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Chaotic lessons

Course educator Paul Dix from Pivotal Education shares his first teaching experience and invites all teachers to reflect on where they began.

The foundation of any behaviour management is your ability to control yourself before you try and control others.

At first this appears to be a simple principle. In practice it take great resilience and emotional patience. With this firm foundation in place the course quickly develops to incorporate more technical aspects of Behaviour Management. If you are struggling to keep your cool then there are daily routines and reminders in this first week that will, over time become part of your teaching style.

If you have achieved a zen like calm in the face of poor conduct already then the first week will be a great reminder. For experienced teachers looking for more advanced techniques the course develops quickly into classroom practice, including:

  • Directly teaching and embedding learning attitudes and learning routines
  • Dealing with angry students deftly with a 30 second intervention script
  • Structuring restorative conversations to repair trust and reset expectations

Now that we’ve established the background and given you a teaser for the rest of the course, let’s get under way.

Every teacher goes through periods of feeling totally out of control. The trigger may be a new job, a new class or other factors like changes in management. As you struggle to establish yourself the pressure may be compounded by rudeness or aggression from students; though clearly this will depend on the age and life-stage of your students.

It feels personal, it may feel like it will never end, and it may feel like “they are going to win”. In a tough environment it can take 6 months before the chaos subsides and relationships start to grow. Riding through the eye of the storm takes an enormous amount of personal determination and courage. Be assured that it isn’t personal, it will end and they are not going to win.


Watch the video above in which Paul describes a chaotic lesson. Paul was working in an unusually tough inner-city school at the time. Your circumstances may be very different and you may never be in a situation as extreme as this. But few teachers always feel completely in control. It is worth spending some time acknowledging the fact that teachers are also learners: we master the art of teaching and taming the most challenging students over many years.

Video Summary

‘We’re not scared of you sir … ‘

Fear is not an intelligent way to manage behaviour, yet for many new teachers it is sometimes their first and only strategy, as they have never been exposed to alternatives. In a Utopian world preparing and delivering great lessons would eradicate inappropriate behaviours, but both you and I know that’s just not reality.

Emotional panic takes over you, shouting is the result and the more you shout the lower your integrity and status sink – and they still ignore you.

Teacher: 'I want you quiet now! (Raised voice)
Student: 'Who is this? (Whispering loudly to friend so teacher can hear)
Teacher: 'I said I want quiet NOW! (Getting louder and louder)
Student: 'We're not frightened of you sir ...'

During the first precious week or two, the new teacher looks on enviously as experienced teachers quietly go about helping students learn. These paragons of virtue have no magic bullet. They too, had the same fears and emotional moments. Getting to their level of control was no accident. It came about through hard work on the basics:

  • Consistency: being unscrupulously fair even in the tough times
  • Persistence: keeping going in the face of students ignoring you
  • Follow-up: when you need to see a student after a lesson, after school, always do so
  • Certainty: students realise that what you say you will do … you WILL do

Concentration on the basics allows you the space to build relationships over the long term that are easily sustainable, because they have solid foundations. Students like the solidity that you model for them and it builds trust. Students like trust.


Learning lessons from difficult classroom experiences

Having listened to Paul describe a terrible lesson where he had no control of the class, share your own worst experience of emotional panic in the classroom – a time when you felt out of control.
This might not have been as dramatic or public as Paul’s experience but you would have felt that loss of control in the same way. How did you feel when it was over? What did you do next?
Post your experiences in the comments below.
Please remember not to mention individuals, schools or other organisations by name. Please respect others’ confidentiality and privacy at all times.
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Managing Behaviour for Learning

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