Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Classroom Psychology

Yesterday was a good day. I went to a very early (almost indecently early for a holiday) Mass courtesy of His Hermeneuticalness. I then dropped him off at the station as it was en route to school. Yes, you read that correctly... I went to school.

Last (academic) year was my first at my current school, and, as the newbie, I drew the short-straw as far as timetabling and rooming went: most days were characterised by the need for me to move from classroom to classroom every lesson.

This doesn't sound so bad: after all, it's what the students have to do... the difference is, however, that, as the teacher, you have to clear up the classroom once the class is dismissed (you can get the kids to do some of it, but there's always something missed), unplug the laptop, disconnect the interactive whiteboard, switch off the projector, grab your books, notes, register, computer and keys, lock the classroom, go to the new classroom, unlock the door, set up the laptop, switch on the projector and whiteboard, calibrate the whiteboard so that the writing appears where you want it, give out books, download the class register, check to see that the correct practical equipment is where you expected it to be and then settle the class down so that you can start the lesson. This takes time.

Meanwhile, the class demands to know why you are late and asks if there is going to be a practical. You often get a handful of children all suddenly trying to explain why they haven't done their homework, and why, despite it being set a week before, they haven't managed to see you any sooner. And the rest of the class is starting to climb the light fittings... and play with the gas taps. I have occasionally entertained wistful fantasies about telling them NOT to stick bits of metal into the live pin of the electric sockets (on the basis that they will often do exactly what you tell them not to) but I have to banish such thoughts as being unprofessional...

Then, and only then, can you actually start to teach.

I have been very tired for most of the year.

This coming year, as a "reward" for surviving the timetable equivalent of hell, I have been promised that most of my lessons will be in one room. The cloud to my silver lining is the warning that I will be "responsible" for the state of that room.

Now, the physical environment of any classroom has a huge impact on classroom management. The arrangement of the room in question was less than desirable from a teaching point of view: the tables were arranged in such a way that only 20 students could be seated comfortably at desks.

Most classes have considerably more than 20 students. Quite a few have 30. With the desks arranged in a sort of horseshoe, the extra students were dotted around the back of the room, where they were able to block sinks and gas taps with items such as sweet wrappers and chewing gum, secure in the knowledge that the teacher couldn't see them.

The horseshoe arrangement also encouraged noise, as the students could talk to each other across the room. Students are far less inclined to have a conversation with someone if they have to turn around to do so. Students sitting in small groups will still talk, but the noise level is considerably less, and it's easier to control: divide and conquer has always been a useful ploy!

Hence my willingness to go in and play "house" during the Summer. I was joined by a good friend of mine, also a Science teacher, and together we discussed various options. Eventually, I decided on a "five dots-on-dice" arrangement of tables: this allows me room to move round all the tables while students are working, everyone can see the board (and me) without having to turn right around, and no-one is near the sinks, gas taps or electric plug sockets...

I will let you all know how the experiment works out!

1 comment:

gemoftheocean said...

Our chemistry teacher kept us ENTHRALLED by smoking *during* class. He'd be fiddling with the bunsen burner, and God knows was concoction of acid etc., and he'd go over a step or two and take a drag off his ciggie and then place same back on edge of lab desk which had the lit end of the ciggie over an empty trash can.

We were fas*cin*at*ed.....never blew anything up or started a trashcan fire all year.

Think about it. Who wants to talk to your friends or pass a note when you might turn away the exact second your instructor was going to burst into flames?

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