I do not profess to be an amazing behaviour manager. The hardest thing about being a new teacher is that it is difficult to know how to respond when students do the wrong thing. There are also those moments when a more experienced teacher would have seen the trouble coming, but new ones can’t.
In my first year, I had two classes who could find my patience threshold within fifteen minutes and they expressed views that I found so appalling that I did not want to stay in their presence. The students in question were in year nine and year ten and most of them were larger than me, including the girls. The boys used this to their advantage, never missing an opportunity to physically intimidate me. They were loud, shouting obscenities and vocalising their tobacco cravings. Many of the boys preferred to rub their nipples at me to completing work and there was also plenty of hands-down-pants action. Some of the girls had difficulty selecting school skirts that could cover their underwear when seated. Call me judgemental, but I despaired of the adults these kids would become after day one.
I stood in front of both of those classes in turn on my first day, dressed like a teacher, with a freshly-broken right arm in a sling. I am right-handed so I wrote my name sloppily on the board with my left hand. The year nines laughed at me. The boys were particularly loud and plenty of animal noises accompanied their hoots of laughter. One of them asked me “are you a new student? You are NOT a teacher!” Most of them were convinced that I was a casual and I could not convince them that it was my name on their timetable. I stuck to my policy of not talking over the students and I used my best death stares. In the fifty-minute lesson, it took me forty minutes to mark the roll. Part of that time was spent trying to get them to sit down. They invaded my personal space, circling me like predators and sticking their mean faces close to mine. I stood my ground and made no reply except for “sit in your seats”. In the last ten minutes, I tried to get them to put away their mobile phones and to impose on them my expectations for the year. When the bell rang, the students shoved themselves back from their tables, knocking over their chairs and they ran for the door, punching and shoving each other and shouting explicit things. When I called loudly for them to stand behind their chairs, they pretended I had not spoken and kept going.
I used every strategy I had during that lesson. I had planned a lesson, I had tried to talk about class rules so that expectations were transparent, and I tried to get to know the students. I made a point of learning to pronounce their names properly, because I know I used to hate teachers who couldn’t even bother to learn our names properly and get them right. I refused to allow them to speak over me. The kids knew more than me though. If they do not allow you to even get the lesson started and if they present a united front of hostility, you can’t win. I have learned this year that the only thing allowing you to get a lesson started at my school is your credibility from past years. Out of all of the things they did to me that day, their laughter undermined my confidence the most. By the end of that lesson, I was afraid of them, and with good reason. Many of the students in that year nine class were involved in criminal behaviours at that time and some have become involved in criminal activity since.
The response from the year tens was not very different, and the lesson went the same way. However, they were less aggressive than the year nines. They hurled insults and threats at me, but did not make good on any of them that day. The boys emitted guttural and high-pitched noises at frequent intervals and they spoke to each other and me as though they would like nothing better than to rip everyone in the room apart. But they did sit down, even if they didn’t listen.
I struggled with those two classes throughout year. They bullied me relentlessly for terms one and two, but by terms three and four, some of the more menacing children had been farmed out to work experience, part time work, TAFE or other programs for the disengaged. Some simply left and many began to truant when they realised that they couldn’t break me and I wouldn’t back down. I only ever showed them the bitch in me. It worked as far as restoring an ordered classroom and they did learn to wait until dismissal at the end of class. Those that began to pay attention did very well for themselves. The year nines went into higher year ten classes and some of the year tens chose Science for year eleven. The ones who vehemently refused to attempt any work did not improve their rankings or their scientific literacy. In fact, they regressed, beginning the subsequent year with a lower ability to apply knowledge than when they came to me.
The most important thing about behaviour management is that you have to make an attempt. You have to do SOMETHING. Better a failed attempt than none at all, because a failed attempt still sets the standard that something unacceptable has taken place. I eventually learned the school systems and began to develop strategies to punish the kids. However, I must admit that often, to punish you must first entrap. If you confiscate a drawing or something similar that is being used to distract the class, always promise to give it back at the end and remind the student to put their name on it so that you know it’s theirs. Take it to someone higher up instead of returning it. The kid cannot deny ownership if their name is on it in their own handwriting. This actually works numerous times on the same kid.
Follow up with things that you say you’ll do. A late punishment, accompanied by dated records is better than no punishment at all. FYI-giving them detention means you have detention too. Find a better thing to do to them. If you call a parent and they appeal to you for help with managing their child, suggest the confiscation of electronic devices. Parents might also like to turn their wifi off at bedtime. It makes it more likely that the children will actually sleep.
Lastly, don’t let the kids see your emotions unless you trust them. It unnerves them to deal with robotic people, so give them a robot if need be. I have also found that sometimes you have to be unconventional for the kids to take any notice of you.
The uni lecturers are convinced that I will continue to develop in the area of behaviour management……