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How is it Best to Deal with a Class When You're on Supply?

11/11/16

 

Have you tried different types of behaviour management on your classes in search for the most effective? Thomas gives us an insight into what he’s tried and what’s worked for him.

 

We all know supply teaching can be tough sometimes. Sometimes it can be a walk in the park, don’t get me wrong- it’s not always a tough slog while clock-watching until 3pm. In fact as I write this, I am sat in a small year 11 class quietly getting on with their work, I don’t really have to do anything. Nobody needs any help, there’s no behaviour issue to be seen… I can just relax and write this. So sometimes you fall on your feet. Oh hang on, someone has just punched another pupil in the face… I’d best deal with this* I’m just enjoying the peaceful tranquillity that is floating around the room.

*I’m kidding… it’ll make men out of them. I’ll leave it. Why interrupt a good writing flow over something so trivial? **

** Of course, I am kidding- there’s no fight!

I do have three year 9 classes ahead so I’m not expecting this to continue! And on that subject I want to address this issue: how is it best to deal with a class when you’re on supply? Obviously in cases such as the year 11s I currently sit among this question answers itself- relax and enjoy the peace! But more challenging classes. Imagine you’ve wandered into a messy looking classroom, a paper aeroplane flies past your face as you enter; hyperactive year 8 pupils are running around the classroom and someone has already mocked you about the thickness of your eyebrows (or is that one just me???) In this sort of situation, you obviously would have to be stern and set your stall out- let them know you can’t be taken advantage of to this degree; and there’s no shame in bringing another member of staff in to help.

But as a general rule, should you be stern, strict and serious, hell-bent on preventing any behaviour issues you fear occurring or should you be friendly, approachable and humourous, hoping your smiling benevolence will heed off any plans of skulduggery the students might have had in mind?

Not every class has trouble makers, but a fair amount require attentive behaviour management. I remember speaking to a behaviour management specialist at Brigshaw when I was working as a TA and thinking of going into teaching, and he encouraged being very firm from the off and punishing every little misdemeanour… and I mean little. I was TAing in a Science class he was covering. It had always been a very noisy, rambunctious group at the best of times but he came in, stern-faced and sat them all in a circle. Anyone that spoke would be disciplined straight away. No “stop that” or “be quiet”, he was very particular about his language- phrase things so there’s no doubt or room for misinterpretation about what he was wanting. “Eyes on me” was one he especially liked; he’d insist on every pupil looking at him and if they weren’t their name would be on the board. After another minor piece of misbehaviour he would literally ring their parents. Right there and then. If they didn’t answer he’d ring after school. Normally you have to do something majorly serious to have your parents rung like shoot someone or something. But this guy had it figured out, ring them early doors and cut off the earlier stages of discipline and stop this messing about straight away. It bloody worked. Within 5 minutes the kids knew they’d met their match and were stone-cold quiet. They had been tamed. It was the best behaviour management I’ve ever seen by quite some distance. There was a stunned silence about the class for the rest of the hour, myself included. But is it the way to go?

Despite the overwhelming positives that, to be honest, took me aback I was that impressed, there was a negative side. The class was very quiet, quite awkward and there was no real rapport with the students- only fear. It was quite a rigid lesson and not the happiest of environments. Sure, the behaviour management was top notch but is that THE be all and end all to the extent where we’re happy for this to be what school is like? Should kids associate school with this military-like environment? Surely we want to make education more accessible and enjoyable? I tried it once a few weeks ago with a year 7 English class at Temple Moor. They came in quite noisy but I clamped down on every muttering, every snigger and followed through with strict discipline. I didn’t ring their parents or demand every eye be on me at all times but any noise during our class reading was met with a sanction. It went smoothly and was more effective than my usual approach is; there weren’t many issues to deal with. After the pupils saw me clamp down straight away they saw they couldn’t get away with discrepancies just because a cover teacher was in town. However, I didn’t enjoy it. And I doubt the kids did. I did take satisfaction in seeing I do actually have the ability to be strict and manage a classroom of noisy kids so effectively. On the other hand though I do want to enjoy it and the negative undertone of the lesson, stemming from this, in Lehman’s terms, “hard ass” attitude didn’t make it very hospitable or enjoyable.

I think what this points to is a fine balance between the two. You have to create a positive working environment for the pupils and yourself but also clamp down on any behaviour issues. If that means letting a bit of chatting or slouching go every now and then to maintain a positive atmosphere, so be it. The more I’ve done this job the more confident I’ve felt in terms of sanctioning pupils and following through with the discipline procedure. And it works… better than before anyway. If the students see they’ll be punished, more often than not they won’t bother stepping out of line significantly.

What do you think? Any views or anecdotes of personal experience would be much appreciated!


Recent Comments
I fully agree with everything you have said here, I also apply a 'firm but fair' approach with humility and the results prove that it works. Great blog Thomas, a good read !
Ray Butler, 11 November 2016
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