New teachers struggle with many aspects of the job: learning countless names, trying not to go to the toilet, writing clearly on whiteboards. However, one of the most consistent struggles for new teachers is managing poor behaviour. Just how many people struggle on a given day? A year ago, we set out to find out. Our app, Teacher Tapp, gives daily surveys to teachers across England (and many other countries). Each day at 3.30pm, their phones ping and they answer three short questions before seeing the daily results and getting a recommended read. Last September we decided to track behaviour in the last lesson of the week. Among new teachers, over half said that teaching and learning was interrupted in their final lesson of the week due to poor behaviour. This was markedly different to feelings found among those in the profession for over 20 years: their rate was just 20 per cent. Behaviour management is therefore a huge deal for teachers in the early stages of their career (Teacher Tapp, nd).
Inexperience obviously contributes to this, but it’s not the only factor. In schools with inconsistently implemented behaviour policies, more lessons are reported to be disrupted. Considering that new teachers are more often working in schools rated as ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’, and we have found that these are also the schools with less rigorously enforced policies, one can see that it’s not just newness causing the higher rates of behaviour problems but also the environments in which new teachers are more likely to operate.
Does any of this matter, though? Every new teacher who ever joined the profession has gone through such initiation, so why be concerned now? With an ever-increasing teacher shortage in England – due to a toxic combination of demographics and low wages relative to other graduate professions – there really isn’t room to lose a single new teacher, let alone the third that currently go within five years (Teacher Tapp, 2018a). Alas, while a link between poor behaviour and teacher retention is not confirmed, our survey data also reveals that the new teachers who experience behavioural problems in their last lesson of the week are also much more likely to be concerned about disruption on Sunday evenings. If half of new teachers spend their evenings worrying about work, it’s no wonder so many leave. It’s simply not worth the hassle when there are many other jobs that teachers’ skills qualify them to do. Of course, anxiety about the job may be due to a variety of reasons, including poor management. But we found that 64 per cent of teachers in the teaching role for less than a year were specifically dreading lessons due to poor behaviour (Teacher Tapp, nd).
Nevertheless, while all of this sounds gloomy, there was a strange upside in the results. When Teacher Tapp gave its users the option to select between two schools, one with shorter working hours but disruptive behaviour, and one with perfect behaviour but longer work hours, guess what the new teachers selected? The one with the worse behaviour (Teacher Tapp, 2018b)! Is this part of a millennial preference for shorter working days? Perhaps what new teachers really want is more free time. Indeed, NFER research has found that most teachers are satisﬁed with their jobs and income, but only 47 per cent say that they are satisﬁed with their leisure time. This further supports the idea that long working hours are likely to be contributing to fewer teachers making it through a full career in an increasingly demanding profession (Worth et al., 2018).
To add even more fuel to the ﬁre, Teacher Tapp research has also found that younger teachers tended to choose schools with more challenging behaviours in which to work. In part, these jobs are less competitive, because it’s harder for the schools to attract more experienced teachers. But it also appears to be the case that newer teachers genuinely prefer to work with more challenging behaviour, while a taste for teaching those with good behaviour grows over time. This all seems to imply that there are far more things that new teachers value over good behaviour. For instance, in regard to what they most dreaded, new teachers also showed serious worries over lesson observations (Teacher Tapp, 2018b).
So what are the solutions for helping newer teachers? As of January 2019, the Department for Education’s retention strategy stresses ‘transforming support for early career teachers’ as one of its five main priorities. The proposal pledges a funded two-year support package for all new teachers, and mandates more training, including in behaviour methods. It also includes a dedicated mentor and a reduced timetable for the first two years of teaching – as opposed to just one. At the very least, this should mean more time to follow up on poor behaviour while it is still persistent in new teachers’ classrooms.
Being a new teacher is always challenging, but the data shows us that if you’re having behaviour problems then you are not alone and, on the upside, it does get easier. Furthermore, if you’re just coming into teaching, it could be the best-supported time ever. Congratulations on your choice – it’s a great job.