After five years of teaching, I still find classroom management more difficult than I would like. The number of strategies I have continues to increase, while I better understand what works well, why it works, and what I like.
Picture the scene:
It is Friday afternoon, which is typically the single hardest lesson of the week. I was tired and had been at work until past 8pm the previous night. It was Children in Need and would previously have been a non-uniform day but, at relatively short notice, it was revealed that this would not be the case – which caused some unrest. The Year 8 class I was to teach is set 3 out of 4 and has 30 students (this would be a lot for any class). The previous lesson, the students had not progressed far enough with their task, so needed to use communal resources (laptops) to finish off. I discovered at 11.15am that another class would be using the laptops.
Issues like this are not uncommon throughout schools, and teachers have to adapt to whatever hurdles may arise, but that was the hand I had been dealt for this particular lesson.
The students didn’t take the news about the laptops well, and things started to deteriorate. As my stress levels started to rise, I sensed I may have a battle on my hands.
I have a few extreme strategies in my repertoire that I turn to only as a last resort. One, which I have used on just one previous occasion in five years, is the “you’re wasting time, so I’m going to get on with my own work until you’re ready to learn”. I said it. Sooner than I would have intended. But it was too late to take those words back. In the five seconds it took me to sit at my desk, I immediately thought to myself “what have you done? You’ve given yourself no room for manoeuvre if things become any worse, and those students who actually do want to learn do not have sufficient information to get on”
Those precious seconds saved me.
I started typing instructions on the board. The ‘good’ students followed the instructions. The ‘middling’ students followed the ‘good’ students, and soon, the ‘bad’ students followed the ‘middling’ students. I still had to think on my feet; there weren’t enough resources to go around and some students (a small, but manageable, minority) were causing disruption. But these issues were shrinking in their gravity.
Problems with resources were soon resolved, and I called key students up to my desk one at a time. Some to praise, and others to advise how they needed to change their actions. Gradually the class moved in the right direction. I didn’t leave my seat for the remainder of the lesson. I continued to call up different students to offer differing words of advice. The result was that the entire class produced more work than they might have done otherwise. Furthermore, my stress levels were significantly less than they could have been.
This was not, by definition, a ‘good’ lesson, but it was a ‘satisfactory’ lesson – and no amount of planning could have accounted for the sequence of events that unfolded. I will mark that one down as a win.