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I lack authority in the classroom

Discussion in 'Behaviour' started by TheGeezer, Oct 7, 2015.

  1. TheGeezer

    TheGeezer New commenter

    I switched to teaching physics mid-career, and after slogging away for a couple of years with constant disruption from my students have decided that I may just not have authority or "classroom presence". It doesn't matter whether the kids are bright or low-achieving they see me as easy game. If I give sanctions they argue back. If it's reached the stage that I ask them to go to another room they refuse to go: what's striking is that if I am able to call another teacher in these situations the students invariably obey the other teacher and go to the room. How else am I to interpret this but: "the other teacher has authority, I don't".

    My guess is that the only reason I am able to get jobs in schools is because of the dire shortage of physics teachers. Indeed I guess this might be why I got my pgce in the first place. I've stuck at it because I'm told that "behaviour management takes time to master". Maybe: but can I carry on till that "time" comes. I am currently working in a school through an agency, and I have offered to leave because of the problems I'm having. They say they are looking for a replacement teacher, but there doesn't seem to be one on the horizon. I don't want to leave them in the lurch, but should I just tell the agency I've had enough and leave?

    So, is it worth continuing to seek this elusive thing, authority?
  2. sabrinakat

    sabrinakat Star commenter

    It is worth continuing, but perhaps another school would be a better fit? Although I have a great deal of other teaching, I have only about 1-2 years teaching at secondary; my first was a one term temporary job at an indie - there was some chatting, but not too bad - my second, a one year fixed term was very difficult in terms of behaviour management (mine and the children's) with many of the same issues as you outline above, including the apparent willingness to listen to another teacher, etc. I am now back in the independent sector and I am much happier. Perhaps you do suffer from a lack of confidence and the children can sense it (I did), but I was told by others in my last school that I was too soft and to be tougher - use detentions, email home, call home, get SLT on your side - otherwise, and make it clear to SLT that you will leave because the behaviour of the children is affecting YOU.

    been there, done it, aargh....
    damnant quod non intellegunt
  3. TheGeezer

    TheGeezer New commenter

    Thanks, Sabrinakat, I don't have experience in the indie sector, though I have taught in a grammar school in my NQT year, and, unfortunately, a similar lack of respect. As a result that school didn't renew my contract. The behaviour's worse at my present school, though the system of sanctions and support is better. I really do feel that there's something about me that means I'm always going to have these problems. The problem with sanctions is that there is a limit to how much they can be used. Also, if there's general poor behaviour I can't really be consistent in application of the sanctions,and then I'm up against a barrage of protests that I'm picking on certain people.

    I have already told my HoD and the SLT that I wish to leave on the grounds that I don't think I'm up to the job, and since I am an agency worker I guess I could just not turn up any more, but I do feel a sense of professional obligation not to leave them in the lurch. They say that they are looking to recruit someone else, but physics teachers aren't a common species......
  4. pepper5

    pepper5 Star commenter

    Hi TheGeezer

    Presence in the classroom in the classroom is something you can squire and you should not quit; and why should you? You are trained and you need to keep working and their is an shortage of teachers. Being able to manage a class begins when you know in your heart and head that you are the one in charge of your class. Do not make the mistake of negotiating Your rules in Your class. There is much I would like to tell you, bit it would take too long here. It will take some study and effort on your part, but you can turn things around even tomorrow. Here is how.

    Tomorrow have three simple rules:

    Follow instructions fast
    Stay on task
    Work without disturbing others

    Have a stepped sanction system and stay calm. Resolve never to show the class you are agitated or annoyed.

    Buy Taking Care of Behaviour by Paul Did and go on one of his online courses. Google Pivotal Education. The prices are very reasonable. I studied one and it completely saved my sanity and In work on supply meeting hundreds of kids each week and have to be able manage classes I have never seen. My management changed when I changed.

    There are also other books but start with is one.Order it now and you can start on the weekend reading it.

