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Dear Tom - please help me stop shouting at my class!

Discussion in 'Behaviour' started by Waiguoren, Sep 30, 2011.

  1. Waiguoren

    Waiguoren Occasional commenter

    Dear Tom,

    I need to ask for help. I’m
    an NQT with a Year 5 class. I’ve now had 4 weeks with them, and I’ve started
    shouting at them. My throat is sore and my voice is going, and I’m worried
    about my health. I feel it’s extremely unprofessional to shout, makes me look
    bad and erodes my relationship with the children. Most of the class is fine,
    and the system (the school uses Good to be Green, where they get yellow warning
    cards and red consequence card, and I count off minutes for them to stay in at
    playtime if the whole class isn’t quiet) seems to be working quite well with
    most of them – but four or five children in the class really push my buttons
    and ruin the lessons by slowing everything down while I deal with them. I hate
    it! Especially when the girls say “Eh?” and “I don’t geddit,” and the boys
    obviously aren’t paying a bit of attention to what I’m saying, and give me
    cheeky grins.

    I really want to get a handle
    on behaviour, because we might have an Ofsted soon and I’m worried that the
    children’s work is being affected. My plan for the next week is:

    1.Isolate the four
    troublemakers by putting them on mini tables at the front of the class, on
    their own, to do their work. Do you think this would work? They just cause so
    much trouble when they’re with the others.

    2.Also, I’m afraid my lesson
    planning has had problems – I haven’t taught Year 5 much before, and sometimes
    I’m not sure exactly what levels or knowledge to be teaching, or how to
    differentiate – and I think that signs of uncertainty and unpreparedness are
    eroding the lessons. From now on I’m going to try to have my lessons and
    resources really thoroughly prepared and carefully differentiated. And with
    some more fun activities like interactive games and maths resources and use of
    more ICT – I think that because I’m new at Year 5 I’ve been doing very “by the
    book” lessons they’ve been a bit dull and some more interactive things would
    motivate the children more – although I want to make sure that behaviour is
    good when we do these.

    I really want to stop
    shouting at the children – but it just feels sometimes like it’s the only way
    to get them to pay attention. I feel it’s unprofessional, and I’m worried about
    the effect on my health. How do I get them to listen to me?

    I do want the children to
    enjoy my classes, and to learn and study well. If I’m shouting at them, the
    classes get really slowed down, and learning isn’t taking place.

    Any advice very welcome.

    (By the way, Tom, I really enjoyed
    your book!)

  2. Try whispering! Believe me it works, though not for ever.
    pepper5 likes this.
  3. Waiguoren

    Waiguoren Occasional commenter

    I'm so glad to hear I'm not alone, Oscarsmummy!
    There is an idea I had which I think will help. I read it here: http://teachingtricks.weebly.com/behaviour-triangle.html
    I did the exercise and was pleased to find that of my 21 children only four are seriously naughty and, like I wrote above, I'm planning on making special measures for them next time - sitting them on their own, and doing planning with them in mind to make sure they have plenty to keep them busy and on task.
    What was nice was to reflect on how, out of the remaining 19 children, over half are very bright and very cooperative, and the rest are low level, some SEN and some with minor behavioural problems.
    But I would still be really eager to hear any advice on how to stop shouting, from Tom and others! I still feel very far from confident that I have the class in hand.
    Thanks for the suggestion on whispering. But what if they just can't hear me or know I'm speaking?
    The book I referred to was "Not Quite a Teacher" (I didn't get the N.Q.T. joke for a while, by the way).
  4. If you're trying to get their attention, use non-shouty methods - clap, rattle a tambourine, have some kind of countdown/noise on the board.... With my year 7s, if I can't get quiet, I start by writing a sentence on the board, something like "I'd like to tell you all something, but you're being so noisy that you can't hear me...!". I normally give them about a minute to settle (to notice, to nudge each other, to stop fidgetting). If they still aren't all quite there, I then write underneath it "Minutes staying behind at break/lunch time: __", and start tallying. They generally stop each other pretty quickly - you have to put up with a quick spike in noise levels, while they tell each other to stop, but it's much quicker and better on my voice than me shouting!

