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How to make your presence felt in the classroom

Simple techniques to gain authority and keep control

You may have qualified and secured your first post but that doesnt stop you from feeling nervous when you start work as an NQT. Developing your presence in the classroom can help you to project confidence. Building a presence is important because it he lps to give your teaching some authority, so that students have trust in you, which then helps them to learn, says Alison Wood, a freelance educational consultant in Hertfordshire, and an English secondary school teacher. Having presence as a teacher involves being authoritative yet approachable, which is a delicate balance to achieve, says Julian Stanley, chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. While you should be firm, its important not to be too distant a bit of warmth doesnt go amiss. So you need to find a middle ground, he explains. To achieve that balance, there are techniques and strategies you can use to help you develop a presence in the classroom and make life as a new teacher go more smoothly.

Greet your students

An immediate way of establishing your authority as a teacher is to welcome students at the classroom door. Kathryn Lovewell, who has taught drama and art at secondary school level, and who also teaches stress management, advises lining students up outside the classroom before a lesson begins, then greeting each one as they enter the room. Using eye contact and positive body language, such as smiling while greeting, helps to establish rules of behaviour before the lesson starts. This approach enables you to identify those who are not ready to take part in the class and who could potentially display disruptive behaviour. If students dont respond positively to your greeting, they should be sent to the back of the line, as it means they are not in the right state to learn. You then need to get them to agree that they are willing to take p art in the lesson before they enter the class, says Lovewell.

Control your voice

Your voice is a valuable tool. Using it effectively can encourage students to behave positively, as well as making lessons lively and interesting. Jo Palmer-Tweed, course director at the Thames Primary Consortium, recommends that if you havent received voice coaching as part of your teacher training, you should organise this as soon as possible, but ensure it is provided by companies tailored to training teachers voices.

You wouldnt put someone in an orchestra, give them an instrument and expect a virtuoso performance. Youve got to learn how to play that instrument first, which is why voice training is probably the best investment you could make in your teaching caree r, she says. Shouting is a normal and natural reaction when trying to assert your authority, but this can undermine what you are trying to achieve, warns Stanley. When faced with disruption its tempting to make your voice louder. But if you are constantly sh outing, students may switch off. Sometimes it is better to speak quietly or even stop talking to get students attention, he says. Lowering the pitch of your voice can help you to sound more authoritative. Theres a tendency, particularly when youre fee ling stressed, to speak with a high tone. So you should try to lower your voice slightly, particularly when faced with confrontational situations with students, as this will help to show youre in control, says Wood. Varying the intonation and pace of your speech can be an effective way of engaging students in your lesson. You can use your voice to generate enthusiasm and excitement in the classroom, by, say, speaking slowly to make a point or whispering to convey something magical about a story youre reading, suggests Lovewell. As with actors, teachers need to take care of their voice, so it is important to keep well hydrated by sipping water throughout the day, and avoid drinking too much tea or coffee.

Body language
Your body language is just as important as the words you speak in class. Children and young people are intuitive and will pick up on the signals your body is sending out, says Palmer-Tweed. Defensive body language, such as crossing your arms or legs, clenching your hands or frowning will send out negative messages about how you are feeling and could make your class respond to you in an equally negative way. Adopting an open, relaxed posture can make you look confident, even if youre feeling tense. Lovewell says that to project a confident and capable aura, you should stand strong and straight while at the same time relaxing the tension in your body. She suggests using a breathe and smile technique take a deep breath and then smile as you breathe out to help you feel calm. Smiles project confidence, even if youve a thousand butterflies leaping around in your stomach, she adds.

Dont rush around

When youre feeling under pressure it is tempting to rush around the classroom, but this will signal to your students that youre anxious and not in control. It creates a tense atmosphere that students will pick up on and they may then become anxious themselves, she says. To maintain a positive physical presence in the classroom, Stanley advises that you should move around the classroom in a purposeful way. Avoid rushing and moving awkwardly by thinking about where you want to move to, targeting definite places and positions , and also taking time during lessons to stand still to deliver important messages to the class, he advises.

Make the most of classroom space

Using classroom space effectively will help you to develop your presence as a teacher and to manage student behaviour. Thinking about where you can gain the most presence in the room at different points during the lesson will help it to go smoothly, says Stanley. To grab students attention at the start of a class he warns against turning your back on them. Dont do chalk and talk wh en you begin a class. Instead, plan an activity that will immediately engage them, he explain s. Although it may be tempting to stand behind a desk to create authority in the classroom, this can create an us-and-them atmosphere, suggests Wood. You need to share your knowledge with students, which isnt always possible if you are constantly leading from the front, she says. Desks could be arranged in a horseshoe shape so that you can move easily around the class. This approach allows you to sometimes teach students from the back of the class and also to monitor their behaviour, including those who are not on task. Effective use of space in the classroom also involves distributing your attention fairly between students. While it is tempting to ignore disruptive pupils and give your attention to those who are engaged with the lesson, you need to make time for all those in your class. Teaching observations are an ideal opportunity to make sure all students are getting a fair share of your attention, advises Wood. If someone is observing you, dont be afraid to ask them to look at how you could improve your presence in the classroom, such as where youre standing at different times during the lesson, and if your attentions are being fairly distributed between those who want to learn, and those who are less willing, says Wood.

Useful links
Teacher Support Network, charity that provides emotional and practical advice to training, serving and retired teachers.