Classroom Behaviour Management.
Those skills we wish were taught in first year university, but (at least in my case), most definitely were not.
Those skills, without which a class can effectively fall apart; where unruly and sometimes violent students reign, and drive even experienced teachers to and sometimes beyond breaking point. I have witnessed this first-hand, and it happens more often than many would care to think.
I was once advised by a university lecturer to keep a journal of my first year teaching experinces; and despite being too shellshocked to write for nearly four months, my early journal entries reveal a significant, and necessary preoccupation with classroom management. In those days, it was a matter of survival.
As a relief teacher, I enter unfamiliar school and classroom environments on a regular basis. Unless you have the opportunity to develop a reputation amongst the student population, a process which takes a considerable amount of time and effort, this unfamilarity almost always translates to unruly student behaviour, and sometimes, major behaviour management challenges.
With my heady combination of inexperience, nerves and poor classroom management skills, I had my fair share of "disaster" days. I have quite literally had classes descend into total chaos, called for Admin assistance on more than one occasion, experienced the horrible piercing sound a student makes screaming their lungs out in class, and let us not forget the day I had to send seven students to buddy class (Day 2 of my teaching career).
Perhaps the most 'memorable' experience was the time I had a student fire pieces of paper at my head with his home-made catapult, prior to his forcible removal from the class, numerous escapes, attempts to scale the roof, and kicking me in the leg. Pity Admin didn't warn me that this student was in the class, because with my past history of dealing with such students, I might have been able to handle the situation better. Amazingly, I managed to keep some semblence of control that day, despite the chaos going on outside.
To be honest, the collegial and administrative support I recieve as a relief teacher shapes my lasting impressions of the schools in which I work. These impressions are generally positive, and I have found most of my teaching colleagues to be extremely supportive, particularly in hard-to-staff or low-socio-economic schools.
I still remember my first day of teaching, when the teacher next door kindly introduced herself and offered her assistance if needed. A particular thankyou goes to the Year 6/7 teachers at one particular school, who supported me the day after my worst ever management disaster (last year), offering to give up their DOTT to support me if I had to face the class again. This offer was above and beyond the call of duty, and thankfully proved unnecessary. I later found out that a teacher with 30 years experience couldn't control the class either, a most reassuring observation.
I am also grateful to those Deputy Principals who willingly lent their support in crisis situations, and didn't judge me negatively for it. In some cases, I was afforded the opportunity to try teaching the class again; but sadly, many "disasters" meant I never returned to the school. While thankfully my relief teaching experience now enables me to deal with most problems in the class, I still regret being denied these valuable opportunities to learn from my mistakes.
In those early days, I had my good and bad days. Yes, some were really bad days, like those I described here, but I learnt so much by reflecting on my experiences, researching classroom management strategies, and frankly, asking my colleagues for help.
Herin lie several fundamental lessons, learnt from painful experience:
1) Don't be afraid to ASK for help (when you're drowning)
2) Engage in Professional Learning - RE: Classroom Management
3) Plan, Experiment, and Reflect on your Management Approach.
In the following series of posts, I will explore how I dealt with the significant challenges I faced trying to develop my classroom management approach, and share some key ideas and strategies which guided my reflections & skill development.