Celebrating World Teacher’s Day (Australia): Making A World Of Difference

apple-300x324Today, October 29, 2010  is a special day for Australian teachers. It is a time to remember and thank those wonderful teachers who have shaped our lives and our future.

Today, I am taking the opportunity to publically acknowledge those special people who inspired my entry into the teaching profession.

Mrs Daughenbaugh (Year 4):
I remember you for your creativity, and ability to bring out the artist within us. You had a truly positive impact on a young boy’s life, and it has been amazing to work with you over 15 years later as a fully qualified teacher.

Mrs Snow (Year 6):
Without a doubt, you were the most inspirational teacher I ever had. I have wonderful memories of your class which continue to inspire my own teaching today.

I’ve never forgotten the grammar lesson – “Capital G for Germans” you once gave me, and I still smile about the time you discovered a frog in the classroom! I suppose it was a bit of shock when you discovered that I became a teacher, but you’re one of the reasons why I joined this profession! Thankyou.

Ms Thomas (Teacher-Librarian):
Your arrival was one of the best things that ever happened at my school. I always loved coming to your Library at lunch; helping out, reading, and discovering the joys of the (very slow!) Internet. You provided a place where I could be myself, where I could leave the teasing outside. You helped inspire my life-long love of libraries. Thankyou.

 

Teachers. We Make a Difference.

 

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Classroom Management: Summing Up

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Reflecting on my classroom management approach for A Relief Teacher’s Journey, I have gained some surprising personal insights into my relief teaching experience and professional development.

I am not an expert classroom manager by any means, but I have become a much more effective and competent relief teacher. I still have a few areas for improvement, and I expect to further develop my professional skills and practice over the coming years. No doubt, you will probably read about it here sometime in 2011!

Now, as I prepare to move on to fresh topics, I will leave you with one of the most insightful teaching cartoons I have ever seen. I’m not sure who the author is, but I suspect they may have had relief / substitute teaching experience!

GroeningCartoon

Cracking the Hard Class

As a relief teacher, I’ve come across many tough and extremely challenging classes, taught by graduate and experienced teachers alike.

Walking into, and taking control of the ‘hard class’ is one of the greatest challenges of my job, and I have learnt that there is no “one size fits all” approach. These classes are hard work, but most can be won over in time.

As I write this penultimate post on my classroom management approach, I thought I would share my experiences in a Year 4 class, in July 2010. Over the course of three days, I managed to take control of one of the most challenging class I have encountered as a relief teacher, marking a personal triumph of my first year.

Extract from my Reflective Journal (July 31, 2010)

This week, I spent my second and third day teaching the class. The first time was hell – students were generally unruly, refused to follow instructions, and I had the Principal dropping in at frequent intervals to ‘keep an eye’ on the situation. As usual in this school, I had not been warned that I would be teaching a really tough class. I left that day with a sore throat, almost losing my voice after raising my voice to excess.

On the second day I taught the class, I was surprised to find a number of students were actually excited to have me return. I wasn’t too impressed with having no work left for the two days, but I was much happier with the other (experienced) Deputy Principal, who properly prepped me for the class.

I found the students challenging, but not as bad as that first day. Working with the experienced teacher’s aide, I set out to teach some tried and tested relief activities and games, including Graffiti Walls (spelling) and a comic strip text innovation activity. I took an assertive management approach, insisting on every student’s individual attention, giving explicit instructions, and using the “hands up for quiet” signal.

On several occasions, I took the students outside the classroom for games. When they couldn’t line up without fighting and yelling at each other, I sent them back into class, and bluntly explained that their behaviour was completely unacceptable. They got the message … eventually.

The difference on the third day was amazing. I marvelled how I didn’t have to raise my voice, and at how much faster students responded to the “hands-up” signal. I did have to teach the class how to line up after Recess and Lunch, pulling a group of diehards out of line for a “chat”. Watching the class ‘perform’ for their Health teacher, I came to appreciate just how much better behaved they were for me.

I tried to make the activities interesting, and emphasised students’ sharing of their work with their peers. I also used the Find Someone Whostrategy for the very first time, marking the achievement of a recent learning goal. The students loved it, and even the shyer / more socially isolated students were able to get involved. Recognising that some students couldn’t read, I read through the items first, and encouraged them to ask for help if they weren’t sure. Sure enough, one did.

Marking students’ graffiti walls and comic strips at the end of the day, I was extremely impressed with some students’ efforts. I shared some of the funniest comics with the class, and kept a few for my records.

Drawing Parallels with a Year 7 “Class from Hell”

Leafing through my journal (Volume 1), I was struck with by the parallels with a class that ‘tore me to shreds’ in 2009, one of my worst ever teaching experiences. Comparing the management approach I took into these classes, I can see how much I have grown in this area.

The Keys to my Management Success

1) A confident assertive attitude and stance (body language is important)

2) Insisting on total compliance and attention prior to issuing instructions or explaining a learning activity. I also moved amongst students to ensure this happened.

3) Praising and rewarding the ‘allies’ – refusing to use collective punishment

4) Explicitly teaching (and if necessary) making students practice my expectations for their behaviour.

