. I mean the ones who sulk, stick out their bottom lip and mumble under their breath, “but that’s not fair…”
The good news is that I’ve been sitting on this post – apart from a few more-or-less spontaneous tweets – for the last month or so. In that time the proximate causes of the original problem have vanished, coincidentally at the same time as Year 11 went on study leave. (Call of Duty/Farmville leave more like.) The bad news is that I’m still sulking because it feels like the consequences are lingering, and more for me than them.
On the whole my classroom management style works pretty well. I’m particularly pleased with the rapport I share with my KS3 and KS5 classes, extremes in age but often alike in enthusiasm. I try to follow the same guidelines we all aim for:
- be firm but fair
- be generous and specific with praise, focussed on effort as well as achievement
- ignore minor transgressions where possible, warn when needed, then be balanced with consequences
- start every lesson with a clean slate
So after some issues – and I should emphasize that I’m not denying them and am trying not to be defensive about them – I’ve been doing some serious reflection on how I manage my classroom. No teacher likes to feel that they’re being criticised. This is why I’ve tried to take time to formulate my response; I’ve been doing a quick audit of my behaviour strategies across my classes and asking a few trusted colleagues for their viewpoint. After all, ‘knee-jerk reactions’ can usually be summarised by the middle word of the phrase. Three facts have helped me to put the criticism in context, for myself if not for SMT. That I am happy to type this kind of comment is yet more evidence of the benefits of blogging and tweeting under a pseudonym.
- I used standard school channels to flag up the difficulties I had been having with these kids before Christmas
- The issues only appear to exist with a small group of Year 11 students who are known as ‘challenging’ across the curriculum
- SMT have only spoken to me about it after several of these students objected to being removed from a lesson they had chosen to disrupt
Of course, although this makes me feel slightly less paranoid about my teaching style as a whole, it doesn’t mean the problem isn’t there. It just means that I’m getting things wrong with a relatively small group of students. I’d probably feel a lot better about the course I’ve had suggested to me if I had been offered it a few years ago, rather than now. But that’s not the point, right? Any opportunity for external CPD is not to be missed, and I’ll be the one there choosing what to focus on.
After some reflection, I have several strategies that I’m putting into place. After discussion with a couple of colleagues, it appears that part of the problem is that I’ve not been kicking enough kids out, or that when I have, I’ve not done it soon enough. I guess I was trying too hard to fix the issues myself when it wasn’t really my job. The result is that in some of these cases, the kids feel a lot more entitled to feel resentful of me than they would if the same censure had come from a member of SMT. I’ve also decided that I’m going to stop worrying about school rules that don’t directly impact on learning, with KS4 students. They arrive to my lessons – in some cases from the office of a Head of Year – wearing nail varnish or jewellery, so I’ve had enough of being the one who picks up on it. Some scribbling has given me a new approach, which encourages me to think of sending them out first option rather than as a last resort. Partly this is adapted from some recent training I’ve done on triage techniques (probably best if you don’t ask). It may horrify colleagues who focus on ‘catch them being good‘, which I do, I really do – but with some a different approach is called for.
Another tactic I’ve tried is to discuss with classes about levels of involvement. I did this using a discussion about averages, of all things. I pointed out that there are relatively few individuals at the extreme positive (make great contributions and help other students by what they say or do) or the extreme negative (disrupt the learning of others) end of the effort spectrum. I pointed out that students who failed to make reasonable progress due to their own laziness, sad as it was, would not be the priority of a teacher who was having to deal with actively disruptive members of a class. They agreed that it would be unfair to stop someone else from learning, so perhaps making that viewpoint more explicit will be helpful.
I’m also going to ask some colleagues to do some observations of me with my Year 10 classes, to hopefully pinpoint any issues before they return in September, already counting the hours until “Leavers’ Day”. I’m happy with my subject knowledge, my teaching and learning side of things is going well (as checked by my recent quick audits), so this seems like the priority. Personally I think this would be more constructive than a course, but hey. One thing I certainly plan to do is to document any and all referrals I do make, although perhaps now it’s gotten to this point SMT will be more helpful anyway. I guess the biggest change will be to try very hard not to see referring kids during a lesson – as opposed to afterwards, for information rather than action – as a failure. I’d tell a student teacher that, after all. Time for me to get back into good habits.
Things could be much worse, right? Perhaps if anyone has suggestions of how they’ve dealt with similar issues – a small group of pupils refusing to cooperate, but also convinced that a teacher is unfairly singling them out – I’d love to hear your ideas. It can’t just be me, surely?
- Severity of disruptive behaviour rating (sariehdk.wordpress.com)