Overcoming behaviour management problems

Lee-Ann McAulay faced a trying time when she met her first class.

English Teacher, Falkirk High School, Falkirk

Walking into the school for the first time as a teacher that cold and grey January morning was one of the proudest and most nerve wracking of my life.

I'd completed my final teaching practice, had left university only three weeks before and now found myself facing six months as a temporary teacher with a wide range of classes on my busy timetable. 

I was lucky enough to be employed to teach my specialism (English) in a school I had done a placement in whilst training.

Facing the class

Two cups of coffee and a chat with my new faculty head later I found myself standing in front of my very own S1 class.

It was quite possibly the worst experience of my life.

To say that the behaviour of this class was challenging is an understatement. I came out feeling as if the period had lasted six weeks rather than 53 minutes.

After seeking refuge in the staffroom and listening to the advice and wisdom of much more experienced colleagues, I decided that a new seating plan was definitely in order as was a new set of class rules.

We were going to start the next lesson on my terms and I would remind them that I was in charge. The following day found me advancing upon the class armed with a seating plan and a fistful of punishment exercises.

Slow, steady progress

Slowly, as the weeks passed, I built up my relationship with my class and they began to see that if they misbehaved there would be consequences.

I rigorously enforced the rules of both my classroom and the school, following the faculty behaviour management policy to the letter. We settled into a routine and made some progress.

With the basics in place it was much easier to stand back and look at the other issues that affected the behaviour of pupils in this class.

My confidence grew and I began to experiment more with teaching methods. I felt as though I was really beginning to find my feet.

Crisis point

The crisis hit not long after the mid term break. I had been off sick for a few days when I came back it felt like my class had become feral!

That first lesson back was awful and felt like such a kick in the teeth after all my hard work and patience with them. I left the room that day feeling like the worst teacher in the world.

A colleague found me crying in the base. They sat and listened to me pour out my heart and my troubles. I knew that other teachers found the behaviour of some of my S1 class to be challenging but I thought I was the problem.

I soon discovered this was not the case: to quote the magnificent Rob Long "the problem is the problem not the child" or in this case the teacher.

That day I was given some of the best advice I've ever heard. Teaching a class like that S1 requires you to be like a swan,  calm and controlled on the surface with it all going on underneath.

I found this to be very true, if the pupils got an emotional reaction from me then they saw it as a victory and if I remained calm I dealt with the problem in a much more constructive way.

Improved relations

When I put this into practice I really felt like I was being true to myself and the vast majority of my pupils responded better to me and our relationship as class and teacher improved drastically.

By reflecting on experiences and thinking through the problems I have learned and improved in lots of ways.

An example of this was when I realised that I had dreaded teaching my S1 class and was always tense with them this in turn affected the way they behaved. I still feel that I lack the grace and poise of a swan in the classroom but I will settle for a duck.

Just talking about the problem and my feelings made a big difference and I got a few hints and tricks along the way.

My tips for managing behaviour

I have just started on my probationary year and I am learning more everyday but there were some things that really made a difference for me when managing behaviour:

  • Be prepared, know the procedures and follow them.
  • Be fair and be consistent.
  • Talk over your worries, it is not weak to ask for advice and help. Everybody has been in our situation at some point.
  • Remember that developing strategies is a process of trial and error.
  • "Above all else to thy self be true" - Hamlet.
  • Be proud to be a duck!