There’s no doubt that handling poor behaviour remains one of the biggest challenges for newly qualified teachers. Trainees often talk of their fears around behaviour and many seem powerfully aware of the apparently thin line between calm and chaos in our schools. But it’s crucial to take on board a few home truths when it comes to behaviour management…
It's not personal
I remember teaching a particularly challenging class when on a placement during my training. Due to some confusion at the end of the lesson, some pupils left before I had told them it was time to. I felt devastated; I can appreciate now that feeling so upset was disproportionate considering what had happened but it felt personal. And that’s quite normal.
But it isn’t personal. Children misbehave, misunderstand or just take advantage for a huge variety of reasons and if we are able to acknowledge that, and not take every misdemeanour as a personal affront, we will have a far easier time! Some children may be too challenged by the work, others may have needs that aren’t being adequately met at that time, others may be pushing boundaries, others may be struggling with big emotions as a result of events outside school, the class size may be too big – the list is endless.
You won’t always be able to have a positive impact on the reasons behind the behaviour, but you can move forward in your relationship with each child through the way in which you both handle the situation.
Regardless of the reasons behind challenging behaviour, when it happens in your lesson, you have to deal with it. While other, more long term solutions may be sought after the event, you need short-term strategies so that each child resumes learning as calmly as possible. It may seem unhelpful to say it, but despite the real need to encounter a variety of strategies while in training, these are best acquired, and put to use, on the job.
You will inevitably use the strategies that work best for your personality and teaching style and there are numerous sources of support as you find your way. The teaching unions are a good place to start. Primarily, though, you must know what your school’s behaviour strategy is and follow it precisely. Know who you can call on for support too, and talk to colleagues about how they transform challenging behaviour so that great learning can happen.
I was relieved to see in the Initial Teacher Training Behaviour Working Group’s report on developing behaviour management for teacher training that relationships get a mention among the more common advice to build routines and focus on responses for de-escalating disruption. It is down to you to maintain an atmosphere in your classroom that is conducive to learning and that, in turn, is supported greatly by the relationships you build with the children you teach.
That’s not to say that poor behaviour is a result of poor relationships, but good relationships will allow you to navigate choppy waters more effectively. When low level disruption remains a common complaint of many teachers, the quality of the relationships in the classroom will be key in overcoming such blocks to learning. And never be afraid to abandon teaching temporarily to give time and space to building better working relationships. It will invariably be time well spent.
As an NQT, you can be well prepared, but you cannot be well experienced. It may feel that the pressure is on for you to know all the strategies and potential answers to solve every behaviour issue you come across, but that expectation is utterly unrealistic. As long as you are building on your experience and learning as you go, you will become ever more competent.
You cannot be expected to solve all the problems inherent in poor behaviour. Help is out there. Never struggle on alone.
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for eTeach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.