I have just started my twenty third year in the classroom. I am always looking for ways to keep my lessons fresh and vital for my kids. I think I was born to teach; most of what I do is intuitive. I watch my kids’ faces and if they aren’t getting it I stop and try another way.
I have been responsible for many practicum students over the years and in recent times have become perplexed with one university’s advice to their future teachers regarding behaviour management. It was only after observing a few practicum teachers in one block at our school that I realised there was a pattern. And so I asked …
The students had been instructed by their university mentors to manage the students in pockets by walking around and delivering individual instructions to pockets of kids – WTF!
Behaviour management is really quite simple in theory; it starts to work when we work and are consistent. And if you persevere at the beginning, you never really struggle like we all do in the early years again.
Successful management of a classroom hinges on:
1. Clear boundaries
2. Consistently enforced boundaries
3. Strong and appropriate relationships with the kids and,
4. Engaging lessons.
This doesn’t all come at once. No beginning teacher can follow this and magically the kids are working, responding and achieving. You plant the seeds and they grow as you grow.
My rules at the beginning of each year have become less and less each year. I now simply explain to the kids that my classroom works on respect: I respect them, they respect me and we all respect our learning, and everything will be great.
I promise them they have a teacher that loves them and wants them to know more at the end of our time together than they do at the beginning, and if they do as I ask, I guarantee them success.
But when I started teaching, I was very very specific. And I asked the kids to write Behaviour Rules as well as Book Rules. I don’t need to do that anymore because my reputation precedes me; the kids have an expectation of how they should behave before they enter my classroom. They already know they will receive consequences if they don’t follow the school rules. I am the pack leader and this inspires confidence that they will be safe in my space. And they are. But this didn’t happen overnight.
This comes from years of hard work consistently enforcing those rules; many many lunch times spent on detentions with the kids talking to them about the whys and the hows, and inadvertently developing strong relationships with each of them, because I cared to talk to them, listen to them, and spend time with them. Kids respond to this. By spending the time with them I let them know that they were valuable to me as people first, students second. Their learning and the struggles that compromised this were important to me. They believed I loved them and that their success drives me forward.
And once I had control of my classroom, the lessons I had prepared could engage the kids. By knowing my students and understanding how my kids learn, through practice not theory, I could devise units that were relevant and pushed their understanding of our world. And then they learned.
My greatest achievements as a person occur through my work. That moment when the light bulb switches on in a student’s mind, and they look at you and say, “I get it! I understand!” is amazing. There is nothing like it and I am blessed with that occurrence every day.
Because my foundation is strong.
Because the focus in my classroom is learning and not behaviour.
Because I spent years developing relationships through enforcing boundaries and reiterating expectations.
Because I strengthened my craft.
Because I never gave up, even though I threatened it and cried heaps.
I struggle in this era of teaching. I see young teachers who show potential that are encouraged to take on extra roles and duties before they have had time to perfect their craft. I believe that it is only once you have perfected your craft (and this occurs at different times for different people) that you can afford for your classroom practice to be ‘compromised’ by other roles.
And I believe that you can only lead once you have experience. Obviously, people develop at different rates and different life experiences impact on a person’s readiness to lead so there are no fixed times attached to this.
But that experience leads to knowing thyself which leads to being able to support and lead others.
In contemporary teaching I see people take on leadership roles before they are ready and the foundation of a school becomes compromised. Leading people effectively, whether they be kids or adults, requires sacrifice and time. It requires knowledge, conviction and time. Overloading people before they are ready is not in anyone’s best interests. But it continues to happen.
To the detriment of education and learning. And ultimately, to the detriment of our individual and collective futures.