The secret ingredient, sadly overlooked by many teachers, particularly those of the punishment-focused, oppressive variety is … (drumroll please) a positive teacher– student relationship.
I once read a story of a teacher who returned to teaching after a career break and found himself struggling to manage the behaviour of his students. He was laughed at and ignored by the students and many of his lessons were completely out of control. This same teacher happened to have co-authored a highly respected book on classroom management, he was a qualified psychologist, a senior teacher with more than 15 years’ classroom experience and later became a university lecturer in teacher training. This presents something of a conundrum. Here we have a very experienced and intelligent teacher who finds himself totally unable to control his students, despite having written a comprehensive textbook on dealing with classroom behaviour problems. He knows all the theories, he’s got all the skills and strategies and yet he can’t get the kids to behave. What’s going on? How can this be?
Well, the answer is that he had no relationship with his new cohort of students – he didn’t know them and they didn’t know him. And because they didn’t know him, they could neither trust him nor respect him. How can you really trust someone you don’t know?
This teacher had returned to the classroom thinking that all the wonderful theories, strategies and case studies he had carefully explained in his book would help him swiftly brush aside any of the classroom problems he was likely to encounter. But he had forgotten one of the most important principles of successful teaching: students will always respond more positively to a teacher they know, like and trust; they will always work harder and behave better for a teacher they get on with. (I should add that this teacher was quick to realise his error and promptly set about resolving his predicament. He began focusing heavily on his relationship with the students and saw an almost immediate improvement in their attitudes and behaviour.)
It can be easy to blame the system – the school, the setting, the building, the students, the parents, the lack of support from senior staff, the policies – for disorder in the classroom, but these factors have no real relevance for the teacher who has a good relationship with his or her students. Teachers with relationships at the core of their practice are able to go into virtually any classroom, in any school, and succeed with even the most difficult of students.