When I’m asked questions about teaching, the first one is always ‘did you teach in America?’ followed by ‘why did you choose to come to London?’
I’ve never been happy being the only teacher, or one of the few, that cared about behaviour, curriculum, academics, and aspirations. I could have stayed in America and made more money, been more teacher ‘famous’ for whatever that is worth, but long story short, I came to England because I wanted to be a part of a school community, where we worked together as a staff body for the greater good, and for greater opportunities for as many as we are able.And I knew I could, or at the very least, strongly hoped, to find that here.
I remember starting my first day teaching in the UK. I was still partially jet lagged, hopped up on adrenaline, and had millions of terms swimming around in my head not knowing what plasters were or being able to understand when my pupils said bond or bald (I couldn’t hear the vowel sound). And despite the challenges we faced in a turn around school, I leaned on the whole school systems and procedures, and thrived. I was ‘the lady that tells you to use the one way system ’ in the narrow corridors, the lady that’s ‘actually really nice’ and also the ‘one that doesn’t play’. Kids came to know and respect me as I always showed them.
So as I started my second year, I luckily had built a reputation for fairness and walked in in with a level of confidence because of the successes of the previous year.
But this wasn’t always the case for me. In my previous settings, I ran my classrooms as an individual hoping to make an impact in my single room. I wasn’t a part of a system, I was alone on an island with few whole school rules and no one to support me. By sheer force of personality, I commanded my classroom and created a place where kids could learn and where learning was interesting. Behaviour was generally good, and kids for the most part complied with my simple asks: please don’t use your phone while I’m teaching, please no snacks while we’re reading books. My approach to behaviour relied on kids deciding to follow my rules, and luckily, they did.
But what if they hadn’t?
It’s common amongst the profession to scorn the phrase ‘they’re fine for me’, claiming that those staff who say that must do so because they have low expectations , that there’s no way that ‘bad pupils’ will learn or work in any classroom. That’s not exactly true.
My classroom is not atypical— we laugh, i might sometimes tell a joke, but when it is time to work, we are silent and focused. SLT will conduct a learning walk, and notice how well a pupil is doing in my room even though they might struggle in other lessons. They will note how a pupil on a managed move says that I’m one her favourite teachers. My classroom is orderly, consistent, and dependable and it’s partly to do with who I am as a teacher ,but also the systems allow me to teach. I can project clarity, stability, and trust because the system enables me to do so.
So when a pupil that generally struggles to manage their behaviour is behaving in one lesson but not others, and your behaviour systems and culture are set, it may be worth considering why they are ‘fine’ in certain lessons. What is it about that atmosphere or classroom that allows that pupil to be successful, and how, if at all, can it be replicated? Is it the seating arrangement? The particular grouping of pupils in the class? What if they are right next to the radiator and so are sweating to death because the room is uncomfortable? Small tweaks can be the difference and confident teachers are able spot these and work out how to fix them.
However we also need to take note of how to create conditions where pupils can thrive no matter the teacher’s confidence level, no matter the teacher’s seniority in the school. Just as we ask ‘how can I support this pupil in this room’, you must ask ‘how can I support this teacher with this pupil’. Not everyone can be Jasmine Lane, and while yes it’s true, often they are fine for me, we can’t rely on that to run an entire school. Teaching has to be a job that supply, cover, ECT, and less confident staff can do— if your system and culture doesn’t allow those people to succeed, your system isn’t just not working, your system is broken.
So let’s create systems that don’t rely on star teachers, but allow people who just want to do a job well, to do their job well.
I’m on Twitter @msjasminemn
Also: Here is an article that leaders might use if they are wondering how to support staff with behaviour.