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Dear James : Success, despite a weak starting point ?

Discussion in 'Trainee and student teachers' started by Prolate, Jan 18, 2012.

  1. Hello (Excuse the long post)

    This is my first placement as part of a PGCE. I am doing my best, but perhaps I'm not performing as well as a typical PGCE student would or should, and thus not enjoying school at all.

    From conversations I've had with the teachers I work with, their impression is that I don't look very comfortable in the classroom, I'm lacking any real authoritative presence and that the pupils don't really take me seriously. That is to say, when I'm about to address the whole class, there will be plenty of pupils who repeatedly ignore my requests for quiet and continue to talk- meaning that I can either talk over them (which is of course not recommended) or I can continue to insist on quiet (which can last for minutes and turn into a joke). This happens every day.

    ... and that when I keep them in after school, they are disrespectful, believing there to be no real consequence when it comes to me.

    What I suspect is that if I don't volunteer to leave, someone at the university might find themselves having to recommend that to me.

    I would like to become an accomplished, competent teacher who can really serve the pupils and be fulfilled in their work, but if my own learning process is at the expense of the pupils' learning (because of me not being able to establish a good classroom climate) then it's a tricky aspiration to chase.

    Again, I'm trying my best, and I'm not the type of person who believes that anyone is "suited to teaching" but rather that is is a skill to be practiced.

    Is good teaching really a set of discrete, practicable skills that can be learned, even by someone who is not very confident or assertive at this moment? I hope so. I suppose I'd like to know if it is possible for a person to do a bad job of their teaching placement(s) and then become a great teacher someday despite that, through building a convincing and authentic teaching persona and learning to behave confidently in the classroom (including finding their voice and improving their basic interaction).
    Thanks to anyone who can share or advise.
  2. Captain Obvious

    Captain Obvious New commenter

    I'm not particularly shouty as a teacher, and I have a few difficult and noisy classes.
    The trick is to keep hammering them, even if it takes minutes. Today, I had my annoying year 9 group who have difficulty disengaging their mouths. Due to a prior PE lesson (that never helps, either), the start was disrupted and the noise began to build. It took a while to get some quiet, but after making sure I picked on those who were talking (maybe a third of the class) and handed out a few points using the behaviour code, eventually it was quiet enough for long enough to say what I needed to say.
    They weren't quiet for the rest of the lesson, and really their work rate wasn't that great (it never is), but I got them going in the right direction.
    Sometimes you've got to bluff, act and just grind away at them.
    That doesn't matter. If you have to, take their time via detentions or, if your lesson is before break/lunch/3pm, straight away. Let them know that those who comply get rewarded (either through school rewards or leaving on time) and those who don't get punished (behaviour code, held back). Even change the seating plan if you have to.
    You may never crack some classes, but if you can get them trained to do what you want when you need them to do so, you'll get by. Be boring, be repetitive. Let them know you won't back down.
  3. Whilst waiting for silence, what do you do? If you continuously ask for silence (or shout/demand it etc) then I view that as pressing the reset button every time. Just wait it out. Stare at a few, and either look bored (someone on here said she starts filing her nails!) or look really annoyed or something ... have a look ... and in time some of the pupils will get bored and harrang the others into quiet. Once you've got that silence, carry straight on with what you wanted to do (ie teach them!), and do so in quite a low voice, so that they have to actively engage in order to listen to you. The first thing they hear once they've settled down shouldn't be you telling them that they weren't being quiet - focus on what they should be doing rather than shouldn't.
    Also, as well as keeping them back, a phone call home can make a huge impact on some pupils. The right parent will take their Xbox/PS3/etc away before they even get home sometimes! Try to balance this out with positive calls home too.
    Also - what is your mentor and/or the "normal" class teacher doing to help you? They should be able to give you a few pointers.
  4. jaimexuk

    jaimexuk New commenter

    I'm currently on a Secondary PGCE, and I just wait it out. I perch on the desk and start adding minutes on the white board and they then tell each other to shut up (!). I've told them that I'm not wasting my voice on them, and that when they waste my time, I waste theirs.

