Recently I taught as a daily occasional teacher in a special education, mostly behavioural classroom. This was my first experience with the kind of group of students where correcting misbehaviours and classroom management was critical to getting through the day safely and working to complete the regular teacher’s goals for the day. As a daily occasional teacher, I felt some apprehension knowing that an already challenging class could be even more challenging for a new teacher that is out of their familiar routine, but was prepared to face the challenge to the best of my abilities.
One thing that I noticed upon entering the classroom, was that the teacher had laid out a daily behaviour log for each student. It was broken down into time blocks (corresponding with entry, class periods, recess, lunch and exit) and it included a rubric consisting of levels 1-4 (which corresponded with expected behaviours for each level). When going over this student information, I recalled reading in Chapter 4 in the Heart and Art of teaching about positive consequences – reinforcing positive behaviour that is consistent with creating a learning focused classroom environment. I decided that I would begin with this approach to set a positive tone to the day.
When the students entered in a less than orderly fashion, I commended two students for their ‘Level 3 ½’ entry, and mentioned that their classroom teacher would be pleased to learn of this when I make my notes at the end of the day. I saw a smile as one student was particularly pleased that I had noticed. The other students overheard, and while some students chose to continue with their off-task behaviour, a few others took their cue and directed their behaviour towards positive praise. In commending those two students, I also gained two helpers who were inclined to assist me in the classroom routines (i.e., getting out the nametags, advising me who should not be taking washroom trips together etc.).
If you take look at the Venn Diagram on page 59 of Heart and Art (Students Who Rock, Students Who Are Deciding, Students Presenting Challenges) , I would say that the class demographic was made up of ‘students who are deciding (on their behaviour), and students who ‘presented challenges’. With positive reinforcement, I think I was able to encourage a few of the ‘students who were deciding’ to be a little more helpful and focussed, and in this I feel that I averted some additional behavioural challenges that could have existed.
While it was a challenging day, I found that approaching the students initially with kindness and praise sent them a message that I knew what was expected of them, and that I would follow through with the regular classroom culture of behaviour tracking, reward and consequences. While not all students in the class ‘bought in’, I do feel that using a positive-reinforcement approach increased the potential of the students wanting to be successful, and decreased the ‘us Vs. supply teacher’ mentality that some students can develop. This is an approach that I think many teachers already use in their classrooms, but I hope that it serves as encouragement for occasional teachers to employ in any challenging classroom environment.