“Don’t smile before Christmas” used to be a common piece of advice for new teachers entering the classroom. By being an authoritarian teacher, you’ll have complete control over your class and you’ll never have any behaviour management issues ever! There is some truth in this, it’s much more difficult to begin with all jokes and smiles and then try to become strict. However, you must ask yourself ‘do I want students to behave and learn because they feel that they’re being forced to?’. As a teacher myself I want my students to learn and engage because they genuinely enjoy being in the classroom. My personal view is that the ‘don’t smile until Christmas’ advice negatively impacts the building of positive relationships in the classroom (Of course, there are teachers out there who use this style and are amazing teachers, it’s just not for me!). Secondly, the total ‘authoritarian’ style of teaching doesn’t suit everyone and your students will see right through it if you try and fake it.
Research into teacher-student relations has found that ‘when students viewed their language teacher as tolerant yet exacting discipline, a positive relationship was found with student wellbeing. Students also felt better when their mathematics teachers were less authoritarian, but the cooperative component was still important.’ (Petegem et al, 2007). Striking that balance between strict, personal and tolerant is difficult as a new teacher – especially if you don’t know your class beforehand. The ultimate goal for all our classes is to have positive student-teacher relationships and that comes with time, and some of the things you do in the first few weeks with new classes can help. Hopefully some of the ideas listed here will be useful (some may be rubbish!) and remember you won’t always get it right and that’s okay.
Before you set foot in the classroom…
1) Speak to your mentor and other teachers
• Could I have a copy of your previous seating plan? (if it’s the same class)
• Am I teaching any high-profile students in terms of behaviour/needs? What strategies help to engage them?
• What is the ability of my classes?
2) Print out student support plans and file them away somewhere safe
You would have done this during your training year, but it’s good practice to keep doing this. Have a file for each class and read their student support plans.
3) Create seating plans in advance
Get your seating plans ready and printed before you meet your class. This can be tricky if you don’t know the class, however you can use random name generators to do this and some programmes like classcharts (if your school has it) can do this for you. Some things to consider are…
• Ask your mentor to quickly check your plans in advance if possible. They might be able to spot any issues (e.g. chatty best friends sat next to each other).
• Students with visual/auditory impairments may need to be sat in certain areas of the classroom.
• You may want to sit SEN/EAL students near you for extra support or with a supportive peer.
4) Get a copy of the school’s behaviour policy
Read it over and over. It is crucial that you know how to apply it consistently and fairly. Ask your mentor if you’re not sure of anything. Remember that you are not their ‘mate’ and you are there to educate them and prepare them for when they leave school.
1) Get the students in
Greet your new students at the door, welcome them into your classroom. Keep an eye on the door and also what is going on inside the classroom. Here you can spot and correct any uniform issues such as untucked shirt. Just politely ask them to tuck their shirt in “Hello, it would be great if you could tuck your shirt in before you come into my classroom. The rest of your class are so smart and well dressed and I expect the same from you”. Be sure to highlight how well dressed other members of the group are and thank them for doing what you’ve asked! If they refuse don’t make a massive deal out of it at the door, get them in and address it later in the lesson (with a sanction if necessary).
2) Seating plan
Put the students in your seating plan from lesson 1. Do not let them sit where they want (even if they complain) doing that sets the tone that they are in control of the class, not you. Having the plan ready in advance communicates to your students that you’re organised and you have control. Tell the students that it will help you to learn their names more quickly (which is true) and you expect them to sit where you ask them to.
During this time get students to complete ‘admin’ type tasks like filling out information on the front of their new books. This helps those students already seated to focus and not get distracted.
The first few weeks with your new classes are vital for communicating and embedding what you expect as a teacher. This doesn’t need to be a list of 15 things that students must do, I normally communicate 3 expectations which are…
• Don’t disrupt the learning of others and be respectful to every person in the classroom
• Put 100% effort into your work
• Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you’re not sure
These are simple and easy to follow. Outline the consequences for not doing so, which should be according to your schools behaviour policy. Don’t spend ages lecturing them on expectations, rules and sanctions as they know how and why they should behave appropriately in a classroom. Just making these clear to students from the beginning again communicates that you want a positive learning environment for your students.
