Classroom relationships can be viewed as attempting to negotiate a 'truce'. Central to this negotiation is the question of power. Whilst teachers have more power in the sense that they make the demands, define the environment, and are invested with authority, the extent to which the individual teacher is able to use that power is more problematic. It cannot be simply achieved, as many beginning teachers find to their cost, by a straightforward appeal to authority or the exercise of power. Teachers are greatly outnumbered by pupils; they need considerable skill at times to avoid being outmanoeuvred, and they need to remember the stronger, wiser will in a classroom should be theirs.
The initial encounters between a new teacher and a class are critically important. Clearly both the teacher and pupils will come to the initial encounters with certain expectations based on previous experiences in classrooms (e.g. previous student teachers) and possibly on specific information about each other from other sources. However, much will be learned, by both pupils and teacher, from face-to-face contact.
The moment teachers walk in the room they start to give cues and information (by style of speech, tone of voice, approach, etc.) about such things as level of noise that will be tolerated, how to address the teacher or gain their attention, and so on.
From the pupils' point of view there is generally a two-stage procedure for 'testing out' the new teacher. Stage one is a passive, purely observational stage ('the honeymoon period') which seldom lasts much beyond the first lesson but which can lull the unwary novice into a false sense of security. After this comes the second stage which involves at least some pupils being really quite 'difficult'. This playing-up is used to test out the teacher and though usually limited to a small number of pupils the teacher's response is used by all the class to indicate future, expectations. Verbalised rules are seldom accepted at face value, pupils will seek evidence that they will actually be enforced. The pupils will try to discover the 'limits of control' that the teacher is wishing to establish. They are also exploring whether the teacher has the tactical and managerial skills to defend these limits. If the teacher takes no action, gets angry and loses self-control, or shows signs of confusion, almost all pupils will take advantage of these signs of lack of tactical skill.
2. BEYOND CONTROL?
2.1 Teaching involves some kind of impersonality (not indifference) in that the relationship between teacher and pupils is more than a personal relationship. If children must attend school and have to be grouped in batches you create relationships different from friendship. Teachers and classes can and do become friendly but they rarely do so at once. Because of the wide variety of teachers they meet pupils cannot be certain of what relationship you offer: you need to give them a gradual introduction by being initially impersonal. If this is the thin end of a tyrant's wedge remember that if you resolve to be personal right from the beginning it is possible you may end up being depressed, erratic in your treatment of pupils and of little use to them either as teacher or friend. Teachers cannot afford to be at the mercy of their own emotional reactions: you do not have to love them all, but you do have to teach them. That means building into your role some form of detachment – this allows you to stand back and assess what is going on for each individual. As you get better, and the pupils get used to you and working with you, so the discipline problems diminish and your freedom to be yourselves grows. With confidence, established through experience, you relax; you learn what to tolerate and what to prevent, and create a context in which both you and your classes can learn to be human. It does happen but it takes time.
2.2 The context of discipline
1. You need to find out which rules exist, and how widely and effectively they are enforced.
2. Your choice of work should be governed by the classroom climate as well as by the demands of the syllabus or the logical structure of your subject. The obvious next step may look reasonable enough in the solitary calm of preparation, but you need also to think how such activities will look to that class in that lesson at that time.
3. If you are lucky you have a teaching base of your own. If you have to commute distances between rooms you’ll have to pick up very quickly a tight routine of checking aids, exercise books and so on.
4. Within the room a crucial factor is the arrangement of furniture: whenever possible, arrange it before the class arrives, according to the kinds of activity you have planned. School record-players, tape-recorders (as well as chalk and board rubbers) are frequently used and often go missing, so it is worth knowing what is available, in working order and how you can go about getting it (you should have booked or fetched it before).
Pupils in Classes
A realist’s view of pupils in classes, which will enable the beginner to teach effectively is:
1. The teacher should try to keep attention off personalities whenever possible and relate comments to the work in hand: 'This ends a bit quick, doesn't it?' or 'What's your group going to do, then?' rather than 'You idle child, this story is far too short' or 'What are you layabouts up to?' Restraint feels unfair when confronted by some pupils to whom nothing is sacred; but retaliating in kind, though natural, almost always causes more trouble than it solves.
2. Each class 'sniffs out' the potential of a newcomer by activity designed to establish his or her limits. The danger to the beginner is that this may not be immediately apparent; and the means of sniffing are endless. Some of it will not be conscious, but the worst of it can be quite irrational. It doesn't help to despise it; what the beginner needs to do is to find some way to act which retains the initiative.
