Teaching is a profession; it is a job. The relationships which we have in the classroom are professional relationships, not personal ones, and as such need to be managed carefully and dispassionately. This can be difficult as the people with whom we spend our days are children and some of them can be challenging, sometimes deliberately so. It is sometimes easy to overlook the fact that these sometimes disruptive people are our customers and our job is to teach all of them to the best of our ability. It is essential that we, as the adults act rationally and maintain our professionalism at all times.
When not so long ago I heard a young colleague mutter that she ‘hated’ the class that she was about to teach, that she had to struggle to maintain her temper with them, that they got under her skin, I was worried. I was worried because she had uttered similar negative thoughts about other classes and this seemed like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Her lessons were becoming grim affairs, her dislike of the classes seeping out. She went into the classroom alert for poor behaviour and hostility and so, of course, she found it everywhere.
“Miss, I don’t get it. I’m so confused.”
“I’ve explained it. What is there not to get?”
“I just don’t get it.”
“What don’t you get?”
“All of it.”
“Well, I’ve explained it. Just get on with your work.”
“JUST GET ON WITH YOUR WORK!”
She was so convinced that it was a us and them situation that she never considered that maybe she wasn’t explaining things very well, that maybe it might be a good idea to see if she could find another way to make them understand. More importantly, she took it personally. In her mind, this poorly expressed lack of understanding was an attempt to undermine her, to make her look foolish, to spoil the lesson which she had spent so long preparing.
When they ‘didn’t’ get it’ what they were doing was rendering pointless the time shed spent carefully crafting her lesson plan and the resources which she was so proud of. She was spending far too much time on the lesson and not nearly enough on the relationships.
If it is a truism that you cannot teach a class until you have established effective behaviour management; it is equally true that you cannot establish effective behaviour management until you have formed a healthy relationship with that class.
So how do you do that? You employ the “Act as if” strategy. In other words, you behave as if you like them in order to come to like them.
- Decide to like them.
- Tell them you like them.
- Smile as if you like them.
- Don’t take it personally.
When Lizzy, who puts her hand up to ask for help every SINGLE time you give an instruction, faces you with her hand up and a pained look on her face, take a deep breath, smile and approach her.
“Lizzy, can I help you?”
“I don’t get it.”
“Okay. What question could you ask me which might help me help you?”
Unravel the problem and help Lizzy.
If you’ve set a task and there is a forest of hands and confused faces then you probably DIDN’T explain properly. Don’t stride on regardless. Take a step back, acknowledge that you didn’t pitch your explanation clearly enough and have another go at it.
They are children and you are an adult – teachers should never forget this essential truth; you should be more in control of yourself as well as the class, than they need to be. If you’ve got it wrong, apologise and start again. You will gain their respect.