If you teach teenagers, you know how much easier the job is when your class is on side. If they have your back, and know you have theirs, classroom interactions become less about behaviour management and more about learning. They also become more enjoyable for everyone involved.
It can be difficult in the secondary school setting, I know. You teach so many individuals, and see the for such a short amount of time throughout the week. I teach 125 different students this year, so getting to know each of them does take time, but it is definitely worth it. They will greet you more readily in the playground, want to have conversations with you, be more willing to take on board advice and criticism, participate in classroom activities more willingly, and be less likely to cause large-scale disruptions due to poor behaviour.
Here are the strategies I use to get my classes on side.
Get to know them
First things first, learn all their names. First and last names. As quickly as you can. It makes the lessons so much more personal when you can refer to your students by their names, and not just when calling on them to answer a question. If you’re relatively new to their class, they will be shocked when you can refer to them by name, particularly when they’re misbehaving.
But you need to go beyond this. Get to know them as people. Ideally you should be able to have an individual conversation with each student about their hobbies or interests. You can do this by asking them about their weekends, commenting on their themed pencil case, or even listening in to their conversations.
By getting to know them, you can truly tailor your lessons to your class. This goes far beyond knowing their data, which is so impersonal it’s almost ridiculous. When you know their likes and dislikes, lessons can be created in such a way as to enhance their learning experiences while actually being a bit more enjoyable. Even something as simple as having memes on your slides with your senior students, or a text that is about a football player – any little personal tweaks you can make will be beneficial.
It also means you can deal with behaviour issues on a more personal level. If you know a bit of the family background of your troublemakers, it can give you a bit of insight into their world. That doesn’t mean prying, but having a conversation with their head of year, for example, can give you some valuable insights. It might mean being able to have an actual behaviour conversation with them, showing that you understand their situation and being able to discuss with them why their behaviour is still inappropriate even if there are other things going on.
On the flip side, it makes praise more significant to the students when they know you know them. Praise from a close friend is always so much more meaningful than praise from an acquaintance, because you know they actually know what it took for you to achieve whatever it was that warranted the praise.
Use kindness in every interaction and show that you care
The key thing students want from their teachers is kindness. For many students, they don’t experience it at home or from their peers, so receiving kindness from their teachers is very important.
Showing kindness can be as simple as greeting them with a smile at the door, complimenting and praising them on good work or good behaviour, and speaking calmly.
It is also possible to disciple with kindness, even though it can be particularly difficult when you are annoyed or angry. Just remember to keep your voice kind (you can be angry and kind at the same time), not yell, and give clear simple instructions. After an incident, spend a few minutes having an individual conversation with the student(s) about why they are behaving in a particular manner. There is a reason behind every teenage reaction, and you might just break a cycle of negativity by showing that you will be kind to them even when they are difficult. I have turned around some very difficult students by showing kindness when they are in the foulest mood. It certainly doesn’t mean you don’t follow your behaviour management strategies or let them get away with bad behaviour, but how you handle it can make all the difference to future interactions.
If a student seems to be having an off day, ask them why. They might not want to talk to you, but they will appreciate the effort and the fact that you’re taking an interest. You never know, you might be the only person that day that shows they care, and that can make a huge difference to a teenager who is feeling lonely or misunderstood.
If they know that you actually care about them as a person, and are willing to show kindness to them, they will absolutely love you for it.
Be an actual person
As much as we need to remain professional, there is no reason why you can’t show your students that you are an actual person.
I like to make my laptop background a scrolling show of images from places I’ve been, my pets, things I like, even memes and jokes. Every time the background is visible on the projector and a new image is up, at least one student comments on it or asks about it. I take a moment to have a quick conversation about the image, then move on with the lesson.
Talk about your interests, hobbies, and what you did on the weekend. There is absolutely no reason why your students can’t know these things, and it helps for them to see you as a human being and not a robot. If they know you really like rap music but hate country, they will love to talk to you about it.
Trust and personal respect are two-way, especially in healthy relationships. You can’t expect someone to trust you and respect you as a person if you aren’t showing the same things to them. And no one feels completely safe around someone who knows more about them than they do about you. Let them into your world a little, and watch the rapports blossom. They will trust you more if they know a bit about you, and there are myriad unplanned teaching opportunities that can come out of conversations that start.