Keep your class rules short, simple and fairly general, while allowing yourself scope to expand. If they’re too vague, then they’re meaningless, ie ‘Everyone must respect everyone.’ That stinks like a rat in a drainpipe. Avoid being too specific either, or they will mercilessly throw your own rules at you, i.e. ‘No chewing gum’ suggests that they might be allowed to chew tobacco, or bones or something.
I go with the following class rules:
- Don’t talk over me
- Put your hand up to talk
- Wait for me to allow you to talk
- Treat everyone with manners.
- Be on time
- Bring equipment
- Do all work
That last one is useful because telling people to ‘respect’ everyone else is like telling someone to ‘reach for their dreams’ – it's meaningless, and also probably impossible. But everyone knows what manners are. You can add a few more rules, but keep it short and sweet.
I tend to have one main rule: ‘I’m in charge.’ It has a ring to it. These rules are hardly groundbreaking, but make them explicit. Then you can’t be accused of being too vague.
So far, so uncontroversial. It all sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Of course, it’s not. Here are some of the things that will upset this process:
1. Pupils will fail to turn up to detention
Then you need to follow up: this is when it starts getting tiresome. Call home and tell the parents what happened. Be direct, but supportive. Say you need their help for their child to learn. Don’t say their offspring are Satanic, even if they are.
2. Pupils will argue relentlessly with you
One more time: do not engage; repeat, do not engage. You look weak, and reduce yourself to their level if you argue with them. If they won’t settle down, then have them removed from the lesson or send them out to calm down. There is nothing more important than the education of the pupils in the classroom. Anyone who upsets that can spend some time in the cooler.
3. There will be so many students misbehaving, it will be hard to know what to do
Keep taking names, no matter how long it takes, so that you can follow up later. Or at the end of the lesson only let go the ones who definitely behaved. Avoid whole class detentions if it’s at all humanly possible, and even when it’s not. It’s a cowardly, counterproductive technique that will have them hating you, and devising new ways to send you to perdition.
4. You feel like giving up – and do
Soon, you start ignoring blatant misbehaviour in order to have a quiet life. Never give up, even when you really feel like it.
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This is an excerpt from Tom Bennett’s book Not Quite a Teacher, published by Continuum. The book is a practical teacher training manual, interspersed with funny stories from Tom's own teacher training experiences.
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