If you are fortunate enough to have been assigned one or more of these groups you will have no-doubt tried every classroom management strategy that you can find to gain control. You’ve tried the ‘shouty’ method – and found it doesn’t work. You’ve tried the non-shouting, ‘friendly’ method – and you’ve found that doesn’t work either – you just got walked on. You’ve tried sending uncontrollable students out of the room but it’s pretty much the entire class that’s out of control and you can’t get rid of all of them. Besides, most of these students get kicked out of lessons in other subjects and are on all kinds of whole school reports already – they don’t care. So, as a teacher, what can you do?
The first thing to understand is that this group has become accustomed to walking all over you and they are finding it quite rewarding. So, on a very basic level, we just need to develop our classroom management strategy to make it MORE rewarding for them to behave appropriately and LESS rewarding for them to continue behaving as they are currently.
I find it helpful to remember that deep down, most students – even the members of the Class From Hell – want to do well, they almost always want to succeed and it’s actually quite rare to find a whole group of students hell-bent on failure. It may seem as though they are determined to ruin everything but it’s quite likely that most of the individuals simply don’t realize there’s an alternative and that it will be okay, despite the current level of negative peer pressure, to start following the rules and taking part.
You see, when they’re caught up in a negative cycle it’s very difficult for them to take positive action without some form of intervention. So it’s very much up to us teachers to provide the stimulation and direction they need to make necessary changes and then to provide the acknowledgment and support they need to encourage them to stick in and maintain their efforts.
To do this, we focus on positive reinforcement and on the acknowledgement of any small steps they take in the right direction. We take time to build positive, trusting, respectful relationships with these students and show them that we value them and are there to support them. We give the ring-leaders responsibilities to show how much we trust them and value their input and skills. We take the time to contact parents regularly – keeping them notified of progress and building relationships with them so that they become our allies when we need some extra support. We show that our intention is for these students to succeed – we set work at an achievable level, we mark work promptly, teach concepts clearly and create a supportive environment in which ‘trying’ and ‘working’ is ‘OK’. We focus on the behaviours we WANT to see – reminding, encouraging and acknowledging along the way – rather than scolding, complaining and nagging about those we DON’T want to see.
And we plan ahead; we make sure that we have equipment ready and working, we have ‘emergency activities’ on standby and we have a ‘Divide and Conquer’ seating plan in place which splits up the ‘Likely Lads & Lasses’. We preempt problems by speaking to some students prior to the lesson – giving them additional support and encouragement before anything goes wrong. We have stepped consequences and scripts in place which we can calmly turn to should anyone veer off the tracks and we are fully aware of (and therefore able to avoid) situations and occurrences which would result in disruption and confrontation.
And then when things go wrong, which they invariably do in all classrooms from time to time, we address rule-breakers firmly and calmly – without getting drawn into secondary behaviours, arguments and discussions. Whenever possible, we do this on a 1:1 basis – thus removing the pressures and problems associated with an audience. We operate on a 100% consistent basis, upholding our expectations and classroom rules and following-through on all warnings… every time… issuing stepped consequences.
If necessary, we remove (or get assistance to do so) out-of-control students from the classroom, but we PREPARE for such measures in advance; we approach colleagues in neighboring classrooms to let us ‘park’ students should we get to this stage and we have ‘fool-proof’ work-ready, with complete instructions for the student to complete with minimal fuss.
We keep records – records of progress made so that we can remind students, parents and other members of staff how well they are doing – and records of all incidents (who said/did what, and when they did so) so that we can contribute to meetings with parents, senior staff and outside agencies with total professionalism and from a position of authority. It is far better to be able to give a documented history of events which state exactly what happened, what was said and the time and date this all happened than to say something like “Well, erm, yes, Jonnie causes a lot of problems in lessons”.
In short, we build ourselves a reputation as a consistent, firm, fair and approachable teacher who is there to help these young people succeed and make the best of themselves. And it’s amazing how quickly the Class From Hell changes when we change.