This blog post is the second contribution from my community in what I hope becomes a wide conversation around behaviour – exactly who deals with it and how in our schools…
For each contribution I ask the participants a series of questions around behaviour, they are invited to answer as many or as few as they like, and share with us what works for educators like YOU in our schools….
In this post, I am delighted to introduce you to our Supply Teacher contributor.
Over the past couple of years it has come to my attention that there are many approaches to behaviour that are taught as if they are off-the-shelf and will work for everyone – that is not the case.
Behaviour strategies need to work for you first in order to work in the classroom.
Over the coming months I would like to share what ‘behaviour’ is like for you.
What are the challenges that you feel you face that other colleagues don’t?
What strategies work for you wonderfully and yet no one else seems to be able to Master?
If you want to contribute –
Q. Behaviour and YOU! – Who?!
Behaviour and Supply Teachers
Q. How would you describe yourself as a teaching assistant?
I am a friendly, approachable person who loves teaching. I think this is apparent as soon as someone meets me, whether it be a fellow teacher, a pupil or a parent.
I sometimes worry that this is a hindrance as a supply teacher because I think people assume that I am soft or a pushover. I don’t like the saying “Don’t smile until Christmas” because I love what I do and the kids always make me smile! (OK, maybe not always.) I also love a question and enjoy when the children are curious about something, even if it means we’re off task for a few minutes, as I don’t want to discourage learning.
Q. What do you think/have you experienced as barriers around successfully supporting distressing behaviour for you in schools (from pupils, colleagues or parents and carers)?
Not knowing a child and his or her needs/situation/background is one of the biggest challenges of being a supply teacher. I always ask the class teacher or the TA, as soon as I meet him or her, which children I need to be aware of and which children might need different or extra support. This is not always enough, though, or a child may slip through the cracks.
I remember once, while trying to be “no nonsense” with a Year 5 first thing in the morning, he stormed out, and I was then told by the TA that the child occasionally does this, particularly with supply teachers, and that I should just let him go. This is problematic for me because it is first and foremost a potential safeguarding issue but also because it makes me look weak or ineffective to the other children in the class.
Working in lots of different schools and trying to remember different behaviour policies is also sometimes an issue because when there is challenging behaviour, I want to be able to address it straight away. I do not want to waste time by referring back to the school’s behaviour policy in the moment or pulling the TA aside to ask for guidance. Again, I also worry that this makes me look less effective in front of the child and the rest of the class.
In one challenging class I worked in, there were some very tricky children, and it seemed as if they had completely different rules from the rest of the class. I know this is sometimes necessary, but in this case, it was too much to be on top of, and I felt that the school’s policies were not working. I also found it frustrating to try to manage because a member SLT kept having to come in and work with one or two of the children. I felt completely undermined.
Q. How have you (or are trying to!) overcome these barriers?
I have jumped on every behaviour CPD opportunity that I can. I ask for help. I read up on how to handle challenging behaviour, and I am reading up on child psychology and wellbeing as I want to be able to understand what is behind particular behaviours. I also feed back to my supply agency any concerns I have, e.g. when a school seems to have a disconnect in its policy, or when it does not seem to be working, usually because of inconsistencies. I do not want the school to go back to the agency and say I can’t handle it!
“Not knowing a child and his or her needs/situation/background is one of the biggest challenges of being a supply teacher… Working in lots of different schools and trying to remember different behaviour policies is also sometimes an issue.”
Q. What makes your particular characteristics and/or experience an asset to supporting behaviour?
Teaching is my second career, and I started when I was in my late 30s. (I am now 49.) Right before I began my PGCE, I worked as an LSA in a secondary school where I saw LOTS of challenging behaviour. I worked with teachers who could handle it and teachers who struggled. It was a great learning opportunity for me. I trained as a secondary English teacher, so during and after my training, again, I saw lots of different practices. Now, as a primary supply teacher, I spend time in many different schools, so there is little I haven’t seen or experienced.
Q. What are some key behaviour strategies that work for you (that aren’t necessarily talked about)?
I don’t think I do anything revolutionary. It’s all about praise. Before the pandemic, I gave out stickers all the time, to everyone, even Year 6s. You could tell who’d been in my class at the end of the day by the children who had stickers all over their shirts or jumpers. Now I give “virtual gold stars”, which means I keep a list and a tally of children who would have received stickers “in ye olden days”, as I say to the kids.
Making sure children are given a clean slate is also important. The sanction has been given, break time has been missed. Back to “virtual gold stars”!
Q. What has been your biggest or most surprising success around behaviour?
It took me a while to realise this and act on it, but there are infinite gold stars to go around. I was often told in my student-teaching days or in my appraisals when I was a class teacher that I didn’t give enough praise. Coming in to class and getting your reading book out is good enough!
Q. What is your no 1 Behaviour top tip for teachers like you?
Be consistent. Kids have a real sense of justice, and they don’t like things that are unfair.
Q. Any other notes you want to share around your unique experience with behaviour?
Accents. I am American and get loads of questions about this. This can be disruptive! Children comment during the register if I pronounce their name in a way that they weren’t expecting. If I get the chance, I ask the TA ahead of time about any names that I might mispronounce. (Kids LOVE it when you get it right after so many supply teachers get it wrong.) Also, I have lived in the UK (and worked in enough schools) to recognise when my accent or word choice might be an issue, so I have taken to saying straight away that I am American so might say some things differently to what the children are used to. But then this can lead to surprise and more questions: Are you really? Did you just come to Sheffield?
Children also want to ask me LOTS of questions about the U.S. This is great – and of course I want to answer – but it can take up lots of time. Sometimes I don’t like the questions, though: Does everyone in America have a gun? What do you think of Donald Trump? Did you know, most of the children in this school are Muslim, and Donald Trump hates Muslims?
Q. Any other questions you think I should be asking all the contributors?
Does it ever get easier? Do you get to a point where you think you’ve cracked it?
As a thank you for this Supply Teacher’s contribution to the project a small donation has been made to the charity of their choice.