Teacher Georgina Watford discusses common behavioural issues in the classroom and what can be done to improve them.

How do you develop your own set of rules for the classroom?  Every teacher is different and despite us all following the school rules, as humans we all implement them to a different degree and in a different way. At times this can be difficult for students to understand and adhere to, but after having taught at four different schools over the last eight years, I have learnt to be very clear from the outset about both my expectations and the punishments rule-breakers will receive. You then have to follow through on both or it leads to confusion and a disruptive atmosphere where the students don’t know where they stand.

Consistency and regular feedback (both the “WWW”– what went well – and the “EBI” – even better if) are vital for a student to feel they are able to work in your classroom.

What type of behavioural issues have you encountered at school? Behavioural issues occur daily in every school, be it more minor ones such as lateness, lapses in effort in class, incomplete homework, poor organisation, talking out of turn, and then ranging to more disruptive ones like active and continual defiance, aggression, swearing, and even violence.

What do you think causes them? These can sometimes stem from learning difficulties such as ADHD, but in my experience, they are a result of either struggling with a subject or actually being bored in class and not challenged by it. It is a constant challenge to ensure that lessons are aimed at the class’s ability, but that you are also able to support and stretch everyone in there.

Occasional lapses in behaviour are a regular occurrence in every school, and this is usually due to either problems within friendship groups or issues at home. If the poor behaviour is constant, it then becomes a question of whether it is due to disengagement with your teaching (and that would then need to be resolved by you) or a complete lack of interest in school itself which becomes a matter for heads of year and parents to discuss.

Also, the age of the student very much affects their priorities in life, and this obviously has an effect on their organisation skills, their stress levels (exam years prove to make students much more anxious), and their effort with homework.

What steps do you take to avoid or calm a problematic classroom situation? The primary steps are to follow school rules. Some schools have a warning system in place which then leads to a child being taken out of the lesson if they reach three warnings; this is generally only used for the more distracting/upsetting behaviour and allows other students to get on with the tasks set in a positive working environment.

Again, every teacher handles these situations differently and when I first started my career I regularly took confrontation as a personal grievance towards me. I now realise it is often a build up of emotions from something that has occurred earlier, outside of the class.

Students all react to reprimands differently, so the first steps for me are taken right back in September when the student starts. I must ensure I know the student’s needs academically, but I also need to build a relationship with them that ultimately leads to them enjoying my lessons, feeling supported and challenged.

To avoid a problematic situation in the first place usually involves reading the atmosphere of the class and reminding them to stay on task, while also speaking 1-2-1 with the student who appears unhappy to allow them to discuss the issue they are having and then seeing if I am able to offer a solution. Often it can be just a question of moving seats, voluntarily, to either a seat alone or with someone they are happier working with. Sometimes it just means allowing the student to leave the room to get a drink of water and a change of scenery. If you know your students then the majority of the time it becomes obvious what solution will work best.

How do you try to help children to overcome any issues that they may be having at school? It really depends on the issue. Academic ones, such as poor performance or lack of understanding, usually involve 1-2-1 sessions with a student and helping them to overcome any gaps they have in their knowledge. This also then improves their outlook in lessons, they become less anxious and worried and they can build up their confidence with the subject week by week. As a teacher, in general I always believe you have to be approachable and supportive with students, so they feel able to ask questions in class and ask for more support or challenge if they need it.

If students have issues with friendship groups, this often becomes a matter for tutors and heads of year, who prioritise the student’s emotional wellbeing at the school. Often things can be resolved by mediation and, if not, parents are regularly brought in to gain a better understanding of their child’s problems and act as another system of support.

Personally, if a student comes to me with issues, of any kind, I would always offer support and advice, while ensuring I pass it on to the relevant member of staff to ensure that the student can get the help they may need. However, a student will never willingly come to you if you haven’t built up a relationship of trust with them. I’m sure everyone can remember that teacher at school, be it five years ago or 50, with whom they not only enjoyed the lessons but also felt they were able to go to for advice, this is the key to being able to support a student if they are struggling.

Is there anything that parents can do to help from home? Parents can be one of the best support tools a teacher can have. It can be hard for a child to have two sets of rules, one for home and one for school, so if parents are able to take on board things like homework expectations by allowing a place in their home where their child can get on with their homework easily and without distraction, this can really help the child to understand the importance of consolidating their understanding through homework.

Taking an interest in your child, both in their academic success but also their extra-curricular activities and friendships also leads to the child feeling supported and understood. Parents should make sure they have a good working relationship with the school and the staff, so that communication lines are open if and when they are needed. It can be hard for both parties to discuss more delicate issues, such as bullying or poor grades, but if you both have the child’s best interests in common, then you should feel you can be honest and open and discuss ideas that will ensure their child has a successful school career.

Georgina Watford teaches languages and has worked in comprehensive and private schools across Kent and Surrey.

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