Classroom management is BY FAR every new teacher’s biggest struggle. They may have had success when they were borrowing someone else’s class during student teaching, but when faced with their own, it can be daunting. Despite the tips and tricks taught in pre-service preparation programs, most new teachers still feel woefully unprepared for dealing with student behaviors. In Part 1 of this 2-part series, I discuss how to get in the right mindset for classroom management, as well as how to craft a solid classroom management plan.
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Today on episode 73, its part 1 of a 2-part series on classroom management. This is by far all new teachers’ biggest struggle, so I’m going to break it down for you into manageable parts.
With the school year right around the corner (or maybe for some of you, it’s already started), you really need to have your classroom management solid. This is a topic that many new teachers struggle with, and since it’s a complex topic, I felt that it should be split into two episodes.
Classroom management isn’t so much about discipline, rules, and consequences as much as it is about preventing negative behaviors from arising in the first place. If you think about it, it’s like our health. It’s easier and cheaper to prevent illness rather than treating it. So if you set the right learning environment and have positive relationships with ALL students, students are less likely to misbehave or try to push those boundaries.
For some of our toughest students, they struggle to read, write, and do math or just hate it altogether. They channel this frustration and shame into negative behaviors as a coping mechanism. They’ll also stonewall or refuse to work because they don’t want other students to know that they’re not capable. In their mind, you can’t criticize their work nor will they come off as stupid if they haven’t given you anything to criticize.
Once they fall behind, it obviously gets tougher for them, so they start really making them part of their coping mechanism of the mindset. Reading and writing have most likely been boring for a lot of your students. Math won’t make sense at all.
On the flip side, they could also be completely bored out of their minds and act up to entertain themselves. Both situations suck for you as the teacher.
Unless the right conditions are set, these factors will lead to more students misbehaving or checking out in your class. In this two-part series, I’m going to dive into both mindset and practical aspects of classroom management. As you’re listening, I want you to think about your own interactions with students, the policies that have been passed down from others that you’ve tried out, and how to create a system that works with your own personality and teaching style.
Let’s start with mindset.
In order to figure out what kind of classroom management plan you want, you have to first learn everything you can about child development for the students you teach and use it to frame how you handle your classroom. Your expectations have to be in line with what can be expected of them. This means that you’ll have to work with younger kids on impulse control and with older students on being responsible.
There are a lot of articles, blog posts, podcasts, and books about kids at that age. Research and take notes on key points that could affect how they behave in class. Don’t skimp on this part, especially if you’re new to teaching a certain grade because it’s key to your classroom management plan.
So once you have a working knowledge of what your students are going through at that age, you’ll know what behaviors to expect. What, then, does your ideal classroom look like? If you expect a group of 35 middle school students to sit quietly and be completely engaged in your lesson for 60 minutes, you’ll be disappointed on a daily basis. If students tapping, squirming while sitting on the ground, and random outbursts annoy you, then you need to find a way to get past that if you teach elementary. You have to take what is normal for their age, combine it with what students need to learn and determine how you’ll communicate your expectations to them.
For example, a lot of 7th graders hate drawing attention to themselves. That’s why so many of them don’t want to raise their hand to volunteer in class. So with that in mind, I have policies that allow them to be more subtle when they need something. If they need to go to the bathroom, they just cross their fingers and hold it up and patiently wait for me to make eye contact and nod at them. No discussion is needed, no interruption of the lesson and they’re eternally grateful that they didn’t have to raise their hand. If they need a tissue to blow their nose, they don’t need to ask. It doesn’t bother me if they get up because the rest of us are so engaged in the lesson. Plus, if they ask to get a tissue, then people’s attention is on that student walking to the tissue box and listening to them blow their nose.
Younger students enjoy and are receptive to call and response. Something like “clap once if you hear me, clap twice if you hear me,” or putting the peace sign in the air, maybe saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m waiting for quiet,” those work really well with younger students. Older students find it cheesy and are less likely to respond without a good dose of sarcasm and eye-rolling.
When it comes to transitions between activities, what can you reasonably expect? If you did direct instruction for 30 minutes, your students will most likely talk during a transition. It’s okay – let them empty the cup a bit. With elementary students, you’ll probably have to show them specific routines in terms of how to take out certain supplies, where to put them on their desk, etc. With secondary students, they need less hand-holding and will actually be annoyed if they feel like you’re nagging them.
Engagement and classroom management go hand-in-hand
In episode 70, I discuss the importance of being an engaging teacher. This is important because when you’re engaging, and students are engaged, you’ll have far fewer problems. So if you want more information on how to not only make your lessons engaging but also deliver them in an engaging way, check out episode70.
