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The Good Teacher

Interaction, interaction, interaction.

That’s what teaching is all about, and that’s what terrifies most student teachers or those new to the job.

What you don’t want to be is the teacher who can't control the class, standing nervously at the front of the room while missiles and abuse fly around. Teachers in this position often leap to refer the problem elsewhere - they leave room to get help, and when help arrives everyone is sitting quietly working. Help leaves, chaos again. The teacher in the room next door steps in to complain about the noise. Nightmare.

Nor do you want to be the teacher who controls the class through fear, surrounded by students sitting in cold silence, not daring to speak. Punishment is the order of the day; no one smiles, no one even moves.

You would probably prefer to be the ‘cool’ teacher, the one whose lessons dissolve into ‘discussions’, games, problem-solving. But results suffer; work doesn't get marked. Lots of fun occurs, but little education.

Here are some real - and occasionally surprising - tips to avoid these stereotypes and actually get something done:

1. Recognise the psychic abilities of students to detect your weaknesses.

You might wear the clothes of a teacher, talk and walk like a teacher but as yet you have not been accepted as such by the students. Respect must be earned. A workable rule is not to begin too smiley.

2. Always be fair and consistent.

Treat all equally and have clear rules and boundaries regarding what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Stick to them, without favouritism. Inconsistency is like a volatile fuel to students: they resent it, but resent it explosively. They need routine, predictability, fixed rules, known limits. Make sure that you spell out tasks clearly, explain rules precisely, set out parameters succinctly.

3. Be organised, and if you aren’t, look organised.

When you arrive at each lesson you should know exactly what you want to accomplish in that lesson. Ideally, arrive in the classroom before the students, have your material ready and know where everything is. Impressions are everything, especially at the beginning. If for some reason things have gone wrong and you have no idea what you want to do in a lesson, arrive after the students, have no material and don’t know where anything is, all is not lost: you can still bluff your way through. But you will need to be able to do two things very well: improvise, and have a commanding presence. Grabbing a book from a shelf and going with whatever is in it, with such style that it looks as though that was what you were going to do all along, takes real skill but can get you through.

4. Negatives flourish where there haven’t been enough positives.

Positive relationships built on expectation and clear classroom rules are the foundation of a good lesson and of good teaching. Praise heavily and accurately and you will defuse any potential confrontation: human beings find it very hard to be critical of someone who has flowed genuine admiration in their direction, and children are even more constrained from misbehaviour by positive praise than are adults.

The best teachers have well controlled classes but appear to do relatively little. They hardly ever shout; they appear to be calm and unemotional for the most part. Their classes seem to know what is expected of them. They can make jokes without losing control; they rarely have to resort to school procedures outside their own classroom rules. It’s a skill. But it is one based on positives - accurate, constant and universally applied praise and rewards wherever they have been earned.

5. Spend time on establishment.

Students, in common with most of humanity, hate imprecision. They want to know what the rules are, how to set out work, when to hand it in and so on. Even better, they want to contribute to those rules. Discuss each one so that they can see how they have been constructed for themselves. Praise anyone and everyone for adherence to rules - they crave it and respond well to it, provided it is genuine and accurate.

6. Cultivate good standards of manners and language.

Getting students to raise their hand and ask permission to speak, stand up, go to the toilet is a simple basic; having them say please or thank you is another. Reward appropriate behaviour, ignore and reprimand calling out without fail, and insist on good order and your life will be much easier - and so will theirs.

7. Arrange the room to your best advantage and theirs.

Seat misbehaving students at great distances from each other. Move individuals if needed, totally ignoring protests. Then find reasons to praise and reward any improved behaviour. Tell them privately how much better their work has been since you moved them.

8. Never seek confrontation.

Find out the full story before you act to punish. Criticise the wrong action and not the individual. Save your window-shattering shouting voice for absolute emergencies. It’s key to maintain self control at all times, not just for your sanity in that moment but so that you don’t undermine yourself from then on. One episode of loss of control on your part will label you as ‘able to be manipulated’ from then on. You lose respect, altitude, and the power to direct their attention.

Even the best teacher experiences challenging behaviour. Nor is it possible to predict every possible incident. Experience will show you when a real problem arises. But you can defer, delay, postpone, and even completely avoid explosive mishaps by being in good communication with your class, admiring them rather than fearing them, and making sure they know that they are liked.

For more about education, visit Education and Parenting World here.

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