Things not to say to trainee teachers #1: “just focus on the learning”

First week of term. I’m finding it hard. I’ve just had my third lesson with bottom set year 9. I’m in the getting really worked up about the amount of blatant disrespect and failure to follow simple instructions.

As an example, I tell my mentor about Lulu. Lulu’s feet seems cemented to the chair next to her. No matter how much I nag, within 5 seconds the feet are back on their chair.

My mentor’s response: “you have to stop obsessing about behaviour and just concentrate on the learning”

Surprised, but suitably chastened and guilted by my failure to concentrate on their education, I go back into this challenging class in my fourth lesson with them and let them get away with murder.

Feet are up. Fizzy drinks are out. A girl starts doing her make up. Well I guess she could be an effective multi-tasker – I better just leave her to it.

If you can’t comprehend why on earth I would listen to someone with such low standards remember this: he had been teaching for 20 years. He was head of teaching and learning. He was my professional mentor. If I wasn’t going to listen to him, then who was I going to listen to?

I guess there’s a silver lining to this story. After a week of this, I felt distinctly uncomfortable at the way things were going. I mentioned it to a kindly, experienced teacher in the staff room. She was horrified. She showed me exactly how you could instruct a student to behave without interrupting your teaching too much. All it took was about 3 minutes of role playing the feet-on-chair scenario, with me as Lulu and her as teacher. It was fantastic and restored my faith in high expectations. And hence my unofficial mentor was born.

9 thoughts on “Things not to say to trainee teachers #1: “just focus on the learning”

  1. bethkemp

    How lucky you are to have found a great unofficial mentor! Lame advice is all too common, genuinely useful and practical advice immensely valuable.

  2. tsalliance

    I had a similar experience as a trainee.. Luckily I found some unofficial mentors down the years.. Here’s to them, they’re priceless and I hope I sometimes get to pay back some of what I owe them.

  3. Mr A Colley

    Modelling the behaviour to the student. Really powerful and can be done with humour, diffusing a potential stress filled ‘the rest of the class stops to watch the argument’ situation. Great advice.

  4. missmcinerney

    What are the teaching you at Institute these days? We did a role-play of *exactly* this situation (feet on seats) with our professional mentor. Then, throughout the year, she continually made us roleplay behaviour situations. So influential was the process she once came into my classroom one break time only to find me sat in a student’s seat repeatedly yelling “Give me a ruler” while he was stood at the front trying to ‘teach’ over me. Turns out role-playing is not just useful for teachers….


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