In two days time, that crucial first Monday of term will be over. I’m not sure whether that’s a relief or not! Last term was incredibly hard work – everyone involved with my class gave it their all, and with a lot of determination and thinking differently, we managed to achieve a lot in terms of behaviour management, and generally making them into a teachable bunch of 7 and 8 year olds. The challenge for this term is to maintain that upward curve.
The autumn term was uncomfortable for me in lots of ways. This is now my 4th consecutive year teaching Year 3, and I’d pretty much got into a groove of how I taught, of things that worked, of engaging pupils, of teaching this sometimes tricky year group well. I’d also been increasingly able to experiment with different ways of teaching certain topics, and often have a lot of fun in the process. Most of that has been blown out of the water by this particular bunch of kids. They’re great, and they work hard, but they are also experts in annoying each other and escalating things out of all proportion. The basic philosophy, for a significant minority, seems to be a) it’s never over – I will keep on about whatever I can for as long as I can and b) if I hit someone else, it’s their fault for annoying me. As a result, lots of things had to change.
For me, one of the most significant changes has been seating. I have a carpet area in my classroom, and especially during that first term, we use it a lot. It tends to gradually get phased out by the end of the summer. Not so this year. We spent 3 weeks struggling desperately with behaviour and learning on the carpet, until a colleague said, “why not just not use it? Have them at their tables all the time instead.” That was one of the Eureka! moments. The most obvious solution hadn’t occurred to me, because teaching on the carpet was just what I did. Emphasis on the past tense. After another week of talking to people, and generally being hesitant, we did make the change.
We moved their tables round (if we weren’t going to sit on the carpet, then it could have tables on), and put them into rows. I’d also observed that moving round the room caused frequent flare ups (it can be just too tempting to shove someone as they walk past, then we get a punch back, and so on), so now the kids have assigned seats, where they stay. I really wish that we could use the carpet, as it fits so well how I’ve got used to teaching.
When I was agonizing over all this, a very wise friend said something to me that has defined my approach to teaching this class: You have to teach the class you’ve got, not the one you wish you had. This class benefit hugely from an approach that, from the outside, probably looks quite strict and inflexible. Instructions are the same every time. Lot of things, in fact, are the same every time.
But. It’s worked. Having a script works. When they’re getting a bit over excited on Christmas party day, I just go back to the script: “Year 3, fold your arms and look this way.” Pause. “I said, Year 3, fold your arms and look this way” – all in a very level tone of voice. And it works. Within 30 seconds, food has been put down and all eyes are on me. The class have absolute confidence that when I say, read in silence, that’s what will happen. They know that you get one warning (because we’re all allowed to make mistakes), and then continued misbehaviour comes off your break time. They also know that doing what I ask, when I ask, equals house points and stickers. (Never underestimate the great love that 7 year olds have for stickers). They know that if we finish all our work by last break on Friday, then we watch a film for the last hour.
I’ve also become a much more reflective teacher this year – I’ve had to be. Everything has to be thought through, and then evaluated. For a while I got into the habit of doing a very short daily journal – pluses, minuses, what to work on tomorrow. I need to get back into that this term, as it was amazingly helpful.
I’ll be honest: sometimes I get fed up. It’s hard work maintaining this level of structure and discipline all the time – and it does have to be all the time. They are utterly relentless, so I have to be as well. The only way to get some peace that I’ve found is to put a film on – hence Film Fridays, mentioned above. However, I see that this approach is bearing fruit. It’s working. They are more settled, and I might be exhausted by Friday, but I can see, and feel, that it’s worthwhile. I’ve learnt my lesson: teach the class you have.