Five things every new teacher needs to know about behaviour management

Managing students’ behaviour can be the most terrifying aspect of becoming a teacher. Although it’s the nightmare scenarios of being told to eff off on your first day, or having a chair hurled at your head that tend to keep new teachers awake at nights, these are – in most schools – relatively rare events. More often than not it’s the small stuff that undermines lessons and erodes the best efforts of teachers and students alike. In my eventful (and often unsuccessful) picaresque to discover what actually works I’ve made scores of mistakes and wasted countless hours trying to tackle the horrifying banality of low-level disruption. So, distilled in vats of trial and error, and tempered in the crucible of hard knocks, these are the five most useful pearls of wisdom I have to offer:

1. What you permit you promote

It may seem tempting to turn a blind eye to students’ misbehaviour, especially when it’s not that challenging, but you do so at a cost. Whenever you allow students to speak over you, you’re communicating that this is acceptable. Whenever you let students off for ‘forgetting’ to bring a pen to your lesson, you’re letting them know that you don’t mind. Whatever you accept in your classroom will be perceived as acceptable. Take note.

2. It’s not your fault

Anyone who tells you that students would behave if only you plan your lessons properly is talking bollocks! However well-intentioned they may be, such people are not just wrong, they’re actively part of the problem. This dastardly untruth is the most toxic, pernicious piece of misinformation (and there are a great many to choose from) doing the rounds in schools. Children choose how they will behave, and the reason they often choose to misbehave in your lesson is because they think they can get away with it. You know when the deputy head walks in and they all go quiet and stop throwing paper about? How much planning did she put into that? In bad schools, children learn they only have to behave for experienced or senior teachers. In truly great schools children behave in all lessons – even for NQTs and supply teachers!

3. It is your responsibility

That said, it’s entirely up to you what you do about bad behaviour (see point 1.) If you work in a good school there will be a clearly defined and well understood behaviour policy which all teachers use. It is there for your protection. Enforce the school’s rules with all the zealotry you can muster and never, never, let the students suspect you don’t actually give a damn whether their top button’s done up or what kind of foot wear they prefer.

4. Routines matter

Nothing works until you’ve cracked the classroom climate you want. Be clear about what you expect and practice it. Do this until everyone understands how to enter the classroom, how to present written work, what to do at various points in the lesson. There’s little point busting out all singing all dancing lessons until you know that everyone is crystal clear about exactly what’s expected and what the consequences are for not being on board. So, don’t be afraid to rehearse routines for as long as it takes.

5. Relationships matter too

But do all of this – as far as possible – with a smile. Be fair and even-handed. Never be tempted into using collective punishment: it’s lazy, wrong and they will hate you for it. Take time to get to know the students you teach. Learn their names and use them. Students are rarely rude to teachers they respect. And they respect teachers who can enjoy a joke but have very clear boundaries.

Do all this and, with time, behaviour management will cease to be something you have to work at. It’s a bit like learning to drive a car; before you know it you’ll be half way up the M6 with no memory of the last 50 miles. Then, as the burdens on your fragile working memory ease, you’ll be able to really focus on becoming the best teacher you can be.

16 Responses to Five things every new teacher needs to know about behaviour management

  1. […] Five things every new teacher needs to know about behaviour management. Managing students’ behaviour can be the most terrifying aspect of becoming a teacher. Although it’s the nightmare scenarios of being told to eff off on your first day, or having a chair hurled at your head that tend to keep new teachers awake at nights, these are – in most schools – relatively rare events. More often than not it’s the small stuff that undermines lessons and erodes the best efforts of teachers and students alike. In my eventful (and often unsuccessful) picaresque to discover what actually works I’ve made scores of mistakes and wasted countless hours trying to tackle the horrifying banality of low-level disruption. […]

  2. […] yes, but….  I recalled this incident after reading this post by David Didau which contained the following line: Never be tempted into using collective […]

  3. […] vats of trial and error, and tempered in the crucible of hard knocks, the Learning Spy shares the five most useful pearls of wisdom about behavioral […]

  4. Hugh Ogilvie says:

    Thank you. I read all of your blog posts with interest, especially those regarding planning and questioning. I am an NQT starting at my first school in September, at the tender age of 47, after 20 years as a lawyer.

