There was definitely a moment when I knew I was losing them but perhaps not the moment I first thought. Not when I felt my heart racing or my face flushing; not when my voice seemed to go up a notch more than usual: not when I started to overreact to little things I usually ignored. No. If I’m honest with myself I’d started losing them weeks ago. And the hardest thing to grasp is that I knew it and did nothing about it; couldn’t do anything about it. I’d had ages to nail the problem and, for reasons totally alien to me, I was paralysed.
In the past I may have reacted differently and earlier. I may have stopped the lesson in mid-disaster, insisting on total silence for the rest of the period, quietly harumphing at my desk. I may have lost it and screamed at the nearest victim, the next kid who asked me a daft question, one I’d already answered. When we are new to these experiences it is very easy to react in ways which not only enflame the situation but are completely avoidable. Like the experienced driver when we have been through a variety of situations, including the odd bump or two, we recognise our own behaviours more clearly than others.
This situation was strange though. Although I could feel myself losing it on the inside I quickly became aware of it and took a deep breath. That calm reaction soon began to travel round the room as the more ‘onside’ pupils began to quieten down and pass it on. The class did calm very quickly and all eyes turned to me. At this point I had choices: thank them for their attention and get back to the lesson; express my displeasure at their lack of co-operation and ask them to get on with the lesson; or ignore their behaviour, return to the lesson outcomes and ensure they had enough information to continue quietly. I chose the last one.
Before you castigate me for ignoring bad behaviour please hear me out. I took that decision because in the long run I expect them to realise how their behaviour affects the class dynamic by being less ‘matey’ with them. I will be more aware of the ‘abilities’ of this class for the next few weeks and able to plan for them accordingly. The long term learning of the class is far more important than whether they like me or not. We have all heard the ‘don’t smile until Christmas’ advice and of course it is nonsense. But, do you know, sometimes a class might need that. Sorry. I know that’s not a very popular opinion but it’s not about us. It’s about the learning of the class.
Being a teacher is difficult because sometimes you need to be the bad guy. When I entered teaching I wanted them to like me. I still do but I’ve learned along the way that that is impossible in real life, never mind in class. When I am more honest with myself about the mistakes I make then perhaps that helps me to deal better with the mistakes of others. And kids make mistakes all the time. An awareness of my own behaviour helps me to deal with them.