Clare Edmondson is an experienced behaviour consultant who runs a range of training for schools/settings around behaviour and mental health. In this guest blog, she shares 8 quick tips for working in such a setting.
Teaching in a behavioural unit brings its own challenges – here are some tips from an old hand.
1 – Don’t cry
I only cried once. In six years, that’s not bad. I pretty much had been called every name under the sun and had even been physically threatened by various teenagers but none of that really bothered me – there’s always a reason behind the behaviour. It was telling a young man that he couldn’t finish his coursework because the deadline had passed – that broke me. The disappointment in his face was enough for me to cry.
2 – Join in
The biggest accolade I ever received from my students, wasn’t for my meticulously planned English lessons, nor for my frankly super, exciting schemes of work, but for my ability on the football pitch. Having played to a quite a high level in the women’s game, I was able to give the teenage boys (and girls) quite the run around on the pitch. The teenage whispers of ‘miss is bear good at football’ spread and I was held in higher esteem just for joining in and showing myself as a whole person, not just a teacher.
3 – Don’t turn around
Six to ten students may not sound like a lot, but if you picture six of your most challenging pupils and put them into one, small, hot room with pens and pencils, you get the idea. I learned very quickly that writing ANYTHING on the board with my back turned could result in a riot of varying degrees. Pre written lesson objectives and typing onto powerpoint, facing my students became my friend.
4 – Use mini whiteboards sparingly
I’ve seen more badly drawn male genitalia (for some reason it was never female genitalia) on a whiteboard than any teacher should see. I’ve also seen a multitude of misspelt swear words, ‘No Jevan, that isn’t how you spell it and now wipe it off, thank you.’ Save the whiteboards for those you trust.
5 – Laughter is your friend
If you can’t laugh, a behavioural unit is not for you. I have had tears streaming down my face from laughing at some of the predicaments I have been in. From being asked how to spell ‘GCSE…’ to a student asking me ‘how hard do you have to concentrate in a concentration camp?’ to me tripping over a table and ending up crumbled on the floor. You have to laugh, or you will cry (see point 1).
6 – Tactical Ignoring is your friend
Do I deal with the swearing? Or the fact that he is wearing a hat? On the fact that he has just lobbed a paper aeroplane at his classmate? Without tactical ignoring I probably wouldn’t have taught my students a thing – sometimes I ignored a hat or a rogue swear word, so I could teach Shakespeare without having a fifteen minute battle. I’m proud to say my year 10 class could quote shakespeare to each other (granted it was usually insults) and it was tactical ignoring that helped me get the content in.
7 – Plan, plan plan
I remember teaching in mainstream school and sometimes being able to get away with an averagely planned lesson. In a behavioral unit, this is not the case – the lesson needs to be watertight and bullet proof. In fact, I remember naively thinking I could give one of my classes a ‘fun’ lesson on the last day of term. This ended up in chaos! Even fun needs structure in a behaviour unit.
8 – The kids will appreciate you – secretly
Don’t expect a barrage of thank you card and chocolate. In fact, I don’t think I received more than one card per year thanking me for my hard work. The gratitude sometimes came years afterwards – a former student (now a big burly man) stopped me in the high street and gave me a little hug and thanked me for helping him to get his grade C. He said he was always sad he never got the chance to thank me. That one moment was enough to keep me going for another year.
I wouldn’t change anything about working in a PRU – for each hard lesson would be a smile, a laugh or an achievement that wiped away the difficulties.
Thanks for a fab post Clare! To contact Clare or find out more about her work, why not check out her website or contact her on Twitter (@Change_Beh) or Facebook (@changingbehaviouruk)?
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