As has been mentioned previously teaching is an art, as we have many variables to consider in our lessons. My suggestion therefore is to engage in reflections and use reflective models to bring about changes in our practice. Of course, our first concern must always be the students’ experiences and learning. So in this post I am asking “What’s your message?”. This is about teachers’ behaviours and attitudes and how students perceive these. This post will be followed up with more scenarios, but here is a starting point:
Your behaviour/attitude: You start your lesson slowly.
Your message to your students: We can dawdle.
As teachers we are role models for our students. And it doesn’t matter if this a conscious choice or unconscious decision, but by dawdling at the beginning of the lesson, we encourage dawdling among our students. In many schools and educational institutions there is an obligation to call the register at the start of the lesson. This can be the first opportunity for learning already, by asking a topic-related quick question. This gets students into the habit of focusing straight away, and your message is that you take your lessons seriously from the word go.
Your behaviour/attitude: You start your lesson late or recap for latecomers.
Your message to your students: We don’t need to be there on time.
If students are late, we do not recap for them during the lesson. If we do, we undermine our own authority in a way and the students that are there on time on this occasion will be coming in late next time, too. Anyone coming in late should be asked to settle down quickly and quietly, and asked to join in with peers. The catching up bit can be done after the lesson or during breaktimes. By asking students to stay behind or come back later, we make sure they understand that latecoming is not accepted, that we help them to make sure they don’t miss out and we inconvenience them, too – after all they cannot spend their breaks with their friends. So, next time they’ll make an effort to be there on time.
Your behaviour/attitude: You start the term with class rules.
Your message to your students: We make the rules.
Like in the previous scenarios, your message is important. And by “negotiating” class rules you do involve students, but at the same time your message says that you may be a weak, insecure or disinterested teacher. Even the first lesson of the term or the start of a new year needs to be focused on students’ learning. Yes, you can discuss or perhaps negotiate some rules and you can lay out some principles about behaviour and homework. But your main focus must always be on learning, and so there needs to be some learning from the first lesson, too. Your message then is that you care about your subject.
Your behaviour/attitude: You repeat instructions.
Your message to your students: We don’t have to listen.
Of course, you want to make sure that all your students understand what you want them to do. But you have to consider your message again. And your message says: the teacher repeats it. So students are actually encouraged not to listen the first time round. This is particularly true in a classroom where there are several teachers or teaching assistants. By repeating what your colleague said your message to students is that they don’t have to listen to adult A, because you are repeating it anyway. In the long-term this undermines the authority of adult A.