    This only works because, after my first very noisy lesson with them, I rearranged their seating plan so there's only really one very noisy child per table. The others on their table tend to control that ones bad behaviour. If you're saying that out of 21, there's only 4 that are really very naughty, the rearranging might help.

    I rarely get past writing the first 4 or 5 words now, before the nudging and whispering starts ;)
    cathr likes this.
  5. YesMrBronson

    YesMrBronson New commenter

    It's not unprofessional but you're right that shouting all the time isnot a good idea.
    pepper5 likes this.
  6. YesMrBronson

    YesMrBronson New commenter

    Are you keeping the entire class in? That's not a good strategy. Just keep the ones that are talking in instead. If it's several then start picking a few out - "Johnny, you're still talking so you'll have to stay behind. You too Sophie" etc. The others should then go quiet. Don't feel bad about singling them out - they singled themselves out by disobeying your instructions. Refuse to get into any arguments with individual pupils about this. Just ignore them, dismiss the rest of the class for their break and then rollock the pupils you kept in.
    All of the above works in Secondary school (with all years from 7-11) but I feel that I ought to add that I have never taught Primary so I'm willing to be corrected if these strategies don't work with year 5 kids.
    pepper5 likes this.

  7. Well. I'm far from an expert. I too find myself becoming a shouty teacher and I hate it.
    But... i have started to catch myself mid shout, at the moment just after I have really had my buttons pressed when I realise what I am doing. I then drop my voice as soon as I can (after the first word/s) and return my voice to a sort of very serious quiet one.
    It hasn't stopped me having my buttons pressed, but it helps me feel like i have regained control and self respect... and hopefully fools the kids that i meant to do it that way.
    Maybe I am fooling myself, but it is better than carrying on in a mad teacher rant. And the shouty thing has the reverse effect on 2 of the chief button pressers anyway. They think it is great entertainment if they can get me annoyed.
  8. Tom_Bennett

    Tom_Bennett Occasional commenter

    Hi Waiguoren
    Sorry to take so long getting back to you; school is a joyous drain on my time.
    You're absolutely right about shouting- I perfectly understand why you (and we all, sometimes) do it, but experience has taught me that it's a losing battle, and ultimately self-defeating. Shouting sometimes feels like the right thing to do, but that's usually an emotional reaction to frustration, and a way to communicate it to the children. But there are many issues here:
    • 1. It's an intimidatory tactic, and while it may work with some of the more docile and biddable children, it's not really a relationship that you want to develop with the kids, where trust is key.
    • 2. Some of them get far worse at home, and your most vicious raving will be water off their backs. Besides, it starts to press the buttons that some of them get at home, and they'll bring their home reactions with them.
    • 3. It provides sport for the kids, some of whom like nothing better than to watch a good meltdown.
    • 4. It reveals an emotional side to you that undermines the authority that you;re trying to project. In effect, it's saying to them, 'See how upset I am!' Which is the kind of communication that they would do. We need to set a better example.
    • 5. If you shout at them, be prepared for them to shout back. Monkey see, monkey do.
    So what can you do? Well, first of all, stop shouting. Once you've done it, where do you go from there? Nowhere. I only ever shout at a class if there's a safety issue, or because there might be so much noise that I temporarily have to raise my voice to the point where I can cut through it to issue my initial instruction, for example in a playground, or upon entering a noisy room.
    Always speak at a level just slightly above normal conversational level (ie projecting to the back), and speak slowly, and carefully as a default. Say as little as possible- if that (copyright Elmore Leonard) and make sure you communicate with maximum impact by saying only what you mean, and always doing what you say you will.
    Instead of shouting, replace it with effective communication- if you say you want silence, then say it once, twice, three times, then start taking names and keeping kids behind later on. They'll soon get the message that you aren't to be ignored. It isn't the volume of a command that makes it an imperative, but the sincerity and the consequences of that command. If you maintain this simple policy, then you show them that your words have meaning. But if you don't set clear boundaries, and reinforce those behavioural boundaries with tough love, then the words will fail to engage. They stay as just words, and words can be ignored.
    Back up your words with actions, and you'll never have to raise your voice again. Besides, you deserve better than ruining your throat every day until you can barely speak. Your voice is one of your main tools in teaching, so look after it :)
    With regards to your lesson planning, it will take time to get the right feel. Using the books is a useful guide to what others believe the class is capable of. If there are any other teachers of that year group, perhaps you could ask to see their schemes of work; or they could observe you and give you informal advice about pitch and challenge. But your instincts will be the best guide once you tune them with experience in the classroom.
    Your uncertainty will certainly convey itself to a class, so have some confidence in yourself; you're the adult, and even if your lessons are a bit dry at first, where does it say that all our lessons have to be fun and games? Save the entertainment for when you have the class behaving well, otherwise they'll see you as too soft- just keep the pace fast, change activities, frequently, and look at ways to engage the more and less able with different approaches to the same activity as the rest of the class.
    Glad you liked the book, and good luck. Let me know how you get on.
    Read more from Tom here on his personal blog, or follow him on Twitter here.
    pepper5 likes this.
  9. I too am an NQT and recently went to a conference on behaviour management.One of the most important things I took from that was to praise children publicly in the class, and to avoid telling them off in front of the class (instead go quietly and calmly to the individual and speak to them privately). I have introduced non-verbal signals in class for common things such as sitting up smart, quieten down, listening which means behaviours cn be highlighted without the need to raise my voice.
    In addition to this, I think it's important to make sure that children know they are responsible for their own behaviour. If they are consistently not listening to your instructions then give them a choice between a good/bad way of correcting their behaviour. That way it is in their hands and should they choose to continue you have been as fair as possible.

