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By Sue Cowleyexperienced classroom teacher and behaviour expert.

As a student or NQT, you may come up against obstacles that hold you back. Sue Cowley, an experienced classroom teacher, is here to solve your classroom problems

Sue Cowley

Sue Cowley answers your classroom queries

Behave yourself!

Q I’m a student teacher and I’m finding behaviour management the hardest part of my training. I get wound up very easily and I often end up shouting at the children to behave, which doesn’t seem to help. What’s the solution to getting my class under control?

A* Many (perhaps all) new teachers find it hard to achieve control over their classes, so you are not alone in your problems. There is no single magic ‘answer’ that will solve this issue for you – getting it right is a matter of experience, persistence and good relationships. These relationships take time for any teacher to build up, and this puts student teachers into a tricky position, because they spend relatively little time with their classes. However, there are certainly some practical strategies you can use to make a difference in the meantime.

Aim to appear confident on the outside, even if inside you feel completely terrified. Children are very sensitive to the signals a teacher sends out about his or her comfort levels. Use a clear voice and positive body language to show (or pretend) that you feel in control. Be very clear about your expectations of behaviour: demand high standards, and accept that you might have to struggle to achieve these.

Don’t let the children get away with low-level misbehaviour in the mistaken impression that this will make your life easier. It won’t: the children will very quickly begin to push more and more at the boundaries to see how far you will let them go.

When things are going wrong, try not to become defensive and overreact. Take a few moments to calm yourself before you intervene – this should help you to make a rational, rather than emotional, response. As you have realised, shouting just doesn’t work – all it does is show the children that they can make you lose your temper. Above all else, remember that becoming a good teacher is a learning process, and one that is never actually completed. At the moment you are at the start of that process, but it will become progressively easier as you gain experience.

Listen to me!

Q I’m an NQT and my biggest difficulty is getting the children to listen to me. I often find myself talking over the low-level chatter of a number of children. Have you got any tips for getting silence?

A* If I was allowed only one expectation of behaviour, it would be that my children were silent whenever I (or anyone else) needed to talk to them. It’s a fundamental part of effective teaching, and you are right to see it as crucial. The answer to your question lies in the fact that you ‘often find’ yourself talking over low-level chatter. Don’t! The minute you do this, you effectively say to your children ‘go ahead, talk, I don’t really mind because I’m still trying to teach’.

It will probably be a struggle, but insist on total silence before you address the class. How you get this silence is very personal, but do ask for advice from other teachers at your school. Some will simply wait, looking mean and glancing at their watches to indicate ‘you’re wasting my time so I’ll waste yours’. Others might use a noice such as tapping on a desk or ringing a bell. Some might take more idiosyncratic approaches, for example, writing messages to a noisy class on the board. Find something that appeals to you, then stick with it until it works.

Need help?

If you have any questions for our expert, please email them to Lesley Sudlow

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