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Advice for a newbie in a challenging school

(19 Posts)
Puffinity Thu 09-Jun-16 21:37:18


I'll be starting on Teach First in September (starting training in just over a week). I have been doing observations in a school near me (not the one I'll be in for TF). This school has higher than average numbers of students for whom they receive the pupil premium, with SENs and with EAL. The catchment area covers a rather socioeconomically deprived area and Ofsted ratings have been bad, although performance in GCSEs has improved significantly.

It has been a real eye-opener for me, and I have found it very interesting and insightful. I have spoken to a lot of the teachers and have learned a lot from them concerning dealing with challenging behaviour etc. I'm posting here to see if anyone has (ideally positive) experience of working in a similar school and could share their insights and possible tips and tricks with me. I think the main difficulty for me will be not to take challenging behaviour personally, and to fully appreciate how much students will struggle with things that I had not given much thought before, like literacy and basic maths.

pieceofpurplesky Thu 09-Jun-16 22:15:26

Really? You had not thought about this before? How have you got in teach first then as they need you to have experience in school?
My top would be develop a thick skin and remember they are children and sometimes children do and say things without thinking,

Puffinity Thu 09-Jun-16 23:24:37

Teach First do not require you to have teaching experience - most of their recruits are recent graduates. I finished my (second) degree 6 years ago and have been working as an EFL teacher for the past two years, so I think I will be in a much better starting position than many of the other recruits!

I think I expressed myself poorly: I did not mean I had not given it any thought at all, but more that I did not know quite how low literacy levels could be. I expect I am not the only person to be shocked at seeing an English lesson where pupils are working from a book designed to teach literacy to pupils four years younger.

Out of interest: what type of school do you teach in?

noblegiraffe Thu 09-Jun-16 23:37:32

Buy Cracking the Hard Class by Bill Rogers.

I work in a nice school, but the absolute key to behaviour management is positive relationships. The kids that you will be dealing with may well have truly horrible homelives, rock-bottom self-esteem. They won't just be struggling because of literacy or difficulties with the subject but because they haven't slept properly, haven't eaten, be dealing with horrible things in their personal life, mental health issues and so on. Act like you like them.

Watch Mr Drew's School for Boys on 4 on demand.

Wear a concrete overcoat. You'll know you've nailed the not taking things personally side when a kid tells you to go fuck yourself and you just sigh because of the paperwork they've just generated.

Puffinity Thu 09-Jun-16 23:50:03

Thanks giraffe, I really like your attitude! I think I am a bit anxious because when I taught EFL abroad I was put in front of a group of 7 yos I did not have a language in common with, given no advice or support and just expected to get on with teaching them, even though I had no training in that area. Needless to say, those lessons just descended into two hours of me screaming at kids and trying to stop them from doing things that would cause them injuries... I did every possible thing wrong and am keen to avoid the same mistakes now!

timelytess Thu 09-Jun-16 23:54:38

develop a thick skin
That was my first thought, too.
After that:
Believe you are in charge
Keep them busy
Be extremely strict with yourself about the hours you work. No more than twelve a day. Do you think I'm joking? And take one whole day off at the weekend.
Only work at work.

PurpleDaisies Thu 09-Jun-16 23:57:30

For me it's consistency and relationship. Set your expectations. Stick to them. Some of these kids will be from crazy chaotic homes and much as they'll tell you they hate that you're strict and ask them to behave in a certain way, they will respond to it if they think you're on their side. When you have them in for detention/whatever make it clear it's because you care about them and want them to do well-it's miles easier to just sit and watch them riot than make them do the work.

It can be exhausting but you can be a massive force for good in kids' lives that have no solid role models at all.

BeckyWithTheMediocreHair Fri 10-Jun-16 00:09:52

I'm a 2005 ambassador.

Consistency above all else. Certainty of a consequence is far more powerful than severity. Never ever make an empty threat; follow through on everything. Good behaviour management is largely bureaucracy and legwork at the beginning.

Ultimately, your goal is to secure positive behaviour through really engaging teaching and strong relationships but there are no shortcuts to this. Establish your profile early. Talk to the kids when you're on duty. Eat in the canteen. Drop by football matches and concerts to learn about the kids outside of the classroom. Find the strongest behaviour managers in the school and ask to observe.

WRT to literacy, be prepared for the worst. Pay close attention in any subject skills sessions about early reading and phonics.