5) Using interesting learning activities

If you have a “class from hell”, it pays to be proactive, consistent, and persistent.

These classes are really hard work, but most can be conquered.

Top Tips for Teachers – Behaviour Matters (TeacherTube™)

This is a tongue-in-cheek look at effective instruction and classroom management. It’s well worth watching. (Click to view)

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Responding to Student Anger

Anger is a confronting emotion for classroom teachers and students alike. Early intervention, a sensitive response, and teaching of anger-management strategies are critical to successful interventions.

When a student gets angry, they can become aggressive or violent, and sometimes flee the situation. Each individual’s anger-response is different, and it is imperative that teachers know the warning signs and characteristic behaviours. (Please, please – tell the relief teacher too!). It is also important to remember that a student may feel shamed after losing control of their emotions in front of their peers.

Intervene Early – If You Can

I encourage students to tell me if they aren’t coping with their emotions; explaining that I will give them a chance to get out of class and calm down. This usually involves sending them on an errand, going to the toilet, or getting a drink.

If I recognise the warning signs of an impending outburst, I often quietly tap the student on the shoulder, and offer them an exit strategy. This is an important strategy for teaching students how to cope with and regulate their emotions.

Responding to Anger Crisis Situations

As I discussed in a recent post, the teacher’s first priority in an anger crisis situation is to ensure their personal safety and the safety of the other students. This may necessitate the removal of the student, or the audience.

After the student has calmed down, and accepted the relevant consequences for their actions, it is important to privately discuss their behaviour with them. (You can take the student aside in class, or if possible, take them for a 5 minute walk at Recess break. Sometimes it is more relaxing and beneficial to discuss these matters in informal settings). 

anger-management 

I often explain to the student that I can’t possibly understand what they are going through, but that it is normal to feel upset /angry. If they have exhibited a violent/aggressive response, I discuss coping strategies, and help the student identify more positive, less harmful responses. As a classroom teacher, this would inform a more formal behaviour management plan.

Anger Management (TeacherTube)

http://www.teachertube.com/embed/player.swf

 

Useful Resources

Anger Management and Conflict Resolution for Middle School Students, a free PPT download from TeachersPayTeachers.com

“Part 3: Coping with crises, conflicts and difficult situations” in Magic Classroom Management. Rob Plevin (2008/9). (Email me for a copy – I have free distribution rights)

A Focus on the Teacher’s Attitude, Actions & Management Approach

The classroom teacher’s attitude, demonstrated through their words, actions, body language and management approach, is the most significant factor in successfully working with challenging students.

My father taught me that “when dealing with people’s problems, you need to lift the bandaid to understand why they behave as they do”. I believe teachers can play an important role in ‘lifting the bandaid and treating the festering sore beneath’.

This ‘bandaid’ metaphor describes my attitude and approach to dealing with students with ‘problem’ behaviours and special needs. (What is a ‘problem’ or challenging behaviour)

My Attitude & Actions
  • I understand that challenging students’ behaviour(s) are purposeful, and try to acknowledge their emotions & circumstances as valid and real.
  • As teachers, we have no control over the emotional baggage our students bring to school, and indeed, some have extremely complex problems.
  • What we can do; however, is acknowledge their emotions, and work to identify the purpose(s) of their behaviour.
    • This involves trying to neutralise the environmental triggers, intervening before the behaviour occurs.
    • It also involves teaching the child how to understand and better manage their emotions & behaviour.
  • We can also work to engage these students in their learning by:
    • incorporating their interests & talents into classroom learning activities
    • modifying teaching and learning processes to enable students’ participation in their learning (e.g. reducing reading content, asking peers to scribe information)

How does my Attitude inform my Management Approach?

As a professional relief teacher working in unfamiliar classes, I try to observe & win-over my challenging students. I may only work in the class for the day, but if/when I return, I can plan my management approach accordingly.

To this end, I initially focus on proactive, preventative behaviour management measures. I observe and privately talk to the student in question, watching how they interact with other students and the relief teacher. If the negative or testing behaviours continue, I apply a system of graduated consequences based on 1-2-3 Magic™, bumping students towards Timeout, Buddy Class & ultimately Office Withdrawal.

I try to work along this continuum over time (a few hours). While this means I may temporarily put up with certain behaviours, it enables me to start identifying the purposes & triggers of the ‘problem’ behaviours. I suppose the only caveat is that you need to know and understand the school’s behaviour management policies, as I’ve been caught out on occasion by some radically different whole-school approaches.

As I’ve described in earlier posts, I supplement my in-class management approach by working to develop positive relationships with my most challenging students. Relief teaching is a difficult job at the best of times, but targeted relationship building efforts can help to significantly reduce your management challenges over time. 

Summing Up

I view my challenging students as a “a work in progress”. I’ve had my successes and failures, but I’ve been surprised to find that some of my most challenging students’ have incredible talents, interests, and intellect. Their considered contributions to class discussions and creative talents have, at times, amazed me.

Working with challenging students requires considerable time, effort and patience, but as I have found, the rewards are worth it.