I associate teachers with wine , not just because they might need the occasional pint of it to survive the working week, but because like a good bottle of plonk, they get better with time. In my opinion, there is no training, disciplined enquiry or book that substitutes experience in the classroom.
And some of this experience is a result of going through rights of passage. Namely: to drown in marking, to feel helpless panic when you realise you have no control over a class of 13 year olds, to get weirdly emotional on sports day, to see an exam class through, to get good results, to get bad results… Eventually, you establish nuanced classroom management and learning strategies that only come with some of these highs and lows.
My own ups and downs led me to believe that it’s not just what you say: it’s how you say it and where you say it. Here are a couple of “wheres” and “hows” that I live by:
How: to get them to read out. Count down from 3,2,1 go: and the prompt- more often than not-gets them reading. Even if it’s only a sentence; Rome wasn’t built in a day and all that…
Where: in the middle of the classroom, at the front. STAY THERE- until you’ve got a new class trained. The minute you start going desk to desk, the off task behaviour will start. Stay put and oversee what’s going on: if they need help, do it from where you’re standing. If lots of them need help, stop and re-teach using alternative methodology.
How: you say ‘it’ is crucial. When settling a class, I try to use a very calm, soft voice. It’s hard when you feel like breathing into a paper bag but if you start anxiously shouting, students pick up on it and invariably get louder. Aim to maintain a calm voice when settling and teaching and it really affects the climate-and the volume- in the room.
Where: you teach should be orderly and tidy. I know this isn’t easy. Trust me. I know. But, if students enter a well-kept, ordered learning environment that looks cared for, they automatically feel better being in it. This doesn’t mean creating a grotto for learning: just make sure they know where the stationary is, where their books are and stick work and decent posters up to make it feel loved. I always feel better when my room’s tidy.
How: to elicit a verbal response. Smile and nod (not too enthusiastically) as students answer. It gives them confidence to keep going with an idea and helps improve oracy.
How: you gauge when it’s time to stop is key. Yes, we should all aim for outstanding progress. And yes, we all want our students to get as much out of their classroom learning as possible. But sometimes, you just have to stop. It might be that the lesson was really challenging and they’re tired, or that it’s too hot outside…whatever the reason, for a few minutes, when you’re all spent and it feels flat, do something fun. I ask students to draw: a pigeon crossed with a shark, a monkey crossed with a snail (and so on.) I’ll find a way to get them out of their seats (a Mexican wave can be good) or I might spell a word out load and they have to tell me what it is by visualising it in their heads. Relationships are paramount: moments like these make them.
How: formal are you in the classroom? When you need to train a class avoid colloquialisms and ham up the formality. It sets the tone and helps you reinstate your authority. I always adjust my register when I need to pin down behaviour management.
Practice: it’s not what you say, it’s where and how.