You can decide to like a class.
We’ve all been there – that knot in the stomach when you have to face 8S again. The faces which swim into your head, those of the students who need somehow to be ‘managed’, to be cajoled into compliance or manoeuvred quickly through the sanction escalation ladder until you can send them out of the room and heave a sigh of relief; the hours spent preparing lessons which you seriously doubt will go according to plan either because of those three or four ‘characters’ whose express intent it is to derail every class they’re in, or the incessant off-task chat which means you have to spend the whole lesson quieting the room and re-establishing the environment necessary for successful teaching and learning to take place.
Most of 8S are perfectly likeable co-operative students who would like nothing more than for those irritating peers to pipe down and let them get on with the business of learning. They may feel much of the time that they attract very little attention, positive or otherwise; their teachers are so keen to manage the miscreants, that it is their names which are heard, in a positive as well as a negative context, in the classroom, and the silent majority barely get a look-in.
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be like that. A shift in focus can result in a very difficult view of things. You can learn to like the class.
Take a few minutes to re-evaluate the situation. Look at a list of the students in 8S and write down the names of all the students who are co-operative and appropriately behaved. If possible, use your school’s information system to collate photographs of these students, and really concentrate on them. Ignore the others.
Then perhaps you can asterisk the students who are actively engaged in the class, whose work is good and who could do well in your subject. Then decide to teach them.
Prepare your next lesson to focus on them. Visualise their faces as you prepare the lesson. Marvel at what a nice class 8S is – how could you not have noticed this before!
(As for the others, have a word with any necessary colleagues. As you are not going to engage with the disruptive students, it is likely that some of them may leave the room quite swiftly and you will need places for them to go. Just for this lesson.)
When the lesson starts, look out at those kids you have chosen to focus on, take a deep breath and smile at them. Even if it feels forced, still smile. It won’t show. If you are the kind of teacher who is comfortable with such honesty, have a word with the class and tell them explicitly that today you will be focusing on all the good work that happens in the classroom.
“Right, year 8. I’m sorry that some of your lessons recently have been disrupted by the poor behaviour of a few. From today I am teaching you, those members of 8S who have not had enough of my attention. If anybody gets in the way of your learning, they will be removed from the room.”
Recap your behaviour management system. You are looking for good – poor behaviour and poor work ethic will be dealt with silently and it may be that some students will need to be removed.
If you are uncomfortable with such directness, let your actions speak for you.
Look at the faces on which you have decided to focus your attention and start to narrate the good behaviour, attitude and work which is happening already in the classroom. Note publicly the good that is happening in your classroom; exclaim regularly at clever insights, feats of memory, joined up thinking, scholarly explanation, spontaneous note-taking, naming those responsible for such greatness and writing them up positively for all this good.
(Just for now, try to ignore the students who are not going to get your attention by poor behaviour – you have enough to do working with the cooperative majority.)
It may be, however, that some of the students who who were not on your list start to get the idea and may behave and work positively. By all means mention them positively, but do not let your delight make you more effusive about them than the others; they must not think that they can take over by brief bursts of cooperation.
At some point you will give the students a task to do which means you will not be teaching, explaining or modelling from the front, and you will have a chance to look around your room. Look at those students for whom you planned this lesson, look at the names written up on the board and the sense of engagement among the students whom you are teaching.
At the end of the lesson, look at the board and say the names of those who have done particularly well. Ask a few to stay behind for a moment. Don’t say why.
When the others have gone, reiterate how well they have done, and what a great lesson they have had.
As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said some 250 years ago:
“If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain how he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.”
The same goes for groups.