To lose control of a classroom is a feeling of absolute vulnerability, of being inside out with nowhere to hide! Worse still is to look at the clock and see that you have 50 minutes of the lesson left and know that you have run out of ideas. I know. I’ve been there. And if that feeling of desperation is what has brought you here, then welcome. You are not a failure, you are just a human AND if you can get through this then you will be a great teacher. So, get a drink, get a biscuit or cookie and let me share a few things I’ve learned. Thanks for being here, by the way.
To lose control of a classroom is a feeling of absolute vulnerability, of being inside out with nowhere to hide!
The following concerns are ones derived from my own practice as a teacher. However, as much as I am going to offer some ways of dealing with them, the other thing to note is that I am also going to contextualise them in terms of the psychology of child development. In the end, it’s less about what you do in the room but who you are. Learning to show up with confidence on your teaching self is what we’re aiming at here.
Mind over matter
A lot of how we present ourselves in the classroom and how we respond to the behaviour of the children, was formed in us before we could choose one thing over another. So, don’t blame yourself for what you might be, what you might have said or done. You are just falling back on lessons that you were taught in the earliest classroom of all; your earliest relationships with those who cared for you. But, just because that is what you were taught, does not mean, that’s what you are saddled with forever. You can change the way you respond, you can learn to spot the hotspots and you can learn that taking care of yourself is the first step to taking charge of the classroom.
The challenges I’ve chosen have come from teachers in the various workshops I have led using the mind to teach approach. I’m going to try and not pull any punches here. I guess that you need someone to be honest with you rather than pretend just to make you feel good. I know from my own experience that the CPD that helped me was advice I could believe in, not just carry out blindly.
- I am boring, the lesson is boring, they’re gonna hate me…help!
- You might be boring them. It could be true. But ‘boring’ is only an opinion, often given by a student who knows that it’s one of the worst weapons he can throw at someone who is trying their absolute best to teach a group of adolescents. Because being called boring can distract a teacher, can fill them with self-doubt, can make them start behaving like bouncy puppies – it is effective is taking the heat out of the learning. So, point one is the obvious one, who is it who is calling you boring and what are they avoiding by chucking this powerful rock at you. If you address that, you might get the accolade that many of us crave – ‘She’s boring but I really learn in her lesson!”
- You can make sure that your lesson is more interesting. The flow of the lesson should be easy to explain and understand even if the concepts are challenging. Cool pictures can help. However, none of this will help if you are not invested in the lesson.
- Most important of all is that you see the value in it. If you are bored by your lesson then why would anyone else be interested? If you are interested then that will really help.
- And, what’s more, if you remain interested when students try to sidestep the learning by targeting your enthusiasm – which some of them will, you will begin to turn things round.
Does that mean every lesson has to be all bells and whistles?
Far from it. On the contrary. It’s more about what is being communicated to the students “between the lines”. If you spend your lesson communicating that you are worried about being boring then you will become boring.
Why? Because it’s all about safety…
Humans are a species who learned to read before there were words. We learned to read emotions and sensations, we read with our eyes and our ears, our sense of smell and our skin. And the reason we first learned to “read” – before we could speak, before we even knew where we ended and another person began was to ensure our own safety. And it is this desire, a desire for safety that still motivates, stimulates our ‘first’ and ‘lasting’ impression. Never more so than in a confined classroom, surrounded by teenagers.
Consequently, if, as the teacher you are dashing around a classroom, fretting about pupils being bored, not able to engage them in the eye because of your own worries, you are creating an atmosphere that feel unsafe. What you are doing, despite your best intentions, has become disconnected from the humans in front of you and what is being primarily processed by those pupils is the uneasiness you are creating with your manic attempts to be interesting.
Take being boring is a compliment
Learning involves parts that are fascinating and engaging but it also involves parts that are hard work, where one is confronted by ones limitations and where one must ‘get through’ in order to have the reward up ahead. Teachers sometimes do well to remind students that working hard, especially enduring times when things are difficult – ‘boring’ even, is all part of the learning experience. Also, teaching students to delay gratification, to wait for the good part, is an invaluable lesson at any time in life, and a key skill we learned in our first few weeks and months of life.
So take ‘boring’ as a compliment. It might mean you’re doing your job properly.