Good luck. It'll be very tough but the rewards are immense.

pieceofpurplesky Fri 10-Jun-16 00:10:33

I am a teacher in a high school that has a high percentage of PP pupils compared to the other school in the area, however we are still over subscribed. Twenty years in and I still love every day.
I am also a teach first mentor and nobody without experience in my area would be offered a place without at least two years experience of education - as a TA/cover supervisor etc. Mainly for the reasons you have stated - not knowing what the reality is. It can be a harsh awakening that all pupils are not what the government require - they want them all "above average".
My year 11 class left today. Six of them started high school on Level 2. The rest Level 3. They are predicted E and F at GCSE. There are many pupils who are way below the average with a wealth of reasons why. I am hoping that 1 of mine will get a C, three will get a D and all but two will get E. The other two are rarely in school. It is not the fault of anyone that these children have low literacy - when I was at school we had 'remedial' classes and there were no expectations. Now my bottom set and their results count as much as the A* pupils.
So OP develop a thick skin and care. Be prepared and plan well - you can't 'wing it' in teaching! Be firm and kind. Know your pupils - know the ones that are PP, SEND etc.
Good luck brewcake

BeckyWithTheMediocreHair Fri 10-Jun-16 00:16:29

One more thing - don't expect the kids to be grateful that you are there, or impressed by your academic background. There's a missionary zeal to many TF who are (rightly) motivated by a noble cause, but this can lead to nasty shocks when they realise that the kids don't care that they got a first or turned down Deloitte to work with them. You are just another new face to test and push, and this will be particularly so if your school has a high turnover of staff. Just remember that every time you come back after a weekend or a holiday you are quietly showing them that you are going nowhere.

MrsHerculePoirot Fri 10-Jun-16 00:18:37

Some excellent advice already. My school has recently turned itself around but has been undersubscribed with behaviour issues until then.
Students generally will work for you if they like you. This doesn't mean to be their friend, but to be consistent and fair (in their eyes particularly). We have a very clear behaviour policy to follow which helps.
Proactively having engaging interesting lessons will help. Lots of praise and rewards (whatever your school uses). In lessons stay calm and consistent. Avoid public confrontations with them - they don't like feeling embarrassed or got at in front of their peers. I would ask a student to step outside initially and have a quiet word. Gives them a chance to cool down without feeling like they are giving in in front of peers or feeling that you are picking on them.
Ring home in first few weeks those that have tried really hard. Word soon gets round! Similarly contact home about any of the worst offenders if necessary explaining your concern for their learning in your subject and discussing what could be done to support as opposed to ranting about behaviour. I usually try to get email address and then suggest I email in a few weeks how they are getting on.
It is hard work, but not taking it personally and being calm and consistent, especially on the occasions when really you want to run around the room screaming wildly at people will help.

Momtothree Fri 10-Jun-16 00:22:20

When you leave at the end of the day think of one thing that made you smile

Be kind don't nit pick on shoes or tie etc - let whoever stand at the front in the morning and deal with that -

Be prepared to move over and let a fresh face deal with some kids - you may well be part of the problem - that's OK! Don't take it personally if someone else can/will step in - it's not about you

YokoUhOh Fri 10-Jun-16 00:40:01

There are some body-language/general language things you can do to make you look more in charge (fake it at first if you feel silly!)

Don't move your head when you talk (makes you look 'weak')
I always say 'thank you' after issuing an instruction (assumes compliance, whereas 'please' sounds like you're begging)
I address the class as 'ladies and gentlemen' rather than 'guys' (confers respect and authority)

I agree with all the comments about building positive relationships. Assume ownership of your classroom - nobody should be allowed in who messes around.

Good luck OP!

EvilTwins Fri 10-Jun-16 17:55:32

Follow school policy to the letter.
Understand that it takes time, so those teachers who have been in the school for years and make it look easy are only at that stage because they have been working hard at it for years.
Don't be afraid to ask for advice or admit if you're struggling.
Don't assume that Teach First is better than other ITT routes.
Stick with it when the TF time is up. I teach in a school with 40% PP and we're in special measures. I've been there since 2004. Relationships are key but it takes time. Years.

Puffinity Fri 10-Jun-16 18:37:21

Hi! Thanks all! Really helpful points there! I am doing TF because it is an attractive way into teaching for me, and I intend to stick with teaching afterwards. I definitely don't see it as the best route into teaching, I really dislike that so many of the people doing it have no interest in staying in teaching afterwards.

The school I'll be working at is only borderline TF eligible and did really well at the last inspection, so will probably be a little less tough to teach in than some of the other partner schools.

I like the idea of remembering something that made you smile. As I was leaving today one of the students from the aforementioned literacy class stopped me and said she wanted to show me her work. I read it and then said goodbye and she seemed disappointed when I said I wouldn't be coming back. It was just so nice to have that connection, even if it's only for a moment and she'll have forgotten me by the end of term smile

Thanks again for your advice!

SisterViktorine Sat 11-Jun-16 10:35:20

The best way to manage challenging behaviour is to be a great teacher. This involves spending years devoting yourself to understanding the myriad of ways children think and learn, honing and adjusting your own pedagogical style, developing the gravitas and charisma in the classroom that comes from experience.