    I too have a group of children similar to you and was getting to the point of shouting too much. I have found that since I started praising them aloud as often as possible and not giving them the attention of 'shouting' they have been far more settled in class and respond much quicker to what I want them to be doing.
    pepper5 likes this.
  10. Hugocarey

    Hugocarey New commenter

    This has been very helpful. Thank you to all who are concerned. I am a year 7-13 teacher and I came home last night ready to quit. ‘Life is too short to spend it shouting at children who clearly do not want to learn’, I said to my partner. She listened to my daily rant, looked at me askew and said : “Try praising them”. I nearly exploded. When my buttons are pressed I go, particularly when I am on my third night in a row on 5 hours sleep due to anxiety. I am actually Head of Department so in theory I should know better but I genuinely find it impossible to get them quiet. My partner said ‘stop trying to achieve the impossible, live with it and focus on the few who care’. When I spoke to the Assistant Head of Behaviour she said ‘are you phoning home? Work with the parents to correct these issues’. I simply do not have the time, I proudly thought, to phone parents of kids who are draining me and destroying my Karma. But I obviously will get on the blower this afternoon. I actually believe I need to make my lessons more interesting and bring the best out of the kids rather than expecting them to do everything I say. As Tom has already said a lot of them get far worse at home. School is sport to them. They go there to get away from their strict upbringings, which clearly isn’t working either by the way. Shouting does not work and it undermines what little clout I have. Nurture and they will grow. Easily said. Back to the drawing board and plan those year 8 lessons harder than any others...Watch this space. Hasta la vista.
    pepper5 likes this.
  11. pepper5

    pepper5 Star commenter

    Hi Hugo

    Above your post, there are some very good suggestions.

    Perhaps go back to the drawing board and explain to your classes that you require silence at pivotal points:

    1. When taking the register
    2. Giving direct instructions - explaining a point, getting them started on a task etc.
    3. In an assessment or where they are doing extended writing

    Other activities could be a lot of pair work. I like pair work since they can help each other and talk about the work. Then perhaps bring the class back at pivotal points to discuss the topic or clear up any issues.

    Then you could tell them about the noise levels you expect. They need to use their inside voices for work and keep the noise levels down so people can concentrate.

    Perhaps do as your partner suggests and have a new Phone Home Friday Praise Report system. For the people who are following your instructions, you pick up to three perhaps and call their parents on Friday to give them a praise report. Pick three different ones each week.

    For the others, take names and call their parents or send a letter in connection with the lack of following instructions and disturbing others.