3. The teacher's initial task is to establish a line of control which will enable the majority of the pupils to work. You then have more of a chance to cope with unforeseen crises. The question should not be 'Do they do what I say?' but 'How many of them do what I say?' The art of achieving this line of control which can progressively be made to include the majority, if not all of the class lies in overall strategy and not simply allowing yourself to be forced to react instinctively to whatever happens. The aim is to deter individuals from a repeat performance through looks, comments and ultimate sanctions. They must stop the wrongdoer, otherwise the middle-of-the-road pupils will join in. If order has been created then elbow room is available to begin to deal, with pupils in the class as individuals.
4. Most of the seriously difficult children bring into school and their school behaviour a whole battery of pressures possibly unknown to the teacher and very likely beyond a teacher's control. How to make the meetings with them possibly better:
a) Attempts to ingratiate, like threats, are no help at all.
b) Confrontations should be kept on a 1:1 basis; remember that you have responsibility for the whole class, not just the individual. This may mean calling in other members of staff rather than trying to solve the insoluble within the walls of a classroom, which increasingly becomes too small and too thin.
c) In a confrontation with a really disturbed child you have more to lose -he/she has little to fear. Thus avoid public confrontations rather than try to frighten. Even if you win that particular contest, you are inviting further challenges. In a crisis, say the minimum: a pupil who is prepared to defy you might be slowed down by calm. Hostility might have the opposite effect.
With experience you can tell the disturbed child from ordinary naughtiness; but in either case patience and calm work best, since they commit you least. Take away the pressure of teacher and the class and a disturbed child may become self-controlled and manageable; but within the classroom no (new) teacher can hope to achieve miracles.
You just have to accept that there are severe limits to what you can achieve with some adolescent pupils, simply because there is not enough time to get to know them before they leave. This may be frustrating but there is consolation in knowing that if you stay long enough you will do better with your difficult fourth or fifth year; remember that it takes at least a year to know a class well.
The teacher's first duty is to survive. It. is an essential precondition of real growth, for teachers and pupils alike. Here are some hints for survival:
1. Entry into the class should be as you wish it or is customary, not as the class might like it.
2. Establish that you care about Starting on time and that you will want to know in full the alibis of any late arrivals.
3. Allow no movement of furniture or squabbling over who sits where. If necessary dictate the terms of the latter.
4. Your first job is to learn who is who: you cannot effectively teach pupils whose names you do not know. Besides, 'Thank you, Peter, that will do' is much more effective than, 'You boy, stop that coughing!' Make a map of the class with every name marked in place and clearly instruct them to sit in the same places until further notice. Then use individual names as much as possible as soon as possible.
5. The simplest way of relieving yourself of the pressure of achieving success or failure is not by talking for long periods and expecting pupils to listen, but by simply setting them a task within their capability. For the moment your concern is to show that you want them to learn, not that you are interesting, intelligent, or kind.
6. Noise moves: neither ignore them nor over-react; you must be seen to have noticed and to care. Notice the interruptions and exert only 'what you think is sufficient pressure to deter further noise. Individual transgression must be responded to individually.
7. Equipment gambits: make sure you know what school policy is on equipment – what must pupils supply themselves, what is given by the school and what you can get hold of and how (usually more than you first might think). Spare pens and paper are only a temporary move -and clearly announced as such. Then set about getting school rules adhered to: keep a note of those who are consistently without what they should have. Be firm but consistent. If you give 'out equipment take note and make sure it is returned.
8. Finish in an orderly fashion: watch you watch and give yourself enough time. If there is a lot of tidying up to do, pack up earlier to allow time for it. Keep yourself free for general overseer duties. All pupils like to be free for their breaks on time and so should you.
9. In practical subjects do everything possible to ensure before the lesson that all you need is in place and working, and be on the lookout for what might disrupt your plans. If this is not possible better to start late and go according to plan than to begin and find that things go wrong. If you fall behind schedule, quickly decide what to cut out: blundering on means the bell will beat you to it. If a practical activity fails completely it is usually best to abandon it and have something else to hand.
10. Talking with one teacher to thirty pupils, it is essential that only one person talks at a time and so it may be necessary to have some formal way of ensuring this at first. The alternative may be that the only way to be heard is to yell. Also there needs to be a 'no interruptions' rule, hardly ever broken at first. But remember that learning needs language, and that means all learners having the opportunity to talk. Learn the art of setting up small-group talk.