    Let us know you get on.
  5. pepper5

    pepper5 Star commenter

    Could not edit above post....their should be there.
  6. pepper5

    pepper5 Star commenter

    I also forgot to say to give plenty of praise to those whonfollow the rules. Send post cards home and let the parents know how well their children are doing for the ones who are behaving and putting in effort.
  7. TheGeezer

    TheGeezer New commenter

    Pepper5, Thanks for your advice. Could I ask you just one thing though: have you ever felt even after a couple of years teaching that you have never actually been in charge of a class - even a nice top set ?Unfortunately, that is the painful realisation that I am having. If you can honestly say yes to that then I'll take your advice. If not then you already experienced that feeling of control even before you read Paul Dix, so your starting point is, I humbly suggest, distinctly different from mine.
  8. pepper5

    pepper5 Star commenter

    No matter how long one has been teaching whether it is one month or ten years there will be groups that are going test you. Yes...there are classes that I struggle with but nothing is perfect. 95% of the students are o.k. but there will always be a minority who will defy the rules.

    You have not been teaching long....hardly enough time to learn classroom presence.

    Being able to manage a class is a skill like driving a car or painting; you have to learn and study certain techniques and then practice. Don't forget at the moment if you are on supply then it is going to be even tougher since most students don't see supply staff as having authority.

    Don't take any of the misbehaviour personally.

    You have to take charge of the class. It has to start in your head that you are the adult and in charge then it is played out in your voice, your language, tone of voice, your instructions. Act as though younare confident even if younare not. That is why you need to learn scripts and have stepped sanctions. I am sure there must be kids who want to learn that you can give praise to.

    Behaviour management is tough. It won't be easy, bit if I were you In would not walk away, it would try and at least a few of my suggestions and the course I mentioned isn't a lot of money and it is online, so you don't have to go anywhere.

    You do have authority since you are given charge of the classes you teach.

    I've left schools in absolute tears...that was before I decided to take control and be in charge. I know I am in charge now of the classes. It has taken me a long time to learn but I had to since I had to keep working since we depend on my income. I want in a position to wa
    Flere-Imsaho likes this.
  9. re

    re New commenter

    It appears to me that you allow them to have an opinion over whether they accept your punishment etc. The simple fact is that they enjoy the sport of an argument - it distracts them from working and winds you up, and if they can wind you up that easily, the power relationship has changed. 'I am happy to discuss your grievances at lunch time - otherwise be quiet and do what you're told' works for me
  10. pepper5

    pepper5 Star commenter

    re is correct: a lot of the time students misbehave to see how far they can push a teacher before the explode and also because they think it is a bit of "fun". That was one of my problems when I first started teaching since I did not realise what was happening. Once I realised what was happening and took charge and learnt some scripts like the one re uses, I started to have way more good days than bad days.

    Another mistake I made was that I did not tell the class what I expected. Now I tell them what I expect and the consequences of what happens when those expectations are not met. Again, I have more good days than bad.

    Like re suggests, you cannot allow them to have an opinion on whether they accept your punishment or not. At the end of the day, they must follow any reasonable instruction you give them fast. End of. If you say they must work 10 minutes in silence, then they work in silence for 10 minutes. That is reasonable.

    It all begins in the mind where you believe you are in charge - it isn't about whether you think you are good enough or whatever....you as the adult and trained teacher are in charge and you make the rules and everyone follows. The rules are there for the benefit of the group.

    Like I said before all of the above takes practice. I once read somewhere where it takes 10,000 hours to become accomplished in a skill. The only way you are going to get better is to practice managing your class one day at a time.

    You are in a good position since physics teachers are short on the ground. If you decide to leave a permanent post, you could always do supply teaching which can be lucrative if you can manage classes, so it would be a good skill for you to have if you can learn the skills you need and I am of the view that anyone can learn to manage their classes; but it starts with being able to manage yourself. You can't control anyone's behaviour - only your own.

    I would start with those 3 basic rules and also have a rule about when you are speaking no one else speaks along when a member of the class is speaking everyone listens. The rule about follow instructions fast covers almost everything.

    Have some basic routines about how to enter and leave the room. What to do when they arrive. I would take the register in absolute silence. That settles the class and while you are taking the register, they can be writing the date and starter in their books or whatever. They do not speak while you are giving instructions and until they have permission.

    Stay on task...again covers most things

    Work without disturbing others...again... covers most things.

    Give plenty of praise for those who are doing what you have asked.

    Have a stepped system of consequences and some scripts on what to day when you see students off task or disturbing others.

