Taming that Difficult Class
If you follow the debate around falling educational achievement in the schools, a debate I strongly reject but that's for another day, you will observe the experts bring their own ideas to the discussion, things like ‘learning spaces’, various styles of curriculum delivery, etc. and these micro skills are now conveniently gathered under the banner of ‘quality teaching’. What you never see in the ‘quality teacher’ catalogue is the management of students and/or classes that have severe behaviours. Years ago Hattie recognized the significance of this problem but since then this is a problem that is ignored. However, for real teachers in real classes disregarding such behaviours destroys every other endeavor we attempt in our classrooms.
In the last Newsletter (April 3) we discussed the process of taking back the control of your class one step at a time. This Newsletter expands on that process explaining why a one step at a time process works and how to plan that journey.
Often, when you are faced with a challenging class, the task of bringing it under control seems overwhelming. There is so much wrong you don't know where to start. You must overcome this feeling of helplessness, take control of yourself and focus your energies and personal power to the immediate task.
First, draw a circle that represents the amount of energy you spend dealing with the behaviour issues in your lesson. Now, in that circle write down all the actual activities that are creating the problem. In the illustration below I present a typical list of classroom problems.
The trick is to take one of these problems that you think you have the best chance of fixing and focus all your energy on that. The second illustration attempts to explain how you will benefit from taking the approach I am suggesting. If you divide the total amount of energy you have for dealing with behaviour equally across all the problems the amount you bring to each is diminished (see the left side of illustration). But, if you take just one of the issues and concentrate your efforts on this particular problem the amount of personal power you bring is increased significantly (see right side).
You don't stop dealing with the other problems, continue as you have before but for the one you are going to change what you do by concentrating your attention on that. Of course some behaviours like fighting can never be tolerated and must be dealt with, but if it remains an identifiable problem it means what you are doing isn’t working.
So if you commit to say dealing with ‘inappropriate talking' then you bring that into the middle circle, and the rest still are there but by taking real action on moving about you have a more positive approach to the class.
Now you have identified the problem you are going to address you need to take direct action on dealing with this. Your solution must:
- Have the agreement with the students. The next newsletter will deal with creating a structured classroom. Having the contract from the students does not mean they must approve of your actions, although that is preferable and it's not as hard to achieve a pact, as you would think, the deal is that if they do move about without permission, it is their action that invokes the consequence that follows. And, they are responsible for making that choice!
- Be within the rules of the school. You can’t threaten to use consequences you can’t deliver.
- Have the support of your supervising teacher who will at times be required to support you when your authority is questioned.
Taming a problematic class is one of the hardest tasks a beginning teacher faces and in my experience one they are least prepared for in pre-service training. But with a bit of effort and concentrated power, it can be done and when it is the rewards are well worth the effort. In the next Newsletter, we outline a step-by-step approach to creating a structured classroom.