    If I have to resort to this twice in a lesson then I start doubling the time they owe me rather than add minutes. There are always a few quiet ones who I make a HUGE fuss of at the end 'Tom, off you go, no need to stay back as you behaved great all lesson. Have a great day' etc.
    They soon get the idea.
  5. In a primary class I saw a teacher have a huge timer on the interactive whiteboard, so she asked for quiet once then pressed the timer. The whole class stayed for that amount of time.
    It worked as the kids would make each other be quiet.
  6. You need to act confidently and authoritatively even if you don't feel it. Practise walking around and putting the don't mess with me tone into your voice. You don't have to raise your voice, but really sound like you mean business. Get someone to listen to you and watch you walk giving you feedback so you can modify your tone and body language.
    If you keep them in after-school and they are disrespectful, I would use your school policy/mentor, but my inclination is that they re-do the detention or the sanction escalates until they can behave appropriately in a detention - e.g. ring home (checking with your mentor first) and explain that Johnny will be doing his detention again as he didn't behave appropriately
    Yes, you can learn the skills and develop your confidence and authority in the classroom. You hit the nail on the head with the teaching persona - you need to have an alta ego who is confident, authorative, don't mess with me. It's all about acting - I do not act as I do in the classroom at home or at least I hope I don't! When I mentor students some are lucky to have this persona straight away others, but others need more help and encouragement.
    Other strategies to get quiet - others have suggested counting up wasted minutes. I set my whiteboard timer for 45 minutes once the class are in the room. (50 minute lesson and allows for them to arrive) explain that they have 45 minutes learning time, every time you have to wait for quiet stop the clock, wait for quiet and then continue. However the key to this (works best before break/lunch/after-school) is that you have to continue the lesson into lunch - I always give the ones who are quiet a chance to go or stay and carry on with the lesson.
    Make sure you explain why you want them to be quiet e.g. is it to listen to instructions/assess/pack up etc. Make sure you explain to the class the behaviour you want to see accompanying each task.
    You can get there and become a good teacher but it will take work. Go and observe other quieter members of staff in your school - how do they manage their classes? Go and see your most difficult classes being taught by other teachers, how are they managing the class? What strategies are they using?
    Take the positives where you can, for example with one of my most difficult year 8 classes, I take it as a positive if they manage to stay in their seats for a lesson and not have to send anyone out. Good luck.
  7. You have some good advice above. I'll keep mine more general. Confidence comes with experience and your experience islimited. Try to get into your head that you are the person in charge and that the room is yours, not theirs, not the normal teacher's room. If pupils are not reacting to your instructions - move to be around them, their table/group and issue class instructions from there reduce the distance between you and them. You are the adult and if you are closer to them it's more difficult for them to ignore you. You can also react more quickly and be more direct with them.
    Try and seek out a really confident teacher and, rather than just copy them, look at how they 'own' and work the classroom - much like an actor moving on a stage. See how they position themselves and look at their body language when they want to issue instructions etc. Then practise in a mirror. If you can bear it - video a class (make sure you seek permision) you are teaching and watch yourself. If you do thi, DO NOT show to others and delete it after you have finished looking at it.
  8. I appreciate everyone's advice and I plan to stay on the course for as long as the university and placement schools will have me. I'm nearing the end of this placement and I think the next one will give me a chance to start off properly with new classes who haven't met me.

    Since I've not been clear on my expectations for pupils in the first lot of weeks, with regard to behaviour, our lessons (with this one group of pupils) have become very disorderly and now a lot of them misbehave majorly. I suppose it's a lesson for me on how to stay away from that spiral, where the teacher is not firm enough initially, causing more pupils to become more troublesome over time, such that at this late stage it would be futile to completely transform myself for this one group, because they would erupt rather than cooperate.

    Nonetheless, there are changes which I can make right away and get away with, such as what you recommended MasterMaths about not repeating requests for quiet as much. That has been working well since I started it. Thank you James and qu1annie for the points in your posts about observing other teachers and how it's all about acting. I'm making changes all the time to my practice.