    I will follow these tips. I realise that relationships are crucial to fostering a manageable classroom environment, backed up by consistent behaviour management. My new school is bringing in a ‘ ready to learn’ behaviour policy which is being covered during inset in September.

    I will be applying it without question and with consistency from the very start.

    Keep posting your pearls of wisdom.

    Regards,

    Hugh Ogilvie.

  5. Julie says:

    Isn’t preparation part of planning? (Point 2)
    If you are not prepared well enough some children can take advantage of the lack of organisation and pace of a would be flowing lesson and unwanted behaviour can occur. The teacher can become ‘rufflled’. Some children respond negatively. (I’ve ‘observed’ this)
    I accept that there are some great teachers who have broad knowledge base and could make learning about anything exciting and engaging, but most ‘new’ teachers need to plan how they are going to do this, to build their repertoire, which will eventually become innate.
    Good planning alone can’t achieve good behaviour management but good planning/ preparation with a degree of flexibility support a positive climate and behaviour in the classroom.

    • David Didau says:

      Julie – preparation is part of planning. Planning (and preparation) are good things but will not, by themselves, magically make children behave well. New teachers often put ridiculous hours into planning and preparation as it’s an aspect of teaching they can completely control, only to find that kids *still* muck about despite their hard work. As an experienced teacher I could turn up with nothing, cobble together some bullshit off the top of my head and the kids would behave. Why? Because of my reputation and seniority.

      Please don’t for a moment make the mistake of believing I don’t think teachers should plan. Of course they should. But schools must take primary responsibility for children’s behaviour.

    • Peter says:

      I think the point the post is trying to make is this:
      You are discussing with a colleague the best ways to enforce positive behaviour management techniques and they blame you for not planning a lesson properly as the source of bad behaviour. It’s already assumed that a good teacher plans lessons and prepares as much as possible for these (especially ‘new’ teachers) so to have someone assume that the reason children are misbehaving is solely down to lack of planning is condescending and unhelpful. Obviously a badly planned or unstructured lesson can lead to problems with behaviour in the classroom but I think what the post is trying to say is that a perfectly planned lesson can also lead to the same issues. Therefore, ultimately, if bad behaviour can (and does) occur in both then the planning is not the issue (on its own), it must be something else.

  6. Thanks for this blog post. I like the whole points about behavioral management as a teacher. Its cool.

  7. Daniel says:

    As an NQT thanks for this. I would also add that running a classroom (at the start) is cognitive overload. It is seriously tough juggling the lesson content and behaviour. Any planning a NQT can do to lessen the ‘thinking about the content’ and how to teach it will free up more brain power for behaviour management. e.g. if you use PowerPoint add in slides which prompt for checking homework, setting homework, and put reminders in for yourself.

  8. TJP says:

    Thank goodness to hear someone say students choose their behaviour- absolutely they do! It’s well worth spending time building respectful, kind relationships with kids, and why wouldn’t we want to? They’re the best part of the job!!

  9. Ex teacher thank goodness. says:

    With great respect, the army did talk to people in Afghanistan; the opposition who ever they were replied with roadside bombs. There is a war going on in the classroom The disgrace for the next generation of children is the teachers have lost control and are just too tired to fulfill any number of objectives in a lesson after 30 minutes of settling the disputes. The behaviour is so bad that you cannot do the job and that is the unspoken truth about huge numbers of children and teachers leaving the classroom.
    The inflated reasons for bad behaviour are phoney. Children were always up for attention seeking. In the private schools they are not allowed to get away with it.
    Lucky are those who can permanently exclude their own children from the awful state chaos.

  10. […] are not uncommon issues unfortunately; and Jonathan Porter, David Didau and Conor Boyle have already done a much better job than I could, of explaining why they are so […]

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