ItAugust 17, 2008
“Some teachers just have ‘it’. They go into a room and everybody is quiet, they open their mouths and all the pupils are listening and looking at them even if they are talking rubbish. They never have to shout or repeat instructions. It is nothing to do with experience or age, some of the young NQTs have it.”
Poster on TES website
When you train to be a teacher you are often told about the teachers who have It: a mystical, indefinable, personal quality that makes even the toughest classes behave perfectly as if by magic. In your first year of teaching the existence of It is reinforced some more when you hear about the teachers who are great at dealing with behaviour within your school. Sometimes you actually see students who disrupt your lesson being well-behaved for somebody else and it seems like the teacher must be a wizard or a hypnotist to have achieved this. Also you are told the story of the supply teacher the school had two years ago that no child would play up for because one disapproving look from her was enough to scare them straight. The case for the existence of It is seemingly undeniable for the first few years of teaching. Gradually, however, you begin to doubt.
Firstly, you start to see inside the classes of some of the teachers known for their great behaviour management. Not all of them, but a significant proportion of them, turn out to be appeasers. You learn that the reason Kieran “behaves” for them and not for you is actually because everything Kieran does is fine according to them. Their “great relationship” with Kieran, (and no doubt with the other badly behaved kids in the school) is based on spoiling him rotten and letting him get away with mistreatment of other kids. The behaviour and learning in their lessons is simply not what you would aspire to, and the only It they have is low expectations and the capacity to sound off about how well they are doing.
Secondly, you get more established yourself and you start to realise how much your own classroom management relies on expectations. If the kids think you are somebody they will have to behave for, then they will behave for you. This isn’t some mysterious It, this is simply reputation, and because of the fact that if you haven’t been driven out of the school previously the kids doubt that they are going to be able to drive you out now. Sometimes it does seem incredible that where once students would have argued with you over expectations, or accused you of being mad for asking them even to listen to you, they now think that you must have a point in what you are asking for and at the very least they are obliged to acknowledge those expectations even if they don’t always live up to them. Those teachers you saw, who genuinely could get good behaviour out of kids who would act up for you, stop being so mysterious in their methods. They are simply well-established and the longer you stay at the school the more confident you can be that you have joined their ranks.
This just leaves the case of the mythical supply teacher who could control year 11 boys with a disapproving glance.. If you work in tough schools for any length of time you get to meet a lot of supply teachers, some good, some bad, many terrible. The best ones, usually very experienced, can adopt suitable behaviour strategies quite fast and effectively and, not always without a fight, they do manage to establish themselves and their expectations. None of them actually manage the mythical feats of the unnamed supply teacher of legend. But “we had a supply teacher two years ago who was quite good” isn’t much of a story. “We has a supply teacher two years ago who performed incomprehensible wonders” is. Gradually you begin to realise that these stories are too fanciful to be solid evidence for the existence of It.
Now it is still the case that some teachers are more charismatic than others, some teachers teach more enjoyable lessons than others and some teachers manage behaviour better than others. In a school that’s fairly easy-going anyway the better staff might make classroom management look easy. In a tough school, though, the teacher with It simply doesn’t exist. Every teacher with well-behaved classes and enjoyable lessons has worked hard to get there, following up incidents, establishing routines, getting to know the students over several years. And if you could see their year 11 lesson last thing on a Friday, it would become quite clear that there are limits even to their talents and enthusiasm.