    You definitely need to get back on track and get more sleep. Don't spend another minute on lesson preparation and making the lessons more interesting as you are probably wasting your time - there is nothing wrong with the lessons you are presenting. If they work from text books forever so be it - you need your sleep!

    SEBREGIS Lead commenter

    No no no. You are the teacher. You determine how often the class is silent, and how often it gets to talk, debate etc. Are you going to be told what to do by your students? Forget that nonsense.

    Give an instruction once and then wait. As soon as each desk responds, you give them a number (1,2,3...) You do not start your lesson until every desk is responding. Don't yell. Don't remind. Wait. If it gets really silly, start adding numbers to the noisy desks. When it comes to break time, the desk with the lowest number goes first. The highest numbers go last. Or - not at all.

    As for phoning home - yes, it takes time and it's a bit of a pain, but it pays dividends in the long run. And you can always sit yourself in the lotus position and have twinky twonky whale song relaxation music in the background, no one will know. SLT can't chase you (sssssshhhh..... I'm on the phone to a parent). Go for the three worst students in the class.

    Also, remember to cut your losses sometimes. If the kids are so hyper that you can't make yourself heard, then think of activities which will calm them down. Reading. Copying. Watching. I'm not a big fan of these because they are often passive and the students won't learn very much, but they create a calm atmosphere and then you can simply say 'when I ask you to move, I want you to put your books away and sit very quietly for a moment while I explain the next task.'

    I think the reason teachers often struggle with this is that we feel we should always be in control. What if someone walked in and found I was unable to manage my students? But the skill of classroom management is winning the war, not the battle.
    pepper5 likes this.
  13. ferretmasta

    ferretmasta New commenter

    Shouting as a default definitely not the best idea. Water off a ducks back is correct for some kids and if it doesn't work what next?! Except my Mrs I've yet to meet anyone with an unlimited decibel level who never needs to pause for breath.

    Speaking deliberately quietly can help I've even told students I've got a bad throat to go for the sympathy vote with albeit mixed results.

    Being positive definitely a good default. I regularly ask for quiet several times whilst each time saying please. Then when they are all quiet throw in a stock phrase for example "you're all very polite intelligent young people and I've asked 3 times for quiet and said please on each occasion. It's very unfair to be disrespectful when someone has shown you such good manners. Now please listen."

    And always remember you won't win them all so smile and keep your teaching professional game face on at all times, even if you're gritting your teeth.
    pepper5 likes this.
  14. kelly_jennarachel

    kelly_jennarachel New commenter

    I want to try this tomorrow with my class. I have 3 boys and 1 girl that completely change their behaviour when I am teaching the class from the school teacher. I have tried to start lessons and wait for them to stop and praising the ones who are doing the right thing but the children just carry on, which sets off others. I end up shouting and then feeling dreadful afterwards however they are rude and talk back, bang their tables and work when asked to put their pen down to listen. I'm just not sure how these children will respond these tactics and im starting to dread teaching the lesson. They are a year 6 class
    pepper5 likes this.
  15. chris1729

    chris1729 New commenter

    After having been a classroom teacher for about a dozen years, and working my way up, I became a head of department in a tough secondary school. The kids weren't violent or anything, but there was a huge amount of "low level" (nothing low about it!) disruption. I was shouting all the time, and every day was a bad day. My low point was when I was chatting to a lab technician, who worked across the way from my classroom, and she commented (innocently), that she knew which classroom I taught in because she "heard me shouting at the kids."

    I eventually pulled it round. It wasn't realistic to suddenly stop raising my voice: that would have just meant that my instructions would not have been heard. However, when I spoke one-to-one with any student, I always made a distinct effort to speak in a quiet and very respectful tone.

    The other skill I used was biting sarcasm. I know we're not supposed to do that but it turned out that these inner-city kids actually respected it. I was very careful not to ever humiliate any individual. Also, between 1990 and about 2000 I had a sideline as a stand-up comedian, and I think the experience of performing in front of rowdy audiences on a Friday night in Liverpool helped.

    It only took about three years for the shouting to stop, and now I don't really need to do it (as far as I know - the bloke in the next classroom may disagree!)

    Of course, what I've said might not work in a primary school - especially the sarcasm bit.

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