Some Ideas about Teaching
When the Going Gets Tough
Posts along the lines of 'Help - I'm sinking without
trace' appear regularly on the forum, especially from students and NQTs.
Each situation is different, of course, and all the following replies
addressed specific needs - but together they address how to react 'when the
going gets tough'.
You ARE having fun ... really!
You can always tell an
student/NQT from an old lag.
The student/NQT comes back after a bad lesson and wails: 'Where did I go
The old lag comes back in after an equivalent lesson and complains: 'What
the hell is wrong with the children today?'
FIRST, what profession did you want to come into - a profession where you've
mastered it in a fortnight and then spend the next 40 years getting bored
... or a profession where you're continually being baffled and bewildered,
where every day throws up a completely new problem you've not encountered
before, where you're constantly beaten, battered, belittled and abused ...
and where it's JUST AS EXCITING 40 years later. I'll take the latter course
every time, thanks.
SECONDLY, if every child was manageable and an intelligent self-learner,
schools wouldn't need to employ us teachers on the amazingly HUGE salaries
they do - so every time a child kicks off, just look at your last pay check.
THIRDLY .. WHATEVER happens in the classroom, it's only a defeat because you
FEEL it's a defeat (because you're personally insecure about your skills).
Next lesson, bowl into the classroom AS THOUGH YOU WON!!!! Teaching is 90%
bluff and bravado - and if you tell the children you won, most of them will
Don't worry ... ENJOY!!!
Learn to laugh at yourself
Posted on: Jan 31 2006,
It's a hard job
I know this isn't as helpful
as you would like but:
We all had classes like that when we were NQTs - the cleverer ones are the
worst, because they are cleverer in their naughtiness.
My main advice would be:
1. Keep on
struggling - this class will teach you more about teaching than you learned
in the entire PGCE course!!!
2. Do NOT relax
your standards - if anything, tighten them up.
Much of what has been said above still applies, but not all of it.
With more able pupils, the dynamics are changed.
You need to interest them without giving the disruptive pupils the
opportunity to destroy (e.g. no games with lots of little parts they can
You need to make the lesson academically fulfilling, establishing relevance
to their position, and maintaining interest.
Do not let the starter take so long again - move on to the meat of the
lesson promptly. If you set a starter task, give a limited time and stop it
whether they have finished or not.
Allocate times to each element of the lesson, and stop them when the finish
time has arrived. tell them before how long they have, and warn them that
this is what you are going to do, and then be sure to your word. In this way
DRIVE the lesson forward.
Allow the word 'failed' to enter your vocabulary for pupils who fail, but
make sure that they don't need the outcome of the last task to do the next
For the rest, all the classic things:
your lesson as a discrete machine-gun set of 'events' (e.g. a starter, a
time of reading, a short explanation, a time of discussion, a time of
writing, a time of drama, a time of performance, a video clip, etc.). When
you have worked out your sequence, write down the side what the pupils
will be doing during each 'event' - make sure that it involves as much
difference and change as possible, and that they don't spend too much time
doing activities which are, essentially, the same thing over and over again.
'Ring the changes'.
- get the
majority on your side (you cannot beat a whole class - you MUST divide and
- lots of praise (and rewards) for those who succeed (not for those who
disrupt - as an attempted bribe).
- a time
of silent work within each lesson - offer a number of choices of varying
difficulty and let the pupils choose what they want BUT insist they do the
work they have chosen in silence.
- stand your ground/ don't let them bully you.
raise your voice over the top of talking. If anything, speak quietly so that
they have to listen to hear you.
POLITE AND PLEASANT. However much you are pushed, do not be driven back into
abuse or insult - it will turn off the pupils who ARE prepared to give you a
chance. Try not to shout/lose your temper - that is what they are trying to
achieve (occasional explosions never did any class any harm, but it is their
rareness that give them their power). Remember that many of the pupils are
lovely children, that most can be lovely children in the right environment
(which it is your job to create), and that even the most awful ARE
redeemable. Stay positive, and do not become one of those dreadful
moaning/bitter teachers who seem to bear the pupils a grudge - I had one
wonderful NQT, an older woman, who after even the most horrific lesson would
say of what the pupils had done: 'Well, that's their job, isn't it?'
but I would also emphasise two things:
1. be aware WHY
you want the discipline you want. Watching some teachers, you'd think that
they were teaching discipline. But discipline has no value per se.
You want good discipline because without it the pupils who do want to learn
cannot do so. Most of the pupils in the class DO want to learn, especially
if you're trying to do interesting lessons. Believe in your content and in
2. There comes a
point where you cannot 'win' certain pupils. But you must stop them harming
the learning of others. Insist on good discipline for the sake of learning,
and let it be known that you will do everything you can to stop other pupils
damaging that learning.