One of the many reasons why students misbehave is boredom. They already know what you’re teaching or are so confused and don’t want to ask. But if your student engaging is high, they won’t have as many opportunities to be disruptive.
This doesn’t mean that you have to be bouncing off the walls and hyper to entertain students. We’re not here to keep them entertained, and not everything has to be fun. But your delivery and content should be engaging enough that they want to pay attention and work with their group. If you’re quiet, meek, and monotone, then even the best student will space out and stop listening. So making the material rigorous and relevant to students is key.
Coming up with a plan
Now that you know what to expect from your students at this age, you need to decide your classroom management plan. This includes your rules and consequences.
When we think of rules, we can’t help but think of the things students SHOULDN’T be doing. I mean, in our minds we can picture all of the behaviors that we DON’T want to see, right?
But you want your rules to be about the things that they SHOULD do so that learning can happen in a safe and caring (and dare I say FUN) environment. You want a rule to be phrased in such a way that it’s obvious that by not following it we can’t get on with the fun stuff and learning.
You’ve probably already heard this, but you also want to make your rules apply to multiple situations in that you want the rules to blanket a lot of different behaviors. And you have to think about your own teaching philosophy and craft rules around that.
For example, something as simple as respect yourself, others, and learning encompasses so many possible scenarios. If a student answers out loud without raising their hand, they’re not respecting others and learning. Same goes if they’re talking to a student across the room. Or if a student is eating or chewing gum in class, they’re not respecting others or learning.
Come prepared to learn is another simple rule that can apply to multiple situations such as bringing your materials, staying awake in class, doing your homework on time, studying for tests, etc.
You can also make a specific rule such as only water is allowed to be consumed. I do this one because I don’t want any food or colored drinks in my class. We have an ant problem in our school, and even one crumb will bring on a hundred ants!
So now you have your rules. What will happen when one of these rules is broken?
You want to really think about this because whatever you choose, you MUST enforce it, even if it’s broken RIGHT AFTER you explain the rule.
If you’ve ever seen a consequence in action that made you cringe, don’t use it. If you felt sorry for a student after a consequence, don’t use it. If you felt like it was fair and effective, then use it.
Most teachers start out with a verbal warning or giving the “teacher look.” You want to explain to students that this is their ONLY time to fix the problem before you start implementing consequences.
Why only one warning? Well, how many times do you want to stop instruction for this student? If they see that they get multiple warnings, they’ll keep acting up until they’ve used those all up. So you have to be clear about this, and more importantly – STICK TO IT.
What happens the second time? That’s up to you. For younger students, a timeout situation tends to work as long as it’s not too lengthy. If you give a student a timeout, it helps to follow up with a discussion in that timeout, otherwise, a timeout inadvertently is a reward.
For secondary, I’ve found that relocating them helps. You might want to consider having an empty seat near the back where they can go and not try to be the center of attention. This also allows you to have a private conversation with them once you get the class working.
Whenever I have to relocate a student, I keep track of it. If I’m having to do this several times a week, I make sure to inform the parent. You don’t want to give them detention or send them to the office without any warning – that’s a sure way to ruin any chance of working with them or having them cooperate!
Some teachers assign daily points for behavior and deduct those for each infraction. Others have students write a reflection sheet. Some have students stay in during recess or lunch. Whatever you choose, be consistent and fair. If you know that a certain consequence makes you uncomfortable or you come up with reasons why THIS instance doesn’t count, then it’s not a good consequence.
You want to make sure that you’re aware of any school policies when it comes to discipline. You want to follow all of the protocols before a student is ever sent to an administrator. This usually means dealing with it in-house and talking to the parent. You don’t want to send a student to your administrator without having contacted the parent first – otherwise, the parent will be angry that you never told them, and your administrator will resent you for putting them on the spot like that. It ends up being doubly bad.
When thinking of possible consequences, make sure they have equal weight as the infraction. For example, if a student talks out of turn twice, that’s probably not grounds for lunch detention. However, if a student hits another student (even in a joking way) or throws something across the room, a verbal warning may not be enough.
If you’re at a loss in terms of what your classroom management plan should be, ask other teachers on your team or that teach your grade. Go on social media and ask your tribe. Be aware that some of their policies can be on the extreme of lenient or draconian, but it’ll give you an idea of what others are using successfully.
Also, if you observe a teacher that has amazing classroom management in the same style as yours, pick their brains, even if they teach another grade or subject! Find out what they’re doing, how they teach students their policies, what has and hasn’t worked…all of it!
When you’re starting out as a teacher, you’re going to try a lot of different systems until you either fine-tune it or find the right one. Be willing to take risks and see what works for you. You’ll also find that both your teaching philosophy and delivery will change over time, so be reflective throughout the process so that you can find something that fits.