Back to School Tips
by Peter Mason (Cool Rewards) - Teacher in a challenging inner city Manchester school
This article is designed for new teachers, student teachers or those in their 2nd year who want some extra support in classroom management. These simple techniques are proven to work and will help you a lot and will make your integration into teaching easier.
I myself am an experienced teacher and now an Assistant-Headteacher. In my first two years of teaching I found it very difficult and used the term ‘it’s like talking to a brick wall’ to my wife when I had been unable to teach a class. It got better however and familiarity means more confidence in the classroom. I have now switched schools after 7 years of teaching and I am having the same problems again as I did as an NQT! My confidence from knowing my pupils in the previous school ‘knocked for six’ when teaching in an unfamiliar setting. These techniques helped however.
Your first year is also very difficult. If you want the full low-down on classroom management I must recommend you read ‘You Know the Fair Rule' by Bill Rogers or other books by him. He gives advice from everything from the start of lesson or rescue lessons, but if you don’t have time for this great book I would suggest the following as a priority:
The most important thing I have learned is that children really respond to routine especially in more challenging schools. It is very depressing indeed when your class is seen to be ‘rioting’ and the Head of Year comes in and they all dive for their seats and then you can hear a pin drop. While this is soul-destroying you must get into you head now that you are not looking at the ‘physical’ actions of this Head of Year you are looking at the history this HOY has with the pupils. The pupils know that Mr X shouts a lot and is scary so this shouting could happen to them, or Mrs Y phones home and makes pupils lives very uncomfortable. They are seeing their history and the Head of Year’s routines when he or she comes into the classroom and this is why they behave and go silent. However by ensuring you follow through yourself you will also improve your level of ‘history’ with the pupils. Following through is the key, it does not matter when as long as you do it.
On this note it is very hard to establish routines when you are new and to be honest the kids are very smart. But give yourself something solid to build your routines on. I’ll concentrate on just a few techniques but I promise you these will really help you and even if you’re off to a bad start with some classes just go in and start again it’s as simple as that.
6 Tips for Teachers
- Have a seating plan from Lesson 1. Plan a task of at least 15-20 minutes in the very first 2-3 lessons for each and every class, yes it must be at least 2-3 of their lessons. This will give you some reflection time and allow you to evaluate the class in terms of their behaviour, just like you do observing another teacher. During this time you MUST draw a seating plan, taking care to plan for missing pupils. Boy then girl is proved to work best for behaviour according to all research. Hand-draw the plan as you go, if needed, and draw it up neater later it if you don’t know what your classroom looks like. This is the biggest power tool. With pupils names you have power and authority. Most teachers fall down as pupils know you don’t know names of children and unless you are gifted at learning names like Monk this is the easiest way to do it. However a seating plan is not an easy task and can be a long term battle but this is immediately establishing you deep down with the pupils as someone who likes routine.
- Also plan for problems. What about the 3-4 pupils who refuse to sit where they are told? This is up to you but follow it up by phoning home or talking to the Head of Year afterwards. Plan your words first though for the class, tell them that these pupils are not following the class rules and this will be followed up later and there will be consequences, but for now we will get on with the lesson. But you must follow this up later! Even if you are up to 9 pm at night. Being ruthless is not needed as a teacher but promising to follow up is a MUST. Kids talk when you don’t. You can call SMT if you want to get the kids in their seats in the first lesson but this is up to you either way is fine as long as it is followed up.
- Plan for the class who will not listen. Some classes are very difficult indeed and will not respond to you. If you are just stood there shouting, stop after 2-3 minutes and try this. Prepare simple back-up work that is a bit easier than normal but takes the kids time to do, write the objectives on the board and give it to the groups that are settled even if it’s one or two and slowly go round the class working on the next best-well behaved pupils first. Slowly (over about 20 minutes) you will get control of the class. This will give you more of the quiet needed to talk to them and start establishing rules even on a basic level. Again, follow up by phoning parents the 5-6 pupils who were not following instructions at all. I repeat: You must do this even if it is 9-10 O’clock at night.
- Use rewards. I use rewards all the time, stickers, pens, and especially student class charts even if you make them yourself. Class charts make kids more competitive and allow the class to manage and take ownership for their own rewards (see point 5). Quick tip: Get the pupils to collect the rewards at lunchtime or after school as they start trying to get them as you have another class coming in, it can be quite stressful. Our site has good rewards charts for whole classes and stickers for them but again you can easily make your own if your photocopying department can produce things for you.
- Give kids responsibility. This takes time but work towards it over a couple of months and in a couple of lessons you can also produce a task sheet for your pupils. E.g. They come in Steven gives out the books, Starr the text books, Ben makes sure people are sat in their proper seats and reports back to you or helps with ‘lost’ pupils, Isabelle writes on your starter activity from you lesson plan, Claire wipes the board from the previous lesson and writes the date, Henry gives out the mini-whiteboards, Hayley does the rewards etc. This method really works and the kids love it. It just takes time and confidence to set up. You are buying the kids into you classroom management and their own lesson and this leaves you to focus on the off-task kids and do the register. In fact, when you assign 10-15 jobs to a third to half of your class you realise why beginnings and ends are so stressful on the teacher especially when you have a 5 period day. Trust me on this, it works and builds a firm relationship with your pupils. When you can sit and drink your coffee and the pupils are doing all the jobs and their starter activity calmly you know you’ve got it sorted.
- Finally, mix in games, learning games and lot of them. Loads of websites let you download brilliant stuff for free. The TES has a good site for resources, Teachernet or English Literacy sites like http://www.teachit.co.uk/. This last site for example has a simply brilliant Countdown Clock like on Whizzy Things that works wonders with work. You just use it once or twice a lesson to time them. E.g. You have 12 minutes to do this task etc.
Using other resources saves you ‘re-inventing the wheel’. No disrespect but why do all younger teachers spend all their waking hours designing resources and worksheets! Download them, adapt them and then use your time more wisely to concentrate on specific learning techniques or improving your classroom management.
Kids love learning games and often rate a teacher as ‘good’ just if you do this often. E.g.10 Plenary anagrams at the end of a lesson, kids love these and learn their key words. Hangman on the board to re-cap the specific words learnt in last lesson is great etc. I have a seen great starter that helps pupils to get to know each other. Make a grid of about 25 boxes (for a class of about 30). Inside each box put a hobby or interest. E.g. This person likes Manchester United, Goes swimming at least once a week, looks after a younger sister etc. Get the pupils to move round the class and fill in a name for each of the boxes. It’s amazing and you really get to know the pupils this way. I can e-mail it to you in WORD format to save you time if you e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One great teacher I watched asks the class a question in the starter, if a pupil gets it right they are simply allowed to walk around the classroom in a set route. The next person answers a question right and they get to walk around the classroom!! Then the next, and the next! You’ll have the class ecstatic and you’ll know each week who knows their stuff and who needs more support. Where did I learn this? Off other teachers and the internet. It’s a powerful resource.
I hope the above helps, like I said the books by Bill Rodgers are in my own opinion are the ultimate books to be read and re-read.
Peter Mason – Teacher in a challenging inner city Manchester school
Remember to visit out site, you’ll be amazed at the difference that rewards charts and other rewards can make! www.coolrewards.co.uk