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Behaviour Management Techniques to Teach Difficult Classes

Updated on June 12, 2012

Put your Prejudices to One Side

"What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets, inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying."

This quote would not look out of place in the Daily Mail reporting on the recent London Riots. Newspaper comment and letters sections are filled with this. Ask any random person in the street what they thought of the behaviour of our youth, and the above sentiment would probably be expressed.

Where did this quote come from? You guessed it. Plato in the 4th century BC.

As a teacher the first thing you have to do is put any prejudgements to one side. If you teach your classes expecting them to misbehave - guess what! - they will. If you teach your classes positively, expecting them to behave (and following the advice below) then they may surprise you...

This list should serve as an inexhaustive checklist. If you want to know why each theory works in more detail then I point you to any of the books written on the subject - four of the best are to the side.

The best piece of advice I was ever given:Teaching is all about relationships.

Preparation - Before the Class

Proper Preparation Prevents P*** Poor Performance. Before you even enter the class check you have done all of these:

  • Seating plan - arranged according to your knowledge, or boy/girl alphabetical. Move someone if they seem very pleased with their partner. Put up on board before kids enter. ABSOLUTELY VITAL
  • Spare pens, paper, pencils, rulers, sharpeners, rubbers, paper - it is not worth starting the lesson with this fight, although finishing the lesson with it is another matter. Call home if it becomes a nuisance
  • Rule posters - either around the room, or on a loop on your presentation as class walk in. Ideally, these rules should have been agreed in collaboration with your class. Pupil friendly and positively framed (no Don't do this)
  • Engaging and Exciting lesson planned - cater to a range of learning styles, short tasks with instant gratification (e.g. answers and mini plenaries to check knowledge) time for pupils to be moving. Does you lesson have challenge?
  • Smile - firmly in place on your face. You must look like you are happy to see them and enjoy the lessons. Pupils want a teacher who likes them

Primary, Secondary or Tertiary - it doesn't matter. Lining up signals your control of the class and promotes a crisp start to the lesson.
Primary, Secondary or Tertiary - it doesn't matter. Lining up signals your control of the class and promotes a crisp start to the lesson.

Starters Orders

How you start your lesson is critical. Simple put, a poor start is remarkably difficult to recover from. Make your lesson starts crisp by:

  • Lining the class up outside your room - This firmly establishes you as in control as you control when they enter. Nobody comes in without proper uniform and coats off. (Sweat the details - they will respect you more)
  • Meet, Greet and Seat - does what it says on the tin. Meet them at the door and remind of your entry routine. Give a personal greeting to as many students as you can (not just the 'nice ones' either) Have seating plan available for those who have 'forgotten' their seats.
  • Have a Can-do task on the board - not a settling activity, but a starter activity that contributes to the learning you intend to do (or consolidates last lesson). Make sure that all pupils can do this task. Build up a routine that as they enter, bags go away, books out and the can do task is completed. VITAL THAT THIS IS UP BEFORE PUPILS ENTER, NOT DURING.
  • Use traffic breaks to settle the class - You know what they are - slight lulls in energy or conversation levels that you can talk over "settling down, thanks" "Let's see who completes the task first" "Volume levels, ladies and gents" They happen naturally over 4 or 5 minutes. If the don't - don't start your lesson by shouting, but by going around the class and asking for quiet, or by using an agreed gesture to signal for quiet work.

As a side note, this is not the time to collect homework,or listen to excuses. Get a crisp starter completed and marked, move on to the first main task THEN collect homework. You will have time then to deal with any issues, as the rest of the class are on task.

From Teachers, For Teachers

Don't let it get to this stage. Behaviour correction should not be combative or aggressive. It should be firm and understanding. Your goal, is to create an environment for learning
Don't let it get to this stage. Behaviour correction should not be combative or aggressive. It should be firm and understanding. Your goal, is to create an environment for learning | Source

During the Lesson

Up until now, your classroom management preparation has largely been under your control. It is in the 'meat' of the lesson where you cannot anticipate Little Johnny throwing a compass at Becky's face, or two kids having a fist-fight because of the football scores last night. But you can prepare for this. You can build a culture where this becomes unacceptable to the pupils themselves -peer pressure is a powerful tool! Keep your lesson ticking over by:

