Five top tips for Early Career Teachers (ECTs) to help with classroom management
1. Be fair
2. Know about the latest trends
3. Listen and remember
4. Show you care
5. Have a sense of humour
Setting the boundaries at the start of the school year is a must. When meeting the class at the end of the previous year, I always set out my expectations as I’m sure many of you do. However, the children are so used to hearing what the teacher wants. Do this. Don’t do that! Etc, etc. I think they switch off. I was keen to explain to my new class that expectations work both ways and so do set boundaries and the TA and myself would also abide by this ethos. This is a link with being fair -they know from the start that you intend to be more than someone who just teaches and gives out tasks for them to complete. I expected them to have fun in the classroom – have a laugh (at my expense at times). I had a giggle at them, and they returned it more often than not, and this worked! The children see you not just as a teacher but a ‘normal’ human being. In addition to this, I told the odd story of when I was younger. I tried to help the children understand that many moons ago, I was like them and that I do understand their needs as a pupil. Personally, I see this as a positive thing. There had to be boundaries of course, but as mentioned, this works both ways.
I explained to the children that even as an adult and especially as a teacher (because as you know, teachers have to know everything!) we get things wrong at times and they are totally in their rights to say if they didn’t like something I had said or done – respectfully of course. My TA and I often teamed up against the class. Teachers verses children – oh they loved the challenge. We also had TA verses Teacher and the children would take sides. This again worked as the children were challenged to ensure that their side won. Who could solve the maths problem in the quickest time? Who could include the most fronted adverbials?
Honestly, and I know my TA would agree, it worked, it was fun and the children loved it and the progression they made showed it. Having taught in upper key stage 2 for the majority of my career, I know this is easier than lower down the school but I’m sure the approach could be adapted to suit. I tried to make every lesson, as best as I could, a fun one. Even at year 6, the children found it amusing when you make mistakes (on purpose of course – just make sure they are listening or can apply what they have previously learnt). For me, being a bit daft in school just worked. I often got comments like, ‘I like Mr Mackinnon. He makes us laugh but we always learn something.’ Just trying to make learning fun makes such a difference and even those reticent learners opened up and became engaged. I remember one year (yes year 6), I had a pupil who had some time off at the start of the year as they were so worried about year 6, SATs and moving on to Secondary School. Obviously, they came back into class but sat very quietly in the corner, not saying much and looking like a rabbit in the headlights. My approach didn’t change overall. Yes, a little more caution maybe but generally the same. By the end of the year, this pupil was coming up to me and giving me so much grief – in a good way- it was great to see, they completely came out of their shell and were full of confidence. In addition, they made fantastic progress, did well in SATs and was so much more confident about the transition to secondary school.
Much of what I have said so far links all the points I have stated above and is easy to do. I don’t have a magic wand here and all the answers to having the perfect class but every little helps, right?
The first time I found that knowing what the children are into helps you build positive relationships with them so much more easily was when my son was a similar age. I would comment on the latest trend, computer game or fad. The children were shocked, ‘How do you know about that?’ Knowing a little bit about what they enjoy enabled me to interact with them not just about schoolwork but also their lives out of school. Again, this worked. They knew I was actually interested in them: the person, not just a pupil. To me, this shows that you care about them. It is not just about listening in that moment but remembering it and going back to it later. It makes a difference if you get in first and ask how their birthday went, was the family party at the weekend good? Any teacher in any year group worth their salt must agree that you can’t help but become attached to the class and the individual traits of the pupils. Is it wrong to show you care? Should it just be that the children are numbers and data to be processed? Absolutely not. A point worth making here though is that you need to be consistent. For ALL pupils and over the whole year. Children, especially the older children, very quickly pick up if certain children are receiving more of your attention. This can be difficult when some children need more support in class than others. Again, older children are more aware of who needs extra support and tend to understand. So, be fair from the start until the finish.
I know that every class, every year group is unique and that there are so many different challenges when teaching. Overall, I’ve been very lucky with the pupils in my classes. That’s not to say that I haven’t had some challenges along the way. If I had to give one extra tip, then it would be: ask for help. Schools are great places when everything is going well but when it doesn’t, that classroom can become a lonely place. You can’t always predict what is going to happen when a pupil becomes distressed or upset over a playground incident that then rolls over in the next lesson. You also must remember that each pupil has a life outside of school and their time at home isn’t always a good one.
Sometimes you just need help managing a situation and that is certainly not a weakness. Your colleagues will be there for you. Ask the senior leadership team for help and advice. A good, supportive headteacher will pre-empt any problems and pass on valuable advice but if this doesn’t happen, don’t be afraid to ask first. After all, every single person in the school is there for the same reason – to ensure that those pupils have the best start to their education as possible and to start to learn life-skills that they will carry forward in their education.
As a supply teacher, you don’t have time to implement all these behaviour techniques if you are only in the school for a day, but I can guarantee that if you apply some of the above, then the children will certainly remember you. Use the school’s behaviour policy but be you as well. If the children then go on to talk their teacher or other members of staff in a positive way about you, then the chance of getting a call to go back there will be much higher.