A critical incident analysis of classroom management in the subject context
For phases 1, 2a and 3 of my teacher training year I have been placed at school that I will be referring to as ‘School X.’ It is in this school, during my phase 1 ‘observation stage’ that the critical incident occurred that I will be looking to describe, analyse and reflect on during this assignment. The critical incident occurred in phase 1, whist observing a class that I would go on to solo teach in phase 2a.
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School X was awarded academy status in 2012, and now has over 1200 students, with a school capacity of 1606. The school has a large catchment area and is considered to be a school of mixed ability. School X has a mixed gender pupil population with an age range of 11-18 years. (HM Government, 2017.)
School X caters for students of varying needs and abilities. In the pupil premium strategy statement for 2017-2018, the school stated that there were 178 pupils currently eligible for and receiving Pupil Premium. Throughout the school there are also 34 pupils with English not as a first language and 37 students receiving SEN support. In March 2016, School X was awarded a ‘‘good’’ (Chambers, 2018) status in its Ofsted inspection. Furthermore, staff and pupils say that behaviour in lessons and around the school is typically good or better. Inspection findings also showed that pupils make ‘’progress that at least matches that of similar pupils nationally in all subject areas.’’ (Chambers, 2018.)
Throughout this assignment I will be using the reflective model known as Brookfield’s Lenses (Brookfield, 2017) to evaluate my critical incident. This model encourages the user to look at the particular incident from a personal, pupil, colleague and theory perspective. Subsequently, I will be using all 4 of these viewpoints to help me reflect on my critical incident in the most effective way possible.
The critical incident occurred in a core P.E lesson for Year 11 Girls. I had been observing this class for numerous weeks by the time the incident happened and therefore I was well aware that the class included a small group of girls who enjoyed challenging the teacher. School X’s uniform policy clearly states that no earrings are allowed to be worn to school, and for P.E lessons only plain, black leggings are allowed to be worn. Despite being very much aware of this rule, the girl involved (who I shall refer to as Subject A), turned up to P.E wearing grey leggings and two large studs in her ears. The teacher involved in this incident upon seeing what Subject A was wearing, politely asked her to stay behind once the rest of the class had gone into the sports hall. She then asked her to take the earrings out, to which Subject A refused, therefore the teacher further explained that her kit was against school policy and told her that she looked ‘scruffy’ compared to other students (see Appendices 2.) Immediately Subject A began shouting and claimed the teachers comments were ‘so rude and inappropriate’. The teacher tried to reason with her, however Subject A refused to go into the sports hall and instead ran off down the corridor. Once this occurred, the teacher knew her main responsibility was to the other students waiting for her in the sports hall. She then alerted the Head of P.E, who at that point had a free period with no lesson to teach. She passed on the situation to her colleague, who then went outside, found Subject A, and dealt with her. After the Head of P.E had spoken with her, Subject A then came into the sports hall, apologised to her teacher for how she had behaved and joined her classmates. After the Head of P.E. having dealt with the immediate situation, at the end of the lesson the teacher issued Subject A a 3 on the register (given for poor, below standard behaviour).
By looking at this incident through the four perspectives given in Brookfield’s Lenses, I was able to gain as much insight into the incident as possible. Firstly, from my own perspective I had several thoughts on the incident. To begin with I thought the use of the word ‘scruffy’ to describe a student may have been a little too harsh and not appropriate. If the teacher had simply gone over the schools policy without the personal insult, I highly doubt that Subject A would have reacted in the way that she did. However, apart from the initial use of the word ‘scruffy’ I do believe that the teacher handled the situation well. She did not raise her voice at Subject A, and instead remained calm. She prioritised the rest of her class and properly passed the situation on to the Head of her Department who subsequently dealt with Subject A. I thought this was a good strategy as Subject A was obviously not reacting well to her so a change of face would most probably calm her down. In addition, she prioritised the rest of her class who were waiting for her and ready to learn. I think this was a good decision as it meant the 29 other students lesson was not ruined just because of one ill-behaved student.
Secondly, from the perspective of Subject A, I can see how being called ‘scruffy’ would be upsetting. Furthermore, by the time I observed the incident; I had already observed numerous lessons with Subject A in and could tell she was very self-conscious. For example, even when the weather was hot at the beginning of the term, she refused to take her sweatshirt off in P.E and told me that her eczema was ‘‘too bad and ugly’’ to be on show (see Appendices 1.) Therefore I do see how being called scruffy would have upset her as her confidence was obviously not the best, however the way she conducted herself after that point was completely unacceptable and against school rules.
Thirdly, to gain the teachers perspective I spoke with her shortly after the incident. She told me that she had taught Subject A since year 7 and had a good relationship with her, where they were both able to be truthful with each other. As a result, she did not think that using the word ‘scruffy’ would cause the reaction that it did. The teacher also quickly recognised that as soon as the situation had escalated, it was time to find a senior member of staff to take over. Subsequently her lesson was not ruined and the other 29 students did not suffer.
Lastly, I reflected on the incident by using Skinner’s Operant Conditioning Theory. Skinner states that changes in behaviour are a result of individual’s responses to stimuli that occur in their environment. Therefore Subject A’s normal behaviour has changed when she was called scruffy (the stimuli) which she then reacted poorly to. If she had not been called scruffy, the situation may have played out very differently. Negative reinforcement is vital in Skinner’s theory as this is how pupils will learn what unacceptable behaviour is. Subject A received negative reinforcement from the head of P.E, and also by her teacher giving her a 3 on the lesson monitor and a demerit. According to Skinner, this negative reinforcement should make the subject think twice before reacting in a similar way in the future.
After reviewing the critical incident from all four perspectives stated in Brookfield’s Lenses, I have been able to develop my understanding of what it means to be a professional teacher. I‘ve learnt that pupils can often be unpredictable in how they react and that a teacher must be able to adapt quickly. Additionally, I learnt that one misbehaving pupil should not take priority over the rest of a class’s learning; in my previous observations, I have seen lessons can become dictated by a disruptive pupil resulting in a negative experience for the whole class. In this incident, the teacher did not allow this to happen and it displayed to me that sometimes the wisest choice is to hand the situation over to a senior member of staff, subsequently ensuring the whole class can benefit from the lesson. Moreover, I learnt from this situation that the best way to deal with an angry student is to remain calm, and not to raise your voice. Raising your voice is most likely to result in the student getting angrier and therefore more disruptive. Furthermore, I learnt you must utilise neutral language as otherwise it can have a negative effect.
This critical incident will have implications for my future practice as I will be particularly mindful about the language as one insensitive word can unintentionally have a disproportionate response. I also understand that not every situation should be handled in the same manner as no circumstance is the same. Before this assignment I would not have considered passing on a misbehaving student to another member of staff as I would have seen this as a sign of weakness. However, after watching a very experienced teacher do this, it has taught me that if someone is not reacting well to you then the best thing to do may be to get help from a senior member of staff. I will now always put the learning of the whole class as a priority instead of allowing one student to steal the class’s focus. As a result of this critical incident, I have given myself the target of always using positive language that in no way could upset a student. I will also not rise to a student’s level if they get upset, and will instead give myself the target of always remaining calm in these situations. I have already discussed these targets with my mentor and we will continue to assess these in my weekly meetings.
- Brookfield, S. (2017). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. [Place of publication not identified]: John Wiley & Sons.
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