Teaching will take the little boy (or girl) right outta ya.
If you are a teacher and if you are anything like me, chances are that you waltzed into your classroom the first year with delusions of grandeur. I had visions of Robin Williams dancing in my head, and chants of “oh captain my captain” perpetually ringing in my ear. I thought I’d revolutionize the school, confront the principals, and show the ol fuddie duddies a thing or two.
Go ahead and laugh. Reality is kinda funny, you know.
In the process of eating humble pie, I’ve learned a thing or two about classroom management. I am not a Jedi by any stretch (I don’t think the mindtrick will EVER work on a 9th grader.), but hopefully the following list will give some perspective to both newbies and seasoned vets.
10) An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s a cliche, but oh so true. You’ve gotta have a plan B, C, D….ZZ, etc. Basically, make sure your lessons are well thought out. There will always be some idiot out there that lives to ruin your plans. Sometimes, its an administrator or another teacher, not necessarily a student. When you write up the lesson, think, “How could Larry, the jackleg fool in the back corner, possibly ruin the lesson?” Anticipate and have something to “cut him off at the pass.”
9) Body language speaks more than spoken language. Thanks to Fred Jones for hammering this into my head. He says, “it takes one fool to open his mouth, two to make a conversation out of it.” So true. Larry talks back, and you have an option: keep silent or enter into the fray. What do you think Larry wants?
“Looking” a student back to work while fully facing him (as opposed to you just looking at him with your feet pointed in the other direction) is much better than verbally nagging (what Jones calls “pheasant posturing”). Proximity won’t work all the time, but it sure beats squawking incessantly only to have the student go back to being a nuisance.
You must have the eyes of an assassin (figuratively!) .
Jones has more here.
8) Structure, structure, structure! The more specific procedures you have, the less you will have to spend energy on discipline. The procedures will do the “heavy lifting” for you. Students want to know that there are boundaries and rules. This keeps the stress level low.
7) There is no such thing as “sometimes consistent.” If you say something, follow through….period. Sometimes you must actively follow through for quite some time before the procedure becomes “natural.” If you put a procedure in place, you must enforce it with draconian consistency, because students will be confused if you don’t. The fools in the room will also take a mile out of that inch you give. Almost everytime I’ve wavered on a specific rule, the next time I actually enforce it, my students act as if I’ve never had that rule before. I know what they are up to, but it’s a headache I don’t need. (thanks again, Jones)
An example in my class is cell phone and IPOD use. Every time I announce the rules, I know darn well someone will soon choose to call me on it. Sure enough, within the hour, someone has out a cell phone. When I confiscate it, they look at me like I just slapped them. With IPODs, they’ll usually say something like, “I wasn’t listening to it, I just had my headphones out.” Whatever. I’m not interested in being an IPOD use Pharisee and writing a Torah for Teaching; if I listen, I’ll end up making a thousand different rules about what counts as an infraction..another headache I don’t need, so just give me the contraption and lets be done with it. I can’t enter into those conversations. It’s suicide if I back down and just tell them to “put it away.”
It usually takes a month or two of me following through every time before they really “get it.”
Bottom line: talk is cheap.
6) The more students are active in the room, the fewer discipline issues you will have. A current catchphrase in education is “bell to bell work.” It really helps. If they start working as soon as they enter and don’t stop until they leave, not only does that minimize time for idle hands to get in trouble, but it sends them a strong message about the kind of teacher you are.
5) Calm is strength; anger is weakness. Only use anger in the rare and absolutely necessary circumstance. Most of the time, when you get angry, it’s entertaining to the students. Best not to give indulgence to the entertainment bug.
4) It’s ok to be hard on students. Really, it is. Sometimes we teachers have a soft spot for youngsters. We think that if we push them it will somehow damage their psyches. Not so. When I was a wrestler, I felt like cursing out my coach on the 25th or 30th sprint after practice. But, I felt like thanking him when it was overtime in a “season-in-the-balance” match and I still had gas left in the tank. My opponent wasn’t going to go easy on me; why should my coach?
The same applies in the classroom. If they think I’m tough, wait until they get to college. Wait until they have a boss. Wait until they have a spouse to love or a family to raise. Reality has a way of being pretty unforgiving. If we shield them from that now by blunting the force of consequence, that only increases the hardship later.
3) In the end, you have yourself to rely upon in your classroom. Sometimes you can get a few colleagues to help out, but learn to rely upon your own tools to get the job done. If you lean on administrators or security guards too much, they will let you down time and again. The administrator will be busy. The security guard won’t arrive. No one will answer the phone in the office. The counselor is with another student. You don’t want to have that sinking feeling in your gut as the teacher in each of those instances.
2) Environment can torpedo your management. Seriously! You need to be able to get to every student within a few steps. This is critical because the students most likely to goof off are the ones furthest from you. The longer it takes you to get to them, the more the goofing off will spread. If you have the typical desk arrangement of 5-6 straight rows, it can be quite difficult to reach these students. There are other desk arrangements that allow you greater mobility. You can see a few in by reading this book (cautionary note: Jones is a behaviorist. Best that your overall teaching philosophy doesn’t start and stop with his views. Still, he can give some good strategies for beginning teachers to manage problems…that’s the reason why I’m referencing him so profusely in this post).
1) Idle hands are the devil’s handiwork, and a long, 30 minute lecture is his Siren’s song. Nothing will give a student ants in the pants like a bunch of information thrown at him. Not only will he forget it immediately (we can only process a very, very, small chunk of verbal information at a time), but he’ll tune out and start looking for something distracting to do. When you give a lesson, make sure you are allowing the students to interact with the information with their classmates every few minutes or so. Several cycles of “say, see, do” teaching goes a long way in this vein (more here, here, and here).
Basically, students hate to be bored, so don’t bore them! Give them something to do. For many boys, something to do in the kinesthetic realm is a must. Yes, sometimes life is boring, and students must learn to deal with this. Also, our job is not to entertain them, but to teach them. But that doesn’t mean your classroom has to be boring. I sometimes think we overdo it on the boredom scale just because its easier for us…don’t get me started on this one.
Teachers, what other tips can you add?
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