    When you are speaking to the class, ensure you are standing with good posture, making eye contact with all the students. Stand in the centre of the room. Speak in a firm but even tone. I know this sounds funny, but practice in front of a mirror and practice what you are going to say. Don't look menacing, but try for a tone that conveys you are in charge.

    Do a survey and find out what your students would like for a special reward: free time on the computer, post cards home, time to chat with friends, games etc. but not sweets.

    When you see your classes start to do what you've asked, give them the rewards you know they will like.

    These are just a few ideas there are many more, but start with the simple things first and you will soon see the changes you desire.
    monicabilongame likes this.
  11. monicabilongame

    monicabilongame Star commenter

    I would add to the above - do not stand/hide behind your desk. Roam around the classroom - there should be NO no-go areas for you - it's YOUR classroom.
    sabrinakat likes this.
  12. purplecarrot

    purplecarrot Senior commenter

    Wander the classroom - it's your space
    Assert what WILL happen not what you want to happen
    Don't engage with any arguments - it's a classic work avoidance and trying to wind you up
    Don't rise to any of their baiting
    If there are issues 'How about you pop in for a 1-1 tomorrow break and we can discuss a way forward?' - they probably won't turn up. Then next time they raise it 'I was prepared to discuss this with you but you didn't attend so I assumed the issue had resolved itself/couldn't be that important'.
    Clear expectations and repeat them religiously - my classes laugh that I should record certain phrases because I say them so often
    Classroom routines - calm entry and exits
    Contact home - but rather than discuss the behaviour of the student, share your concern that 'they're clearly a bright student so you're quite confused as to why they're engaging in such sillyness because you're sure the parent would agree that we all want the child to be successful'

    You can learn classroom management. But you don't say if SLT are supportive. If they are, get them on side. If not, then make them aware you'll leave because it's not a supportive environment.
  13. Flere-Imsaho

    Flere-Imsaho Star commenter

    Is there a decent drama teacher in your school? Learning the voice and body language of command can have startling effect, even if you are only acting it! I used to know a DHT who could silence a riot by walking into a room and just standing there. I have always tried to copy her posture and tone when asserting myself with a new class!
    pepper5 likes this.
  14. TheGeezer

    TheGeezer New commenter

    A big thank you to all who have responded to my cry for help, especially Pepper5.

    My SLT have been supportive of me, and I have no complaints on that score. They have also been supportive of my decision to leave the post (I am with an agency). Fortunately, they have been able to secure a very good and experienced replacement for me, so, all in all, the exit strategy has worked out well.
  15. pepper5

    pepper5 Star commenter

    Hi TheGeezer

    Behaviour Management is tough in some schools and each year I find it gets just that bit harder to manage behaviour on supply, so I am not surprised you decided to leave your post. I had a horrendous day yesterday in one class and I get asked back to schools a lot because of my ability to manage most classes.

    Don't blame yourself whatever you do: many teachers leave the profession because of the appalling behaviour they have to deal with each day - both permanent teachers and supply staff.

    All the best with whatever you do...if you are a shortage subject Maths, Science, MFL you might find you can pick up private tutoring work or you might find another school where the behaviour is more manageable. Some schools are better than in others in terms of general behaviour.

    You might like to read On the Edge by Charlie Carroll. It is a book about a teacher who left a well paid teaching post with good prospects to go travel around England as a supply teacher undercover to find out why so many people are leaving the profession. He was curious about why so many people leave after five years into the job.He writes about all his experiences in this book and many of the incidents he writes about is the challenging behaviour he has to face each day.

    Take care

  16. theNavigator

    theNavigator New commenter

    There is some fantastic advice here. One of the things I tell my student teachers is that it helps to create a teaching 'persona' for yourself. For instance, I'm actually a reasonably shy introverted person, but in my classroom I am dramatic, equal-measures supportive and demanding, deeply unimpressed by anyone messing about, and occasionally quite entertaining.

    Last year I has an older woman as a student teacher. She was originally from North Carolina and she struggled a bit with behaviour management (we're one of the top state academic schools in NZ, so there was really just low-level chatting). She told me that the main reason was because Southern women are still taught to be polite, no matter what, she really struggled with asserting herself. I suggested that she ramp up the Southern Lady manners thing, directing it at the students. It worked. Her next school was a far more difficult but she did so well that they offered her a job!

    Picking a strong part of your personality/identity and using that as a base for being more commanding might also help.

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