Sunday, 24 May 2015

How long does it take to win over a class?

It's the $64,000 question - how long will it take before your pupils are on-side? Tom Bennett helps you set your expectations
Let me just get my ball of string out and measure a piece. There are too many variables here to give you anything the data junkies from the DfE would be satisfied with.
You can start off in one school and find that the kids are pretty much onside the day you walk in the class; this usually occurs when they have been pre-groomed by their feeder schools, the existing school behaviour expectations are tight and tightly enforced, or the parental demographic is highly supportive. There are many schools like this.
Or you might walk into the school from Hades, and be battling them metre by metre, minute by minute, as I was in my first placement.

Some rules of thumb

So how many and for how long? Here are some good rules of thumb, bearing in mind that they are as flexible as a sixth former’s idea of what constitutes a deadline:

Honeymoon period

If you go in hard with a new class, they will probably give you a honeymoon period, where they’re checking you out. For all they know, you might be the Arnold Schwarzenegger of teaching. They are cautious, and sniff you out to see if you carry out your threats. This is a dreadful period, where some teachers get lulled into an appalling sense of false security. A week or two, probably.

Set sanctions...

Then they show you what they’re really like. This is the start of the war of attrition. By now they should know what you expect. By now you should be setting sanctions consistently and fairly.
If you turn up for detentions, or call home when they don’t turn up, and you’re escalating sanctions up the ladder (one hour: hour and a half; Headteacher’s Detention, etc.) then you will enter the real heart of darkness.

...and keep applying them!

After about a term of this you should have seen the easy kids give in quickly as soon as they see you mean business. The tough nuts will remain tough nuts for a while. They’ve got more stomach for a fight. If you’ve started in September, by Christmas you might see this.
Once you come back from the Christmas break they will realize that you haven’t quit, and that they are going to have to put up with you. This will be your first benchmark. How are they behaving? Keep applying sanctions.

The toughest of nuts

By the end of term two you should only be seriously battling the major hard nuts, and having minor (although probably constant) skirmishes with the pests.
By the end of the year, you should be battling the toughest of the nuts.
I’ve said ‘should’ a lot. There is no ‘should’. You are neither a failure if it takes longer, nor a success if you walk into total compliance. It will vary on a lot of things: Are you fair? Are you consistent? Do you have a personality that gels with them? Do you scream at them? Do you tell them you hate them? Do you mark their homework? Are your lessons planned well? I emphasize: a well-planned lesson does not guarantee good behaviour, but a disorganized one can contribute to bad behaviour.

A work in progress

A year of teaching will be your real first hurdle. The process then continues. Kids resent change and at first, no matter how lovely you are, they will probably show you varying degrees of resentment because you’re not the ‘real’ teacher (by which they mean their old one, or some imagined Platonic ideal). Ignore them; this is entirely natural. You never really reach a destination with good behaviour; it can always improve. Even if they’re all sitting quietly and behaving, you will want them to get more proactive, more enthusiastic and more independent.
Behaviour management is a process, not a target. It is never achieved.
This is an excerpt from Tom Bennett’s book Not Quite a Teacher, published by Continuum. The book is a practical teacher training manual, interspersed with funny stories from Tom's own teacher training experiences.  

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