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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.

Published in Anger Management Building Relationships Challenging Students Classroom Management Effective Learning Environments Professional Learning Reflective Practice Resources Standard 3 – Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning Standard 4 – Create and maintain supportive and safe learning environments

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