There is a tendency, when faced with a disruptive class, to retreat into
dull, 'punitive' tasks. Do not allow the yobs to drive you back into this.
Believe in your teaching, and put on offer a diet of interesting learning.
Even if they ruin every lesson - you have to convince the majority that it
is worth taking part in this lesson, and that the teacher is right to want
good discipline so that they can enjoy the good teaching he offers.
Finally, do not worry if you 'lose' a battle. That happens even to me, today
still - with all my experience and position in the school. Remember
Phyrrus (of the phyric victory).
Remember that the pupils hate conflict and confrontation, too (even if they
do not show it to you).
So, even if you lose, make them work for their victory.
And then, tomorrow, bowl back into the room as though you had won yesterday,
and 'go for it' again!!!!
See if they have the will to continue the fight.
Posted on: Oct 4 2004,
My pupils are just
permanently mad, but they're no madder than normal at this time of year.
Seem lazier this year though, but that could just be the Year 11s and Year 9s
we've got this time round.
The only answer, when they pick up the ball and start to run with it, is to
run with them.
Mixing metaphors, you have to head them off at the pass.
See who has the stomach to keep going at it longer.
It's a battle that you must win.
When the school is under stress, teachers do tend to get rattled, also.
People need to realise that they add to the general ethos, and they need to
bite their tongue voluntarily.
It's so easy to moan or complain, but all it does is add to the downward
Every member of staff needs to contribute:
- avoid the temptation to slag off 'the pupils'
- boast about how much work you're doing, not how little
- constructive criticism only, and at the right time
- edify each other.
I'd write it into staff's contracts - it essential if you're to have a happy
Posted on: Feb 9 2006,
(end of the summer term)
Our Year 10s are DREADFUL at
This happens to some extent or another every year.
The Year 11s leave, and the Year 10s jockey to take their places in the
This involves them both inside and outside school.
Added to which a whole year group of girls are new on the market and
So their eyes are on each other to such a degree that they haven't the time
to bother with you or your subject.
Coming to school to work - what a ridiculous concept!!!!
And - even if they are prepared to be jolly with you - as soon as you try to
exert pressure or challenge, they get SO snotty with you.
Just be grateful they don't issue teachers with machine guns.
Mass slaughter would be done regularly!
I don't know whether there is any 'answer' - certainly I haven't found the
magic wand in 35 years of teaching!
All I would say is:
1. Don't get backed into second rate lessons and a 'punish-punish-punish'
approach. Even if THEY are dreadful, you stay (act) polite, enthusiastic,
pleasant - there will be a pay-back next year.
2. Teach well, try to interest, and demand respect and involvement.
I ask my pupils what teaching techniques/events they enjoy most, and just
try to include as much of that in my lessons as possible. WHAT they enjoy
differs from class to class - whereas my Year 9 SN group rather predictably
wanted films, I was amazed that the general opinion of my Year 10 GCSE group
this year was that they most enjoy listening to me talk!!!! How easy can you
get - I've just delivered 'fireside chats' for the last few lessons, and
we've had smiles all round
Like the attempts of government to end the depression in the 1930s failed
until WWII and rearmament, there is an argument that all you can do at this
stage is ameliorate the problem - the solution (the panic of exams) comes
Overall, remember the lesson of the American
cowboys: when the cattle stampede, all you can do is run along in front of
them and try to turn them.
Posted on: Jun 15 2006,
with a difficult Year 9 class
As you teach them , try
varying your teaching methods, and find out what they LIKE doing:
- blood and gore?
- personal rights/ unfair treatment and outrage?
- watching videos?
- narrative story?
- quizzes and competitions?
- historical games and simulations?
and pick your topic accordingly.
If they are bright and lively, you can soon win them over by just having
PS why aren't you into the 20th century by now?
Oh, and also, when you have chosen a good lesson content and method, start
off by telling them that you are giving them a good lesson content and
method and (here is the key) add that there is something wrong with them
if they're not interested.
Posted on: Nov 4 2004,
Nice Taste in the Mouth
A good friend - a tough 'no
prisoners' teacher, old fashioned in many ways and now retired - always gave
young teachers the same advice:
However nasty you might get
during the lesson, always make sure you have taken steps to put things right
before the lesson ends, so that the pupils go out 'with a nice taste in
their mouths'. When hostility and punishment hangs over the end of the
lesson for you, it does for them too, so that they come into your next
lesson looking for their revenge.
What you want is for the
pupils to come to your lesson looking forward to learning and being with
you, and if you want this, he says quite correctly, you have to put all
nastiness to bed well before the end of the lesson.
Posted on: Dec 12 2004,