Being a newly qualified teacher is one of the most intimidating career beginnings there is. You love your subject and you already know you love working with young people, but how do you find your teaching style? How do you talk to the students, and what do you do when they misbehave or test you? 

For the last six months I have been conducting interviews with teachers from around the world to answer this question and many more. Teacherly stories is an initiative about shining a light on all parts of teaching and celebrating incredible teachers. Here is the advice some of the interviewees gave about classroom management. 

P.S. if you want to hear more from one of the teachers, just click on his or her name.

Get to know your students’ personalities and interests.

“I believe that each child has a special key. If you as the teacher can’t find the key then you won’t build the right kind of communication with the child. You also have to get to know the parents. They will tell you about the child: how to reward them, what they like and dislike, what motivates them and what their habits are like at home. I taught a little girl who was very moody. Sometimes she just didn’t want to work and she would completely disconnect. So I had to come down to her level and ask her about the things she likes in life. I used these things to grab her attention.” 

Nesreen Alaily, grade-two teacher, Dubai.

“Adults can dismiss the things young people are into, and I think that’s wrong. For the kids I teach now, the Fast and Furious franchise is the epitome of cinema, so every Christmas I watch one of those movies with them.”

 — David William, secondary literature teacher, Leeds.

“I’ve learned how important it is to get to know your students outside of class. I’ve gone with them to soccer tournaments and I was the head of the cooking club for three and a half years. I’m not actually much of a cook but I learned so much from them while I was doing that. The cooking club became a second office, where I didn’t just have the opportunity to cook with my students, but a place to talk about their dreams, goals, and any problems they were having.”

Abdel Rahman Kadars, secondary history teacher, Cairo. 

Don’t move on with the lesson if they aren’t paying attention.

“When you’re first starting out and you’re frustrated, the temptation is to just get on with the lesson even if some of them aren’t listening. Unless they give you their attention and they’re looking at you and giving you that respect, it doesn’t work. Even if it takes twenty minutes to get there, it’s worth it, because that’s the foundation you’re working from.” 

 — David William, secondary literature teacher, Leeds.

“It’s usually the lads in GCSE who come into the class in a loud or boisterous way. Straight away I always say, “let’s try it again.” They’re kids, they’re going to try things, but as long as you’re on it from the start then they’ll listen. It’s about keeping consistency. You don’t have to shout at them, I very rarely raise my voice because it’s about that mutual respect.”

Francesca Tate, secondary PE Teacher, London. 

Have a routine.

“We think of routine as a negative thing sometimes but for many of them, routine is a comfort blanket. They like to know: this is my teacher, we do things this way, our books are always in this place. Even when they get older it’s the same. As boring as it sounds, routine is king.” 

 — David William, secondary literature teacher, Leeds.

Connect before you correct.

“Eleanor Roosevelt said, “nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” That quote is my north star. To break it down, you need to have a relationship with someone before you can educate them. Until you have a relationship, you can be Albert Einstein, Leonardo Davinci or Tony Stark. It doesn’t matter. If the kids don’t think you like them, and care about them and their wellbeing, then you will only ever get compliance from them. They will give you the bare minimum.” 

Karl C. Pupé, secondary music teacher, East London.

“I’m trained in positive discipline, which is based out of the UK and was founded by Jane Nelson. In positive discipline there are no rewards or punishments. I don’t give dojo points or stickers to students who do well, and I don’t do time-outs or missed recesses for students who are misbehaving, because in real life that’s not what happens. Positive discipline mandates that you connect before you correct: you have to establish a relationship first … As they bond with you, they learn that when they do well the reward is feeling good about themselves and being proud of their work, and that if they don’t they are hurting themselves and damaging their relationships, which is much closer to what happens in life.” 

Pranti Zaveri, grade two teacher, Dubai.

Understand what authority means

“What you need to understand is that behaviour management comes from you. Take the student out of the equation for a moment: it’s about you and your leadership style. Any great leader has a combination of two traits: strong authority, and compassion. Some people see authority as a dirty word, like a superman villain– kneel before me, this type of thing, but authority means you know your stuff. Doctors are the authorities when you go to them to solve health problems. You are the authority in the classroom.” 

Karl C. Pupé, secondary music teacher, East London.

“I rarely have behaviour issues in my class because I set clear boundaries from the beginning. If they’re misbehaving I just say, “what you’re doing is really silly and it’s not acceptable in my class, so you’ll have to change that.” If that doesn’t work I say, “can we have a conversation outside?” … That conversation is really about saying: I see you, and I don’t think your behaviour reflects who you are. It’s a really straightforward question that ends with me asking if they need anything. The kids are usually like, wait, did I just get in trouble or not?”

 — Mufida Said Al Digeil, Head of Elementary Islamic Studies, Dubai. 

“Being a great teacher is about 15-20% knowledge, and the rest is your pedagogy. What I look for in a fantastic teacher is someone who can immediately engage a young person in the experience of the subject. I want to have a sense of what drove the teacher to that subject and I want to know that he or she will be relentless in pushing and encouraging the student to do more than he or she ever expected… Being a good teacher is first and foremost about forming relationships with young people and helping them to overcome obstacles to their learning.” 

Simon Uttley, Headteacher, Reading. 

If you’re feeling lost or overwhelmed this year as an NQT, know that you are not alone. Many of the teachers I spoke to felt confused and overwhelmed, and made mistakes in their first year of teaching. You have support in your own school and across the world. Teacherly is a great place to start if you’re looking for your community or want help with any aspect of being a new teacher.