Make sure you highlight the positive rewards for students who consistently meet your expectations. Positive praise points, emails/phone calls home etc.
4) Get on with the learning
There is often a temptation to do ‘ice-breaker’ type activities, however they’ve probably done this in tutor periods or transition activities (year 7). Secondly if you have a year 10 class for example they probably already know each other. My advice is just get on with the learning! Some good ideas for starter tasks may be to…
• Write down what they learnt last year, what they enjoyed and anything they found difficult. This can also help you to get an idea for what the class may need extra intervention with. This is useful for GCSE groups especially, and it shows to your class that you want to help and support them.
• Discussion based activities around your subject. For example with year 7 RE introduction lesson I will ask (if they feel comfortable disclosing) who considers themselves to be religious. If it’s a subject like History it could be ‘if you could go back in time and visit any period of time what would it be and why?’ This helps students to focus on the learning and helps you to build positive relationships with your students.
5) Use positive, personalised and meaningful praise
One of the most powerful ways to build positive relationships with new classes is the use of praise. Just don’t make it generic and meaningless (i.e. don’t praise students for underlining their date and title!). Something like ‘Your use of keywords in that sentence was great and shows a good understanding of the topic’ will help you to create good relationships with your classes.
6) Speak to every student during the first lesson
Plan an independent activity for your first lesson and use that time to speak to every student in your class. This communicates to them that you are invested in each student as an individual and you want to get to know them. Don’t spend the entire lesson stood at the front of the classroom.
The first few weeks…
1) Don’t be afraid to set detentions/use sanctions
Use your schools behaviour policy and set sanctions/detentions. Use time in detentions to speak to the student and engage in a conversation about their behaviour. Let the student speak and listen to them. Come up with a meaningful and achievable target together for the next lesson, for example ‘I would like you to complete all your work to a high standard, ask me for help if you’re not sure of anything’. Remind them of their target (and the fact it was decided TOGETHER) and use praise if this is met.
2) Contact parents
Parental contact is incredibly powerful for building relationships. If you’re nervous or unsure of what to say have a template ready, but make sure it’s personalised for the student. Contact parents for both positive and negative reasons.
- Choose 3 students from each class halfway through the Autumn term and ring/email parents to communicate how well they have worked in your lessons, or for any other positive reasons.
- Contact parents about negative behaviour. I like to use a sandwich technique, this is where the negative behaviour is ‘sandwiched’ between positives. It looks something like this…
‘Becky started off the year fantastic, engaging well in class discussions and completing work to a high standard. However recently I have had to set her detentions for persistently being off task and chatting with her friend in class. I would love for her to get back on track, is there anything I can do to support her with this?
3) Seek support if you feel you need it
If there is anything you are struggling with in terms of your new classes, seek support and help. It is not a sign of weakness and your mentor/other teachers will be able to offer advice and strategies. Being able to seek help is a sign of strength.
More tips from @davisliam (massive thank you!)
Use your sense of humour – with your older students that you teach remember they have been there longer than you and invariably will always test a new teacher and especially a teacher who is brand new. Be firm but also use your humour and common sense to manage them effectively otherwise you find yourself in more conflict with them than you would a year 7 class where you will have the bigger advantage. Have a laugh when the time is right with them but making sure they understand that the line is a strong one.
2. Contact home
Make calls early doors with students. In your first few weeks ensure that you are doing calls home especially with students who test you. The earlier you nip it in the bud the easier it will be in the long term. You mark out your territory and the students know you are prepared to follow things up. Once you have put this hard work in early on, the need for less phone calls later on should come.
3. Dress smart
You are telling students about their uniform and ensuring they have correct uniform and this is fantastic that the students see you are strong, additionally students will know not to try it on in your lessons by having no tie or wearing trainers. However continue to Ensure that you are role modelling and setting the standard with how you are dressing. It’s all too easy having been there a little while to slip into a bit more casual form of dress. Make sure you Keep it professional and set the standard for your students by setting the example.
4. Move forward
Don’t feel demoralised after a bad lesson. This happens when you are new and the students will bring trying to test you. Keep your composure and sense of humour to move forward. Don’t drag anything that happened in a previous lesson into a new lesson.