I’m sure we’ve all heard this piece of advice before. It tends to be handed out to NQTs relatively often: don’t smile before Christmas.
You want to have a good relationship with your class; you want to be able to joke with them, and even laugh and have fun with them. Teaching would be an impossible career if teachers couldn’t ever interact with their classes in a less formal, less ‘teachery’ way.
The lesson to be learnt from this piece of advice is that, whilst there is a time and a place to show your class your human side, don’t rush it. You may not have to wait until Christmas, but give it a few weeks at least.
In fact, don’t lighten up or allow for too much fun until you are 100% confident that your class are fully aware that you mean business. Establish yourself as the boss first. If you’re not sure whether your class are ready to see you smile yet, they’re not. Play it safe, give it a couple of weeks and then assess the situation again.
You will know when you have won them around enough to lighten up a little. And if you don’t know; you haven’t.
As an aside, if you still don’t think you have completely got your class on-side come November, don’t panic. Don’t let up; you’ll get there eventually. Speak to your fellow teachers; they will all have come across a class with whom they couldn’t let up, not even for a minute.
Block Their Entrance Into The Classroom.
One of our customers told me that their top tip for the beginning of term, or for the entire year if you are teaching a particularly difficult class, is to block their entrance into the classroom.
Not to the extent that they literally can’t get past you and have to turn around and go home; whilst tempting, that would be counter-productive.
Stand in the doorway blocking a section of the door, so when they arrive, they have to step around you. They have to turn, or side-step or go out of their way to get into your class.
The theory behind this is all in the subliminal messaging.
By making it difficult for them to enter, you are asserting your dominance. You are letting them know that they are entering your classroom, and that in your classroom, they have to play by your rules. If you step out of the way to let them in, it implies that you will bend the rules for them. Making them step around you asserts that they will have to change their ways for you.
I love this tip. I remember a teacher I had when I was in Year 9 or 10 who used to greet us at the door every single lesson. He would greet us warmly and even shake our hands as we walked in, but we always had to step around him. And his behaviour management was relatively flawless. I don’t want you to think that I am confusing causation with correlation, but whether he meant to or not, he certainly put this theory into practice – with success.
Don’t Praise Them (Unless they really deserve it)
It’s the beginning of term. You want to get your class on-side. You want them to know that you are firm, but fair. Sure, you’re not going to smile at them, there will be no jokes, and you will ever so slightly block their entrance into the classroom, but you will give credit where it’s due and warmly praise good work or effort. You’re not all bad, and you want them to know it.
In theory, you’re right – firm but fair is the way to go. The issue is, all too often teachers at the start of term get the ‘firm’ bit right, but mess up a little on the ‘fair’. It’s all too easy to be ‘too fair’; to praise students for the sake of praising them, just to try to build up their confidence and win them over.
On the surface, trying to build up a student’s confidence can only be a good thing, right? However, unjust praise will have a negative effect on the rest of the year. It lowers their expectations of themselves. Praising a student for work that isn’t their very best effort will make them think that they can get away with performing at that level all year. You must have high expectations of your students, and you must enforce these consistently from day one.
If you wouldn’t praise a piece of work in April, don’t make an exception in September.