Thursday, 4 August 2011

A Young Primary Teacher's Guide To Working With A Difficult Class

All teachers, during their career, will have their fair share of difficult classes. It is part and parcel of the profession to which we belong. Being successful with a 'difficult' class gives most teachers a greater sense of satisfaction than being successful with other classes. Remember that 'Difficult' could mean behaviourally, academically or both.

Often, it is simply the particular combination of students you have in the class that creates the difficult environment. On a day when some students are absent, the whole atmosphere of the class room changes for the better. That will be a clue to those students who upset the working environment of the class.

Recognising this, you can then take measures to lessen their impact. Below are strategies you can consider using.

- Start at the beginning with the idea that this is a normal class. Try to avoid the self-fulfilling prophecy syndrome.
- Be thoroughly prepared for every lesson.
- Find out quickly where the class is academically in each subject. Use a quick quiz or short test to do this.
- Start slowly. Concentrate on the basics to give the students early success with you as their teacher.
- Do the easy parts of topics initially and slowly add more difficult concepts where possible.
- Have learning work from every lesson/day for homework. This will depend on the age and abilities of your class. Test the learning work next lesson.
- Test progress every lesson with a simple test/quiz. Include learning work in these.
- Praise progress of any sort.
- Slip in easy but short problem solving/critical thinking exercises to show them they can do them.
- Have lots of short items/activities to do to forestall boredom.
- Be flexible. If it is not working, change what you are doing.
- Share a joke. Use play on words, cartoons, games to create interest.
- Set your class rules at the very start. Use "Golden Rule" as a basis plus safety and right to learn issues. Keep the rules simple.
- Apply the rules fairly to everyone.
- Tell the class everyone starts with a clean sheet. Tell them, "I don't remember your reputation unless you remind me by the way you behave."
- If you have decided to punish a child for poor behaviour early in the day and that behaviour improves dramatically during the day, when the time for the punishment arrives, cancel the punishment. Then say why and congratulate the student for his/her improvement. This will enhance your empathy with them.
- Where a student's behaviour is consistently aberrant, use a personal contract between you, the parents and the child to set behavior goals and consequences for failure to abide by the contract.
- Have written learning and behaviour goals that your class knows.
- Read the students record cards to help you know what to avoid with the student and what you need to know to enhance their success.
- Use specialist teacher, teacher aides and parents to help wherever possible.
- Reward students and the class when great work, by their standards, is produced by displaying it to others particularly to your Principal, Deputy Principal or Head of Curriculum. You must continue to acknowledge any success no matter how small.
- Keep a record of all successes and problems you have and record your response to them and how that worked. Then you can report to parents and the school administration with reliable data.
- Use a variety of teaching strategies or pedagogues each period, not just chalk and talk. You'll find some will work better than others. Use them more often, but not exclusively.
- Allow short 'quiet' breaks, under your conditions, during long lessons to allow students to regenerate. A short, sharp activity could do the same.
- Remember to smile often, say "good morning" in the classroom and in the playground. Treat them the way you want to be treated always, even in a difficult exchange.
- Have your own supply of pencils, erasers, calculators and so on with you in your own tote box available for each lesson. Photocopy pages of textbooks you will use for each lesson or homework as there will be students who will turn up without them for a variety of reasons. This will keep them on task.
- Have a seating plan that separates those students who don't get on or students who misbehave together or are talkative. No student can change his/her place without your permission.
- Some schools have computer programs that allow you to download the photos of class members. Use this to help you to get to know students quickly. If you don't have that access, take a photo of each student and create a mural of the class to help everyone to get to know each other. Have a copy of each photo for yourself to help you.
- The record cards of students are useful to get background information before you see the class and in times of parent teacher meetings. Record in your diary any concerns re health, behaviour and learning problems for future guidance.
- Note the names of any 'standouts' early. These are often the ones you need to check up on to ease future problems.
- Look at the use of Brain Gym and other such activities that could help stimulate learning.

In conclusion, as a young teacher you will not be able to remember and use all of these strategies at once. Initially, you need to create a list of those strategies above that you feel you can implement easily. Add them slowly to your lesson plans and check their effectiveness over a period of time. Find out which ones work effectively with your class.

Each class will be different so be flexible with which strategies you use from class to class and year to year. As your career progresses or the year progresses add more strategies from the list to give you a greater range of ways to overcome problems present in a difficult class.

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