There is nothing worse than a difficult class that makes you lose sleep the night before. Your stomach churns and you look to the phone, the classroom door, the fire alarm – anything that might happen so you don’t need to spend the next hour in battle.
Your dread and stress will show in the way that you teach. This will then exacerbate the problems. The standard argument is that the children smell your fear and then seek to misbehave even more. The truth is more that the students start to feel insecure – the law of the jungle overrules the law of the teacher. So, the children fearing the reaction of their peers join in the bad behaviour or shrink to the corners of the room. Here are five suggestions for turning the situation around:
Tip 1: There are usually ring leaders – big hitters – high tariff – whatever you call them.
Sometimes taking these students out of the group for a short period will give you time to build a relationship with the others. You are looking for critical mass – a larger number of students who want to work with you. Taking out the loudest voice may give you time to win this battle.
Tip 2: Greet the class at the door and set the tone before they walk in the classroom.
Maybe ask for two lines, alphabetical lines, girl/ boy lines – anything that requires them to think about getting into order rather than each other. Smile at the students as they walk in – see if you can find out how the sport went or how the music went and comment on this to key students. Do not let the class to walk into the classroom gradually – meet, greet and control the entry. If necessary, ask the students to stand behind the chairs until you are at the front and ready to greet them.
Tip 3: Have a routine for the start of the lesson.
Someone to always hand things out, how you deal with no pen/ no books without a fuss; what you expect the students to get out; how you expect the students to answer the register.
Tip 4: Have a task on the board that they can see as they walk in.
The task should be intriguing, something that makes them stare, stop and think, immediately begin to learn – let them know how they are going to be accountable for the activity, so they are compelled to engage. Keep the time short and the expectation high.
Tip 5: Make a concerted effort to spot the positives you see and to narrate this to the class.
A difficult class will likely move around the school hearing how rubbish they are. See if you can be the teacher that offers them a different message. Spot and describe the best behaviour you see and say thank you for this effort. This is tough – you are being asked to be positive when you want to vomit. It won’t work immediately but you will start to chip away at their attitude – and your own emotions towards the class.