Behaviour is complex. You never really know why someone behaves the way they do and it is a particularly tricky thing to gauge when you are a Supply Teacher. You walk into a class and the only thing you know are the names on the roll. You don’t even know who those names belong to, let alone the students’ background, learning needs, ability level, temperament, religion, culture, family structure, friendship circles, allergies or many of the other elements that make up a human being. You are constantly behind the eight ball and coupled with the stereotypical situation where supply teachers aren’t well respected by students, makes for a tough gig at times.
So how do we beat this behavioural battle? There is no definitive answer as each student is so different and complex, but these are some strategies I implement to help make my day go more smoothly.
NOTE- I hate spending my days yelling. I find all it does is make for a horrible day and I go home with a headache. So whilst my approach can be firm and occasionally ‘yelly’ for effect, I prefer to take a more engaging, fun approach so that we all enjoy our day a little.
1. Pick your battles.
You don’t know the students well enough to know their ability level or their usual participation level so choose your challenges wisely. Give reminders for the correct behaviour but if you get a lot of resistance or it continues anyway, back off unless the behaviour is escalating or disturbing others. Tactical ignoring is a great strategy for niggling behaviour issues.
If the student is wiggling around or standing up at their desk, but are still working, let it slide. If a student is doodling while you are talking but not being disruptive, that is ok, they may need to do that in order to focus better. If a student is working slowly or not at all, give reminders that their classroom teacher requested for this work to be completed. It’s not the end of the world if an activity isn’t completed so if you give them a consequence for not finishing, follow through but don’t punish yourself by demanding it is completed if it’s not achievable. If the class is chatty, try your best for quieter work, but sometimes you’re fighting a battle even their classroom teacher doesn’t win, so don’t stress too much if you don’t achieve the silence you desire. Although you may have high expectations, you don’t have the prior knowledge of their capabilities so sometimes you just have to let it go.
You don’t have the rapport that the classroom teacher has so some kids want you to earn their respect in order to show you respect. If you come in ruling with an iron fist, it can go one of two ways. They might be scared sh@%less and behave how you would like OR some students will ark up and wreak havoc if they feel like you have been unjust towards them. I tend to steer clear of the iron fist and try to take a more relatable approach.
You can do this by having a little fun with the class, crack jokes, tell the class a bit about yourself, ask them about themselves and engage them with things they might be into, even if that means you need to “dab” to get attention, or land a bottle flip for the boys. Respect is power and the quicker you gain it, the easier your day will be.
If there is no plan left, choose activities you know they will like. Challenging or boring content will generally cause more resistance and behavioural issues. Try to slip in a fun 5-minute game here or there. There is rarely time in the curriculum for a little fun these days so it’s nice to be able to add a little enjoyment to their day. Plus, they will often work harder to get the chance to play it again. Win, win.
3. Handle with care.
Reiterate the school behaviour policies and lay down your expectations and rules from the start. Be firm and consistent but also be realistic. In an ideal world we would love our classes to work harmoniously, in silence and complete all set tasks without a hitch. Sadly, that will rarely happen, so be willing to bend a little to keep the peace. If you say something, be sure to follow through so that they know you mean business but if you can see a student’s behaviour escalating, do what you can to deescalate the situation. You can’t cover content while you are putting out fires all day so aim for a trouble free day. A teacher would rather return to hear a child did no work than a child was suspended due to an escalating conflict you had with them over something menial.
4. Your problem.
Administration doesn’t want to deal with the students you can’t handle. To them you are just filling in for the day so any issues can sometimes be a reflection of you and your teaching skills so try to avoid calling in the big guns if you can help it. There are obviously times when you will have no choice; a student leaves the classroom, a fight breaks out or a student starts trying to hit and attack anyone in sight while you are trying to teach a Music lesson (all true stories).
Try your best to deal with all minor behaviour then and there and don’t leave trivial behaviour issues for the teacher the next day either. They don’t want to hear that Donna stole Daisy’s rubber or that Derek said “Sh@%” and that the teacher will need to follow it up. If you want repeat work, you need to appear confident and capable. Do NOT complain when you sign out at the end of the day what a horrible day you had, it’s a sure fire way to get your name crossed off their Supply Shortlist.
We all have our own style of teaching. I’m in awe of those (generally more experienced/retired) supply teachers who can assert their authority within moments, have students working silently; too scared to step a foot out of line and don’t take on the emotional drain that I do when yelling. For me, this more relaxed, keep the peace approach seems to be working. Don’t get me wrong, I have challenging days but for the most part the students and I have fun, have a laugh and I go home telling my husband I had another great day. Remember you are only filling in for the day. Your job is to keep the cogs turning seamlessly, not shake them up with your own ideals and opinions of how things should be run. Don’t rock the boat and you will get repeat work, guaranteed!
Find more Behaviour Management tips here
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Combating a chaotic classroom: Ways to avoid your day turning pear-shaped Part 1- Whole Class
Combating a chaotic classroom: Ways to avoid your day turning pear-shaped Part 2- Individuals