I’m really worried about keeping discipline in my classroom – if I can’t keep order, they’ll never learn anything, and my classes will be chaotic. I’ve seen other teachers become ill with stress from trying to deal with difficult students, so I must succeed. My future depends on it.
As I walk around the school, I watch out for techniques that work. Some teachers shout, some stand naughty students outside their room, but others have quiet, busy classrooms where the students treat the lessons with respect. During our PGCE at University we learnt about education history, psychology and philosophy and how to write a teaching plan but no one told us how to manage our classes and have good discipline.
So I asked Mrs Rez, my tutor, for advice.
‘How do I keep order in my classroom? My classes get so noisy and excited.’
Mrs Rez had fled to Britain from Hungary and was highly intelligent and very thoughtful.
‘Jenny, think of all your teachers. How did they keep you engaged and working? What techniques did they use?’
Northampton High School had some scary teachers. Punishment was fierce if we didn’t pay attention in lessons or produce our homework. Instant detention was enough to keep us nice gals on the rails. Some teachers could quell our chattering with a scowling glance. Others earned our respect with their interesting lessons and vast knowledge of their subject. But there were some who could never keep us quiet. One day we decided to pretend we were sputniks and hum in a particularly boring religious education lesson. The poor woman’s jowls wobbled red with frustration as she couldn’t identify which of us was making such a distracting noise.
I told Mrs Rez, that I had found no easy discipline solution.
‘Jenny, we’re all different, and teachers have their own ways of running successful classrooms. You’re already strong and determined, so I know you’ll succeed.’
Back at school, I decide to visit quiet, calm Mr Nunn for advice. The students pass him in the corridors with a polite ‘Hello, Mr Nunn’ , and I know I can trust him to keep my problem a secret.
Mr Nunn has taught at the school for twenty years and he knows the families of the students he teaches and he never seems to dread classes that have a difficult reputation with other staff. How does he do it? Am I just too young and new? What techniques must I use?
‘Jenny, you’ll be fine. Just make them know you mean business. Plan your lessons carefully and don’t let them get away with things.’
‘But how can I teach like you? I want to be able to walk into any class and get their attention. And once I’ve learnt, will I keep that skill forever?’
He smiles. I can’t bear the thought that in years to come I might still struggle to keep order. We come up with a plan. My classes must line up outside my room and not be let in until there is quiet. Anyone not bringing their cooking things or money to pay for ingredients will be sent to the head to explain. Students who forget their homework will be in detention after school, and Mr Nunn will help me chase those who don’t turn up. And for the time being, students cannot sit and eat their cooking at lunchtime in my room. Mr Nunn thinks that I must mix more with other teachers in the staffroom at breaks and lunchtime and join them at the pub on Fridays. This sounds like a very adult arrangement, but I wonder if I’ll succeed.
Mrs Rez remained my mentor and friend for many years after I had left her care, and I always sent her a postcard from my holiday trips. She gave me the most beautiful handwoven Iranian rug as my wedding present which I kept until the moths ate it.