I was in a workshop during my teacher training where we were role playing behaviour management with our peers. (Doesn’t that sound horrific? Since my first year of university when I unexpectedly contracted “the fear” and walked out of a read-through I’ve had a problem with anything acting-related. This workshop was therefore more nightmarish that you can even imagine.) Yet having observed a thousand teachers and read a million books, you would think I could handle this. Hardly. I clammed up; I was speechless. I had no comeback at all for my partner.
I remember that evening, in despair, calling my “leadership development officer” (basically our mum for 6 weeks), in tears, telling her I didn’t think I could do it. Amy was amazing. After giving me the phone equivalent of a massive hug, she told me something along the lines of “you will. When there is a child in front of you, you just will.” “What if I cry?” I asked. “You just won’t.”
I was, and still am, a crier, so I’m not sure I believed her, but I stuck with Teach First. And she was right. I have never ever cried from managing a tricky child, or a tricky class. Not even nearly. More than this triumph, I never clammed up. I always had something to say.
Obviously, it wasn’t always the right thing to say, but you live and learn.
Now, no book on behaviour management will fully prepare you to teach. Even after several years of teaching students will do and say things you can’t even imagine. Some of my personal favourites are so inappropriate I simply can’t write them here. I think reading these books during your first placement, or first term of teaching, is actually more helpful than reading them pre-term time.
So, onto some of my favourite books on behaviour management.
Classroom Behaviour by Bill Rogers
This was definitely the most useful book for me prior to teaching. It is replete with phrases you can practise saying, and above all in the early days you need some stock phrases to fall back on. Rogers espouses a gently gently approach, always aiming to avoid confrontation and focus on the positive. There are some real gems here; rather than “take off that fluorescent orange balaclava” saying “what’s the school rule about scarves?”; adding a “thanks” to the end of an instruction rather than a “please” (I have never done this, because I am a stubbornly traditional user of English sentence structure, but I hear it works well) and advice on when, who and how to tactically ignore.
Assertive Discipline by Lee Canter
This is an example of a book I read and all but dismissed during training and only came to appreciate when I entered the classroom.
“Assertive Discipline” is an ideal solution for the problem of praise: feel like a bit of an idiot praising the one person with their book and pen out? Canter instead advocates “behaviour narration” rather than judgement. Rather than a “well done for doing the absolute minimum I expect of you” you narrate it: “Chanelle has her pen out and is ready to start learning”. This then draws attention to the positive behaviour and nudges others towards following it. To non-teachers this might sound crazy, but it works supremely well, at least in my experience. (There are other tips, but this one is my favourite.)
Why are you shouting at us? by Phil Beadle and John Murray
I began teaching in the halcyon days of Teachers’ TV, and was a bit of a fan girl for Phil Beadle, one of their vanguards. His charisma and creativity was everything I wasn’t, and I loved reading his book “How to Teach” (though his insistence on the efficacy of marking as a sure-fire way to change achievement even when your classroom is a bit chaotic led to me neglecting planning in favour of an unimaginable amount of written feedback, with disastrous consequences. By my second year I marked less and planned more and found it worked. This is almost certainly my error of interpretation, not his writing.)
I know not all teachers are Beadle fans, but I think he is great. Driven by a strong moral purpose and with all the skills you would expect of an AST, this co-written book is a superb round up of effective behaviour management. At 130 small pages the text is lighthearted enough to be read speedily and joyously. It is also fairly honest about what kids can do and how you can combat it.
Less useful are the charisma based methods – I’m not sure I have ever managed to calm a truly angry child with a joke, though I wholly endorse the anti-shouting pages (quiet seething is far better for your health, if less immediately effective).
Reluctant Disciplinarian by Gary Rubinstein
Rubinstein was trained by Teach for America, and this book is the better for the honesty with which he reveals his classroom mistakes; an honesty which comes partly from his subsequent successes in the classroom. I related to this book as Rubinstein, like me, is a self-confessed “softy”.
Acknowledging that behaviour management can never be adequately taught (not least, I would argue, through role play), this book takes you to the possible pitfalls of your initial months in the classroom and shows you the light at the end of that tunnel.
There are some traditional methods explored here in a clear way, for example meaning what you say – something I found surprisingly hard in my initial term of teaching. This is possibly because I wasn’t sure what I wanted, or if what I was doing was right; therefore I really didn’t mean what I said all that often. I will always remember a fellow teacher telling me that it was during her bout of laryngitis that she had become a better teacher; she had so little voice that she needed to mean everything she said.
Of course, the best “behaviour management” comes from familiarity: you with the kids, and the kids with you. It can’t happen straight away or overnight; merely sticking it out, turning up and following through with every consequence you say (at first even if you immediately regret it; only later with a conversation and apology if you were wrong) will work. It will work. It will.