'Tips and tricks' are not going to cut it and the pupils, particularly the challenging ones, will see you coming a mile off.

Everybody has to start somewhere- but please start with the attitude that you need to learn how to teach, not pick up gimmicks that will get you through the day.

Cathpot Sun 12-Jun-16 20:06:56

Lots of good advice- I came on to echo the advice to talk to kids who are playing up outside the classroom, so they aren't performing for friends. I learnt that the hard way in my first year. Also what posters are saying about relationships - once they decide to like you tricky sets can be your most loyal defenders but it takes time- remember every year will get easier. Trickier classes need lots and lots of planning and structure, reward systems of your own can be helpful if the schools systems are too nebulous or too much like delayed gratification. Short activities where the class stays together so you don't have some finished and getting bored. Lots of visual imaging and memory aids. Be at the door and welcome them in. (Regardless of how awful the last lesson was , be on the door and welcome them in.) It's rarely personal ( especially not with boys - they can be horrific one lesson and fine the next) and so persistent reasonableness pleasantness will win out eventually. Own the room- seating plan , your rules on how they come in and go out etc. Low ability kids need lots of repetition so they get to feel successful - have your set thing that they know is completely coming eg- a rolling PowerPoint of key vocab/ questions for the topic as they come in and then once you've settled them going round the class asking for the answers - do it every lesson so they are confident and get to feel successful. Add things to it slowly. Keep your sense of humour, don't be sidetracked or drawn into nibby arguments. Phoning home for good stuff as already suggested - is so effective, parents of the school's most difficult kids are always being phoned about problems and it really helps everyone if you can get some positives in. Our school had a 'send a postcard home' initiative for good behaviour and the kids really liked it- although it might be expensive to do it yourself. Kids from chaotic homes are going to really struggle with homework or keeping hold of books / pens etc. I found having exercise books I held onto and giving them home work on a sheet meant their book wasn't lost or scribbled on or tatty. Or for small groups I've had an A4 folder for each one and we put our work in there and it stayed with me. I set homework that was very short, very relevant and due in the next day, on a lesson before lunch so that those without just had to stay at the end and do it. Try to not be panicked by the data nonsense the school with throw at you. Teach the kids in front of you to your best ability - there is no magic that is going to get them the GCSE grade the computer decides they should have but you can do your best for them and you have to be happy with that.

GreenTreeGreenPea Sun 19-Jun-16 15:02:28

My DD is just finishing Teach First. She is staying at her school next year.
From her experience (I am also a teacher too!), I would say:
- Go in modest and quietly get on with it. Be friendly but avoid talking about Teach First and focus on day to day chit chat. Constantly ask for others advice and talk about how you are learning from them (even if you aren't!)
- There will be all sorts of barriers (relationships with kids, behaviour, other staff, parents, getting to grips with teaching) but just be professional and ride with it as much as possible. In second year a lot of these barriers go away or get easier. first year is about getting through!
- Read the 'outstanding' and 'good' criteria and use it
- By summer term or first year/start of second year work load will improve and you'll start to cut corners more... Focus on IMPACT what you are doing improving pupils' outcomes? Is there a way you could do it with less work which would have the same impact?
- Have non-teaching friends and realise that many teach firsters are competitive, don't believe everything they say!!
- Ignore the hyped up, OTT aspect of Teach First. People in head office are in dreamland. Use them when you really need help but don't let the 'vision' side of it annoy you. Acknowledge its there but focus on your school.
- Have a life. Designate non-working time. Be as productive as possible in the week to give yourself weekends in first year. In second year, aim to be as productive in school to give yourself weeknights. It isn't always possible - teaching is hard and a lot of work. My DD was ina very low place in first year as she did bits of work all the time with only small breaks. She let it take over her life...which is normal but not healthy.
- Have a good support network. Do whatever makes you happy and helps you get through it.
My DD has grown and changed so much from it. She is now (after a lot of hard work) a great teacher and has been promoted in her school. I am so proud of her. Don't fall into the TF stereotype of going in there expecting to be the best - go in there expecting to work bloody hard to earn respect.
Good luck!!

mrbear444 Sun 19-Jun-16 15:15:58

Good advice here but also use the school support. A challenging school should have a good network of teachers who are used to the children, know how to handle them, know the individuals and their needs and have a clear behavioural policy including clear consequences. The children will be aware of it and want to see if you are and will test you. Don't ever think you have to be alone to handle it all, your colleagues are there , or should be there to support you and give you advice , don't be afraid to ask. We were all new to teaching once whichever way we trained, we all had problems with managing class behaviour and never listen to anyone who just says ' they behave fine for me' , without offering useful strategies.
Good luck and welcome to a challenging, exhausting but wonderfully fulfilling career.

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