    There are some things that I just can't let pupils away with, like swearing at their classmates, playing sounds at me from their phones, throwing things at eachother, singing while I'm speaking to the class, ignoring me when I speak directly to them...... Those things must be responded to, and I do respond to them, but it causes such a scene each time (because I hadn't done it in the past) and the other teachers know it. Also these pupils wouldn't exhibit this kind of misbehaviour if I'd started off firm and stayed firm throughout, so it is my fault.

    I hope I can prevent things from blowing up until the end of this placement and not be thrown out of school, and I can introduce myself properly to the next one.
  9. I know lots of people have replied to you, but I just wanted to let you know that I was in exactly the same position in my last placement.

    I'm doing a secondary PGCE, and although I know that this is the career I want to do, I felt that I wasn't well suited to it.
    Don't worry! No one from your university will tell you to leave your course. I felt rubbish. I was on a satisfactory at the end of the last term, and everyone else on my strand were either on goods or outstandings by the end of the six week placement. At first I took this really personally and thought well, I must be the worst trainee out of everyone on my course. However, over the Christmas period I realised that it really is a job in which you are constantly learning.
    I have been told by my University tutor that my self-confidence is a problem, which she recommends I gain counselling for. I believe that your self-confidence will build with time. My sister is a teacher, and she told me to stop aiming for the high-expectations that others are setting for me, and aim for what I can handle and cope with. When you apply for teaching jobs they won't ask you what grade you got in your teaching placements. They will be looking for potential, which I believe everybody has.

    If you truly feel like teaching is the job that you want to do for the rest of your life, don't let anybody else tell you that is isn't for you. Don't take feedback personally, and keep on with the behaviour management.
    - The first class went terribly! I went into the staff room and had a cry over lunch time, and then went back and retracked where I had gone wrong. It was a struggle, and every time I had to teach them I feel apprehensive and panicky, but it's normal to feel that way. Eventually I got through to most of the students and they began to realise that if they behaved my lessons could actually be fun. I know everybody says it, but it's all about time.

    Good luck with the rest of your placement. You really will be fine! You'll gain confidence through success in the classroom and praise from your mentor. And don't forget, if you're struggling to get students to listen to you, the classroom teacher should be assisting you too.

    Keep smiling!! [​IMG]

  10. GeeMarie

    GeeMarie New commenter

    Again, I know you've had a lot of good advice, but I thought I'd share what I've learned with you too.
    I'm on my second placement on my GTP, and have found my best tactic is smiling and praise. I'm quite a loud, confident person, but when a woman shouts most students just find it funny. Men can be intimidating, we just get a bit squeaky. I've taken to smiling big when they come in the clasroom. If possible, I stand at the door and say hello to everyone. I get two people to hand out books/sheets etc, and give big thank yous for doing it. I call for quiet twice if they are quite noisy- when students do what I want, they get a big grin, and a thank you, nice and loud- if I know their name (I don't always!) I use their name as well. Eventually, everyone wants a bit of praise.
    If they don't shut up while I'm trying to give instructions, I wait. I fold my arms, stare out of the window, and look incredibly bored. Sometimes, I look at the TA if there is one, and say something like 'Takes a while, doesn't it? Bit boring really.' Or I might say it to one of the students who are behaving themselves. It feels like forever, but it usually takes less than a minute for everyone to shut up. Once they have, I look a little amazed and say 'Oh, you've finished then?' They usually giggle a bit, then I smile and we continue. I thank them for being quiet.
    For my parituclarly rowdy Year 8s, I use the points on the board- every point is a minute of their lunch time. If they impress me throughout the whole lesson- the last 5 minutes count as much as the rest- I may take a point off the board. This works very well. Especially when they realised our last lesson was before lunch, and I could just keep them there. They were silent as the grave. They still only got 3 of their 7 points taken away and I kept them. One kid timed the 4 minutes for me! I do tell people off, and I do use the warning system, but I avoid it where necessary. Most students respond better to positivity, although not all. For the most troublesome students, try giving them some responsibility- handing out paper, books, rulers, glue, scissors, that sort of thing. Quite a few of them love it, especially if they get a merit or house point or something for doing it.
    Hope things go well for you in your next placement. Like has been said, put on a persona. It took me months to get that right, but I feel so much better now that I've managed it. Good luck!

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