  • Use agreed gestures and routines - hands for quiet, how do you like the class to collect/return resources, how do you like them to ask for help. Build these routines in early and you will (eventually) no longer have to remind them about desired behaviour
  • Praise, Praise Praise - praise:admonishment should be at around 4:1. See how you are doing with a tally chart on lesson. Directed praise towards pupils acting as you expect can be a powerful tool in preventing unwanted behaviour in the room
  • Moving around the room and keeping your eyes up. Even when helping a child, position yourself so you can still sweep the rest of your room. I have handy (discrete) mirrors positioned at my board - the kids really think I have eyes in the back of my head.
  • Talk to pupils to keep them on track. Sometimes just a look or a tap on their book will do. Sometimes they need your help but are embarrassed to ask for it.
  • Intervene! Be proactive and not reactive. The behaviour policy should be your last resort. Once used, you have very few options left. Before putting that first cross on the board, think. Proximity can stop that annoying tapping, a sharp look can prevent whispering, checking your watch whilst standing at the front can stop talking. A quiet word is the teacher's weapon of choice.
  • Be ruthlessly consistent - to ALL. If a child breaks a rule, they face a consequence. It doesn't matter if that child is 'usually good.' Favourites breed contempt among the rest of your class.
  • Never confront a child in front of the class. Read it again. That did NOT say do not confront a child. If a difficult pupil has an audience, he will be unwilling or unable to back down. They will escalate things because they enjoy the attention. Instead, ask the pupil for a quick chat outside. Do this nicely, in a quiet moment - they must not feel in trouble until you have closed the door and you are speaking to them in private. Very rarely is it a good idea to give a child a tongue-lashing in public - remember, your aim is to correct behaviour, not embarass or demean
  • Keep the pace - so if an activity is bombing 5 minutes in and you have planned it to last 20, CHANGE IT. It will only cause problems if you force the kids to do a task which is clearly failing. The mark of a good teacher is one who can adapt to changing situations.

More Golden Nuggets

With the End in Sight

Starting a lesson sharply is vital, but so is ending it sharply. Studies show that pupils are most likely to remember the start and end of a lesson. If both of these are calm, controlled and orderly, you are building the class you want. Make sure the end of the lesson goes well with:

  • Deal with problems - if you uttered "We shall talk about this at the end of the lesson" then you should be doing this with 15mins of your lesson left, whilst the class is on an independent task. You do not want to set the child up for another 'telling-off' from their next teach for being late. This will breed resentment of you
  • Use of routine - have books returned to the same place, in the same way each lesson. The same for pens and pencils borrowed (count them out and in) equipment, textbooks. Stand behind chairs and don't let them go until the room is spotless - it will save you HOURS of tidying up after each other. "Help each other out - Each one help one" etc are useful phrases
  • Silence - nothing says order like pupils standing in silence. To encourage those who are still talking (without shouting), dismiss those who are stood in silence, behind chairs...provided the room is tidy of course! Put simply, if they are still talking - do not let them leave. If this is eating into your next lesson time, then deal out a detention and talk to them about exit routines later. this is the only time it is acceptable to jump straight to the behaviour policy

Giving Instructions - Thanks, not please

Be explicit, and give your instructions as if you expect them to be followed. For this reason, never say 'please.' Please gives the impression of a request. Instead, say thanks or thank-you. This gives the impression that your instruction will be followed. You maintain politeness by thanking them for following your instructions.

As an addendum, if you issue an instruction, you MUST make sure it happens. If you ask for silence so you can speak, stop talking every time you see/hear whispering or chatting. If you do not ensure your instructions get carried out to the letter, you send the message that the instruction doesn't actually matter. You can guess what happens then

You Are Not Alone

Some classes require a group approach, but there are ways and means that collegues should be supported. You must also believe that you can make a difference to these pupil's lives. If you believe it, then so will the class. Provided you are persistent and professional, there is no such thing as an 'unteachable class'


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    • TFScientist profile image

      Rhys Baker 6 years ago from Peterborough, UK

      "Don't teach the class like you hate them" - Great advice. Why should they like you if you don't like them

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 6 years ago from Ohio, USA

      Great write-up. The smile advice works particularly well for 99% of kids. They will light up if the teacher lights up. So true.