We used to call it simply "discipline", but there is more to it than simple control, even if that is the bottom line.
- My second supply teaching job was in 1964. I was an undergraduate, and I had just returned home for the summer vacation when the local education officer rang me. On a Sunday. He said that the longstanding Headteacher of a primary school (ages 5-11) nearby had just died suddenly of a heart attack: could I start on Monday to take his final-year class (for £10/$15/e12) a week)?
- First, the pupils had to be told, which was done at morning assembly by the deputy head-teacher. They were all in shock, especially the head's own class. Anyone who had thought it through would have allocated me—this totally unknown and incompetent 19-year-old—to another class to free up a longstanding teacher to spend at least a day with his old class, but it was not to be. I got his class.
- Many of them were in tears. Several who went home for lunch did not re-appear in the afternoon. I did not have a clue what to do, even in terms of their scheme of work. I set some reading exercises and was very lax and permissive out of respect for their grief. Later I took them out onto the playing-field for a game, just to pass the time.
- By Wednesday, they were back to their old selves: they had decided that I was a "soft touch", and I battled with trying to manage them for the remaining month of term. Other teachers occasionally came in to "help" when the noise from my classroom distracted their classes, but of course all their presence did was further to undermine my authority.
- One lunchtime, I found an old textbook on teaching in the staff-room. I desperately looked up "discipline" in the index and leafed through to the single reference. All it said was to the effect that if the pupils were motivated and sufficiently interested it should not be a problem. There was nothing about what to do if it were a problem. Clearly a teacher who had discipline problems was beneath concern.
That is a very teacher-centred, survival-oriented account, but it underlines a couple of basic points:
- Only recently has the professional literature deigned to take seriously the problems of class management, partly because the of the decline of "respect" for positional authority which characterises our times, (for better or for worse), and partly out of a recognition that discipline problems are not simply a function of the moral inadequacy of the teacher.
- It has been argued that one of the major sources of teacher stress is not serious challenging behaviour by pupils and students, (there are procedures to handle that) but constant, low-level, niggling class management problems, which have to be dealt with on the spot and in the room.
- The first rule, in the opinion of many experienced teachers, is, "Start by being firm with pupils; you can relax later." For the best-intentioned reasons, I violated that rule, and I paid for it.
Class management in post-compulsory education is slightly different. Extreme problems are thankfully rarer: students are not legally compelled to attend and so many "problem" students just do not appear (to their own loss), and classes other than formal lectures are generally smaller. On the other hand, sanctions are fewer (although there aren't many in ordinary schools nowadays—for better or for worse). These pages will explore some aspects of the issue, from the premise that you need to establish an appropriate degree of authority to enable students to work.
The deservedly classic text in the field is Sue Cowley's (2006; 3rd edition), with the disarmingly practical title Getting the Buggers to Behave (Continuum) She in turn recommends Bill Rogers (2006) Classroom Behaviour. A Practical Guide to Effective Behaviour Management and Colleague Support 2nd edn. (London; Paul Chapman Educational) (Note that both texts understandably refer primarily to teaching in schools).