“IT IS A CURIOUS THING, HARRY, BUT PERHAPS THOSE WHO ARE BEST SUITED TO POWER ARE THOSE WHO HAVE NEVER SOUGHT IT. THOSE WHO, LIKE YOU, HAVE LEADERSHIP THRUST UPON THEM, AND TAKE UP THE MANTLE BECAUSE THEY MUST, AND FIND TO THEIR OWN SURPRISE THAT THEY WEAR IT WELL.” ALBUS DUMBLEDORE, AS QUOTED BY JK ROWLING.
Contrary to all those jokes which most of us have heard a gazillion times from acquaintances at social functions, most teachers probably didn’t go into the career because they like pushing kids around, or because they thought of themselves as leaders or managers of people. They did not think that they would have to adopt strategies to make large numbers of people do their bidding – they just want to teach their subject.
However, the problem is that we’re not working with soldiers, or office workers, but children, and children don’t necessarily share your view that learning your subject in your lesson is the most important thing they have to do that day. They may not like your subject, they may not like school, they may just have had a terrible morning, a massive row with their best friend, or the elderly family tortoise may have died. So you have to assume the mantle of leadership, you have to have strategies for leadership and you have to take control.
There are things you can do before you start actually teaching content. The very first is to take control of the space and of the class as a whole in order to be able to control the learning that takes place. If you do not do this essential piece of preparation, things can get difficult quite quickly.
a) This is YOUR room. It is not the students’ room. Even if you have to move classrooms five times a day, the classroom in which you are teaching is, for that time that you are in it, YOUR classroom. YOU decide (unless your school unwisely decrees otherwise…) when and how the students come into the classroom; YOU decide under what circumstances they are permitted to leave it; YOU decide who sits where, and if YOU wish them to change seating in the middle of the lesson (a strategy I heartily recommend, for several reasons which I will go into later) then they move. Don’t be confined to the front of the classroom – use the whole of the space. Teach from the back. Teach from next to a tricky student. Teach wandering around the room. Sit on a chair at the back of the class while they are working. IT’S YOUR ROOM. I will write a separate post on use of the room, so this is just an intro.
b) This is YOUR class. You decide where they sit. Where they sit will probably change for different reasons. There will be some times when you want them in mixed ability groups. Sometimes you will want to want certain students to explore something which is a little more complex, so you may wish to have students grouped according to ability (or target grade, which is more diplomatic. Sometimes you may want students to do some reciprocal teaching, so may want students who are stronger in your subject paired with those who are less keen and able. Sometimes you may wish to have whole exercises which require students moving around the room. The point is – IT’S YOUR DECISION.
YOU NEED TO BE SURE OF THIS YOURSELF. CONFIDENCE COMMUNICATES ITSELF AND IF STUDENTS KNOW YOU ARE IN CONTROL THEY WILL GO WITH IT. LUCKILY CONFIDENCE CAN ALSO BE FAKED. IF YOU ACTUALLY PRACTISE USING ALL THE STRATEGIES MENTIONED IN A) AND B), YOU WILL COMMUNICATE CONFIDENCE TO THE STUDENTS, AND THAT WILL MAKE YOU MORE CONFIDENT AS A LEADER.
“FAKE IT UNTIL YOU MAKE IT!” AS THE OLD, AND COMPLETELY INAPPROPRIATE IN THIS CONTEXT, SAYING GOES.