11. Chatter is similar: it is easier to add decibels than to subtract them. This does not mean stopping every sound, but that if you are not sure about something, stop it, and note either by looks or a quiet word that you think the lesson has been interrupted. As usual, personal comments and questions ("What's up Stephanie?" or "Yes, Peter?") work a lot better than general exhortations, ("Now then, 3A, there is rather too much noise"). You need to monitor talk (especially small group talk) carefully. Think of various ways of doing this - for example, walking round, sitting in on groups, requiring a report-back session, use of tape-recorders, etc.
12. Questions similarly; they must not hold up the course of a lesson unless you are sure that they should, but show that you value all serious contributions made by any individuals and remember to respect the needs of all pupils – girls and boys, lively and shy alike.
The purpose of drawing the line of control is to get the class accustomed to you as calm authority and a consistent source of order, and to reduce their temptation to further exploration. Once they get used to it, you can all relax and get on with the business of education. But it takes time, and it is through petty things (pens, desks and shouting out) that trouble comes, so it is through organising them that survival can be achieved. This means giving thought to these matters outside lessons so as not to have to take decisions in the pressure of the classroom.
2.5 The Teacher's Resources
Description of part of the repertoire of practising teachers -
Setting work: - Once you have chosen the work, and decided that this particular class can usefully do it, set it clearly. Say what you want slowly and write on the board (if possible, before the lesson begins). Allow time for questions. In the process of setting work, it is worth paying attention to the words you use. If there are difficult words that you cannot avoid using, find a way of explaining them to everyone.
Marking work: - Collect it, read it and indicate you have read it. If you do not check to see that all the books are in, do not comment on lazy work, do not praise real effort, you are effectively saying that you do not care. If pupils get the message that it does not much matter how they do, they may do nothing, and will not pull all the stops in class if they know others are getting away with it. The mark book is the teacher's check on the state of play.
Recording work and names: - You need something apart from your head which will tell you instantly
- what you are going to do next lesson;
- when you are going to set homework, and what;
- who owes you work, etc., from previous lessons;
- who did not have the required equipment last time.
During the lesson the writing down of names is more ominous than a verbal threat.
Teacher time:- The gains and enjoyment of work outside school hours are tremendous, but they do not alter your basic time-table commitments, and it is that which justifies your presence. Time-table commitments require to be backed by chores which relieve the pressures inside lessons.
5. Planning and analysing lessons: -
(a) Give priority to the classes, which cause most trouble, but do not forget that after a period of neglect a class, which you thought was easy, becomes restive. It is also worth devoting the early part of your preparatory time (and the maximum of your remaining energy) to the later lessons of the day. More things tend to go wrong in the afternoon. If you have to 'get by' it is easier to do so with earlier lessons.
(b) If you are having trouble in your analysis of your lesson you need to plan to do something positive (otherwise it degenerates into self-pity). Isolate something (if there are a lot of things, pick the most important) and decide on your next move. "5X are hell" can be broken down into: All of 5X? Which ones and for what reasons? Who is most disruptive and when? Are there any obvious reasons in your lesson for such behaviour? What changes might alter the way they act? Always, tackle the general feeling with particular questions and make yourself give specific answers. If it is easier, talk with a friend and do it together. Fear, anger or guilt are powerful emotions, but they are reactions to crises and not solutions. Telling yourself that you are a poor teacher with a particular class does little for you or them and letting them know the effect they are having on you will make things worse, rather than better. Pupils in classes can be unpredictable and may veer from following the leader in disruption to genuinely being sorry and not meaning to do it again. The answers will thus have to come from the teacher.
6. To bring a class to order, do not shout unless you really have to. Shouting as a regular gambit commits you to competition. A simple pause when you wait for some decrease in the row and then repeat, quietly and slowly, what you were saying. The tendency is to try to rush towards a solution, getting louder and faster; resist it and slow down. Losing your temper is no exception to the law of diminishing returns.
7. If disruption persists, try to prevent trouble spreading: limit your pockets of real trouble. If you want to discipline pupils, arrange to see them later, at a time convenient to you, but do not punish the whole class. Most important of all: as soon as possible find something to take their attention off you and power, and onto themselves and work. Use other staff, if you have to. It may be better than carrying on in lonely despair. Another face acts as a catalyst. Getting someone else, of course, diminishes your status in the eyes of many pupils & some staff, but it is not the end of the world.