Do you have any idea what you look like?

Film yourself teaching. Set up your phone, on a tripod, at the back of one of your lessons and leave it there. Film yourself for the whole lesson. Leave it for a few days, so your subjective notions about the lesson begin to fade. Then watch it back (and I suggest you do this alone!) Try to imagine the teacher in the video isn’t you. Try to be as objective as you can.

Look at how you started the lesson, how you greeted the students, how you got them settled and started. Watch how your lesson develops. Do you lead the students to review or recall learning from previous lessons? How do you call the students to attention and how do you deliver new explanations? Reflect on your movement and your body language. Where do you stand and sit in the room? How? What is your voice like?

“You get what you deserve.”

Watching yourself teach is an uncomfortable and jarring experience. This is the very reason it is a valuable thing to do. Shifting your perspective and turning a critical lens upon yourself will allow you to see the behaviour of your students in a new light. Like it or not, the behaviour of the children in your classroom reflects your teaching. A big caveat here is that there must be good whole school behaviour routines in place, and classroom teachers must be well supported in employing these systems. Additionally, there are students who are exceptionally troubled and disruptive. With these two considerations placed to one side, it is reasonable to accept that we have a causal relationship with the behaviour of our students. There is an old teaching tenet that encapsulates this notion far more pithily: “you get what you deserve”. For every teacher action, there is an equal and opposite student reaction. We can actively create the bad behaviour in our classrooms. For example…

Cause: Teacher is late to lesson

Effect: Students are preoccupied with chatting and will not start the lesson willingly when the teacher arrives

Cause: Teacher appears to be unsure about the content of the lesson (e.g. reading verbatim from PowerPoint)

Effect: Students lose faith in teacher as an authority figure and do not listen attentively

Cause: Teacher continues to talk over students who are talking during an explanation

Effect: Students learn that they can get away with talking in lessons while the teacher is talking

Cause: Teacher raises their voice over a class

Effect: Students raise their voices to maintain their conversations

Cause: Teacher sits at the front of the room all lesson

Effect: Students know that their effort and behaviour is not under scrutiny, so the standard diminishes

Cause: Teacher accepts answers from students who are shouting out

Effect: Students learn they can dominate the teacher’s attention and ignore rules about hands up or similar

Cause: Teacher removes a behaviour point, consequence or sanction when a student improves their behaviour

Effect: The sanction is no longer an effective deterrent because it can be neutralised – it isn’t certain

Cause: Setting work beyond the students’ ability, without scaffolding the task

Effect: Students disengage through frustration

Cause: Public acknowledgement of bad behaviour (e.g. name on the board)

Effect: Students play up to gain public recognition

“I did this to keep my lesson running smoothly, and to avoid the messy process of listening to wrong answers and then correcting misconceptions.”

Clearly this is not an exhaustive list. The point is, we can reflect on our performance as a teacher and change it to achieve better outcomes for our learners. When you watch your own performance back, you may notice that you overuse certain fillers during your explanations (“uhhh” “yeah” “okay” “so” “like” “sort of” “guys”) If you find this distracting when you listen to yourself for an hour, imagine the impact it has on students who are forced to listen to you every week. And, if you use fillers to the extreme, students are almost certainly mimicking your choice of filler behind your back. You may notice that your voice is far too muffled to hear when you are facing the whiteboard (so stop talking to the whiteboard!) You may notice that your voice is very loud and overbearing. Perhaps you will notice that you always direct your explanations to the middle of the room, never giving eye-contact to the rest of your audience. Maybe your voice has an overly aggressive tone, and your students feel like they are being berated for an hour. Or have you gone too far the other way? Are you too friendly or informal? This may be a particular pitfall for new teachers who are closer in age to their sixth form students. When I watched myself teaching, I noticed that I directed all of my questions to a small group of learners – and these were the learners who definitely knew the answers. I did this to keep my lesson running smoothly, and to avoid the messy process of listening to wrong answers and then correcting misconceptions.

There were things about my teaching that irritated me as soon as I watched it back. I was too informal, I kept saying “guys” and I targeted my questions at a selection of clever students. If I had to sit in my lessons four times a week, listening to “guys this” and “guys that” and seeing the teacher ask the same clever kids the questions again and again, I’d be fed up. And I’d think it was pretty pathetic that the teacher was trying to be a bit informal and “down with the kids.”

I’m not suggesting you need to assassinate your own character and punish yourself for your own idiosyncrasies. Your character and individuality are important. But, is there a chance that you might be just a little bit annoying? Or that, perhaps, you have been inadvertently triggering the students’ noisy behaviour? Isn’t it worth spending a little bit of time seeing how your students see you, just in case? Feedback from your peers and your line manager is good, but nothing beats the naked truth exposed by the camera.

They have to listen to you all the time. Put yourself in their shoes, just for an hour, and see what you notice. It could change your teaching forever.


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