Straightforward Behaviour Management

Getting "Old School" at School

Straightforward Behaviour Management

Keep your rules clear, and remember that you are not alone.

Throughout my teaching career, I’ve worked in everything from outstanding schools to ones that were in special measures and likely to remain there. I’ve seen schools which get good results and schools which get dreadful ones. It’s taught me a lesson that I’ll share with you right from the off: you will never be able to teach a poorly behaved class as much as you can a well behaved one. Fact. Simple. I’ve never seen a school with bad behaviour get a top grade from OFSTED.

There are all sorts of theories about why students don’t behave in school. Half of these say that the student has problems, but it’s up to the teacher to respond to that and manage the student’s actions for them. The other half suggest that the student has no responsibility for what they do and that we need to adapt our classrooms to support their specific needs.

I look at it another way: If I have a set of 30 students, I will teach them in the way that best suits the group. I will adapt my style depending on their needs. If there is someone in the group who decides to behave differently, then they have to do the same. Not shout out. Not hit people when they get angry. They might find it difficult. Actually, I find getting up in the morning to teach year nine pretty difficult, too. Live with it. Why should 29 well-behaved students have to put up with one who decides the rules don’t apply to them? No, I’m not progressive, and I’m not supportive. I'm proudly "old school."

How does this affect my behaviour management? Well, the results are very direct.

To start with, I don’t see behaviour management as exclusively my problem. This is a departmental/whole school issue. Every teacher needs to know that they have the full support of senior staff and that everyone—from the receptionist to the dinner ladies—insists on the same standard of behaviour. The rules are the same across the school at every point during the day. When that happens, poor behaviour becomes less of a problem for everyone.

I always put students into a seating plan and keep them there. If they argue about it (and difficult classes will), I point out that I am the teacher, they are the student. I am not under any obligation to discuss or even explain how I run my classroom. Yes, they hate that, because it sounds quite dictatorial. But you try telling your boss that you want to sit with your best friend and not do any work for the whole day. See how far you get.

If they continue to moan about it, I remove them. They are showing the wrong attitude. This sends a message to the class that I mean business. For the next couple of lessons, I use the seating plan to call the register. I don't let them even shift chairs (Billy, you should be on the left of Jessica, not the right. Please correct that. Does it matter? Yes Billy. It matters because you've been given a direct instruction and you have not followed it. That matters a lot).

I enforce a "one warning then remove" policy. I follow that up with a detention and a long discussion with their parents. I always enlist the aid of a terrifying colleague to support me during conversations with such children because I'm far too nice. My head of department is quite happy to play the bad guy if needed, and my colleague in the next room even scares the hell out of me when they get angry. It’s good to make use of other people’s skills.

Above all, I don't pander to my students. I set them lots of work they can get on with in silence. Not "quietly" (I hate that word)—but 100 percent without speaking. I insist that if I've explained the work once and then asked if they understand it, they have to try their best. I don't mind them making mistakes, but I'm not going to explain the task to them over and over (which is the other way that classes justify bending the rules: “but sir, I was just asking my friend how I do the task!” – “You heard me explain it? You heard me ask if anyone had problems? And you heard me tell people to work in silence? Then stop talking and try your best”).

When they DO follow my rules, I’m nice. I tell all of my classes that I'll give everyone who behaves appropriately two achievement points—for just doing their job, as I see it. I give them plenty of opportunities to show good work, earn other rewards, and have more freedom of choice in the tasks they do. I also teach the best lessons I can with lots of humour and variety. I'll even give out sweets as prizes (sometimes—when I’ve not already eaten them because lunchtime is a long way off). When they just do what they should, I'm a nice guy.

When they don’t, that’s another story. I don’t accept excuses and I don’t give second chances. Then my classroom becomes like a SPECTRE board meeting.

This may sound grim, but I can describe myself as a (mostly) popular teacher. Students come into my classroom knowing what’s expected of them. They are clear where I draw the line between a good working environment and an unfocused mess. They like my lessons and know they will get some real work done.

None of this amounts to a theory. I’m not a psychologist or a sociologist, I’m just a teacher who believes that achievement comes from hard work, and that achievement is ultimately the greatest reward we can help our students earn. Other than that—I just want my grey hairs come from age, not stress.

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Sebastian Phillips

UK based writer and photographer, specialising in offbeat stories and obscure facts.

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