Look smart, be prompt and be prepared
- The expected image of a teacher is a conservative one of sobriety and sensibleness and our dress should reflect that. You may choose to wear adventurous leisure attire, but torn jeans and low-cut tops and hipsters are not normally appropriate for the classroom.
- Always be in the classroom before the children and stand tall at the front of the class. Be there to greet them with a smile and a 'good morning' and the occasional stern look or gentle reprimand. This sends the clear 'I'm in charge message' before you start.
- Tell the children that you will be teaching them for the next 'x' weeks. Not 'I will be taking you..'. Establish your teaching credentials. You are a teacher, regardless of the fact that you may be a student. If they ask you if you are a student, don't hesitate, look them straight in the eye and say that is correct and add I am a beginning teacher and will soon be having a class of my own. Avoid the use of the word 'student'; it has certain connotations even with primary children.
- Insist and persist until you have silence. Ask politely and assume the request will be followed and use a firm and strong voice. e.g.: 'Quiet please! Thank you!' followed by hard stares of disapproval where necessary. Teachers of young children have routines for the children to follow: from counting back from 5, to hand signals and gestures. These are known as 'distracters', sounds or movements that break the children's absorption with themselves and their friends and refocus them on the teacher. You must remember that most children do not deliberately ignore their teacher: they are often jostled, disturbed and -excited by being thrown into a mix of 30 other children and are busy trying to establish their own position and boundaries to feel safe. An important part of the teacher's job is to provide that safety.
- Teachers need to maintain objectivity, which is not always easy when the nature of the job involves a personal and caring relationship with all our children. However, the children do need to recognise when the teacher means business. The voice and attitude of the teacher change to a more serious mode and we establish the facts of the matter and then proceed to make our judgement and explain this to the children in a calm, clear manner.
- Practice your repertoire of voices and use them consistently. These are the behavior clues and signals that the children have to interpret, so they must be clear. There is obviously the open and smiling, encouraging teacher voice and body language; at the other extreme there is the disapproving stiff body posture, sharp look and slow staccato language using a lower pitch of voice to send out warning signals. There is also a range of half-way steps between the two ends of this spectrum that you will need to perfect. You should avoid the sudden change from 'accelerator to brake' teaching style that would result from just using the extremes of the voice spectrum.
- Eye contact: look directly at the child you are speaking to and engage their eyes. Your eyes can smile or look cross. If you are speaking to the whole class then hold your eye contact in different areas of the room for 5-10 seconds at a time and let all the children know that you have them in view.
- Provide early success by planning the first day in detail with all the resources ready and on hand. Use a 'direct' mode of teaching using mainly 'whole class' teaching. Give the children straightforward tasks with curriculum they are familiar with. Make sure you explain to children that they are beginning with easier work but will be progressing to more challenging work later in the week. Make sure that after the first lesson you tell them how pleased you are with them and at the end of the day you repeat the congratulations.
This is the first step on a journey of establishing a confidence that comes from knowing what you are doing and how you are going to do it, and establishing a warm and caring classroom ethos where children appreciate that they are there to work and learn and you are there to teach and help.
The Big Idea is to establish your position of authority without being authoritarian.