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“So, you have inherited a challenging class and you're looking for ways to win them over.. Well, after working as a supply teacher for quite some time I can say that this is a problem that I've faced many, many times and it is a challenge.

Sometimes it can take weeks. Sometimes it can be quite quick. But every class is unique, so let's think of some ways that I have solved that problem.

Change Your Mindset

First of all, recognize that lessons are not going to go perfectly straight away and forgive yourself for that.

But, what we can do is we can look at this as an investigation and you have to really change your mind set on this. We haven’t got a problem class that we can't solve.

Instead, we've got a problem to be solved and, so if we change our mindset on what we're actually doing with this class, it can make a real difference.

So, the first part of solving any problem is to observe the problem in as much detail as possible and like I said every class is unique.

Unique Little Individuals

Your class will be filled with unique little individuals who are challenging. Therefore, first of all we get to know those individuals - inside the class is great but if you've got time when you're on break duty, lunch duty or any extracurricular activities then you can really get to know those students on a completely different level outside of the classroom too.

So, if at all possible find out where they hang out and make yourself visible outside of the classroom.

It’s also important to think about how you look to those students, because after we face a problem class, we don't realize it but our facial expressions say a lot!

If inside, we are feeling like ‘Please just behave!!” then, what this shows on your face, is that ‘We don't like these students very much’ and, as the parent of an 11-year-old child, I know that one of the most important things to him is how his teacher feels about him.

So, think about how you're coming across to them. Set up lessons that you're going to feel really good about!

Don’t Bend!

On the topic of setting up lessons, consistency is so important when it comes to a problem class - what are your minimum expectations? And don't bend.

It can be frustrating when students don't meet the minimum expectations, but think about it as a journey that you're on and the more that they know what you expect, the more likely it is that they will start to meet those expectations.

Think about how your lessons begin because if your lessons begin in chaos with you looking around for resources and with you not being particularly organized, the students know that they've got an opportunity to mess about at that time so, be absolutely tight on what students do as they come into the lesson.

The Marmite Question Starter

Think about ‘marmite questions’ so things that they either love or they hate for example ‘Should I get my children a pet?’ which means the students then have a question that is not too easy and not too difficult but, equally, something that they can engage with on a personal level.

So, my lessons always start with questions that get them to think about their own experiences, that help them to engage within that lesson and that consistency helps the students know what to expect as there's something for them to do when they come into the lesson!

Think about how you want your lessons to start and really get organized at the beginning, the main part of the lesson being ‘what are your minimum expectations?’ and think about what you're doing and what the students are doing.

Plan Your Reactions

When I'm planning lessons, I always try and think about what that student who wants to mess the lesson up will say about this task, so I'm setting it up to think ‘OK, they'll say this’, ‘My reaction to that will be this’ and, that really helps me to think through any problems before they actually arise.

However, end of lessons I'm terrible for getting so involved in the learning that the end of my lessons can be quite frantic as the bell goes and I didn't expect it, so I set a timer at the end of the lessons just five minutes before the end so, that we do have time to reflect, to pack away, to think through any issues and to get prepared for the next lesson.

So, organization is really, really helpful.

It’s Boring!

Relationships are also key when it comes to winning over a new class, especially a challenging class. So, relationships first, organization of what you're teaching them comes second.

A lot of times when I was on supply, I was teaching students things that they already knew and that's a problem because straight away so I need to be considering what do they already know? Where can I set the challenge so that it's not too high? so I don't get that response of ‘We can't do this it's too hard!’ but it's also not too low that it's ‘Miss! We've done this before. It's boring!’.

Use Their Everyday Life

I remember I liked to teach them spoken language and I remember teaching students about paralinguistic features which is just how we're using our body language, anything that's not spoken, in a way of communicating.

But, the students were seen as low attainers and they were low attainers, but often these students around the curriculum, were colouring in.

So, when we brought in things that were a little bit difficult for them, but actually things that they did in everyday life that they could learn about, that really got their attention and, I could bring it into what they needed to learn as well for the exam.

So, think about how you can build the relationships inside and outside of the lesson, find out as much as you can about those students, look at their relationships and really observe what's happening in that classroom and, forgive yourself in those first couple of lessons when things don't go perfectly - they are testing you.”

You can check out all the other 'tracks' on our CPD Jukebox by clicking here.

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About the author

Lisa Jane Ashes

Lisa Jane Ashes

Lisa is an experienced English teacher working in challenging communities across the UK. She is a former Advanced Skills Teacher and the author Manglish and Teacher in the Cupboard.

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