As the school year begins, it is important to outline teaching goals for yourself. Each year brings with it a brand-new group of sparkling eyes, open minds, and unique challenges. Though we all could daydream of a class that sits quietly engaged with endless creativity and kindness, that is not always the case. In fact, it rarely is. I have tried many classroom management techniques throughout the years. Some have worked, even just for a day or two, and some have backfired horribly!
For example, I heard that with overactive kids, it can sometimes make them feel productive and responsible if you give them a task or job to focus on. They’ll be so happy and feel so important that their poor behavior will change before your very eyes. I tried this my first year of teaching with a student… we’ll call him Fred.
Fred was a restless boy who was always antagonizing everyone at his art table. It was to the point where the students sitting with him were growing more and more tense and anxious every art class. I decided that it was crucial to get him up and moving and give his classmates a little break, so I gave him a “job.” I asked him if he’d like to help the room and clean the paint brushes in the sink for me. He was so excited to do this and his face lit up with pride. Mine did too. I showed Fred that I valued him, gifted his classmates with a respite from the stress, and got a little work done at the same time. Teacher Win!
I glanced over at him from time to time and he was diligently completing the task and was very focused on his new responsibility. I could not believe how hard he was working. I thanked him when it was time to leave and he beamed a smile back at me. When the class left for lunch, I patted myself on the back for being an amazing teacher and went over to the sink to get the clean brushes for the next group.
What I found there was not a container filled with sparkly clean bristles, but a massacre. Maybe one of the reasons Fred looked as though he was so focused was because he had quietly used a stolen pair of scissors to cut all the bristles from the brushes and they were scattered in a hairy mess in the sink basin. Not only that, but he had snapped all the wooden handles into no more than four pieces each and scattered the shrapnel as well. I had been played. Fred – 1, Teacher – 0.
Not all students are like Fred, but some are and it is up to us to figure out what works for each one so that they are successful in our classrooms. I have come a long way since the days of Fred and I believe that the best classroom management advice I can give is to keep it structured, doable, and calm.
Keep it Structured
Close your eyes for a minute and picture in your head what you would like your classroom to look like and how you would want it to run. Then work backward. To have this happen, what routines will you need to put in place so students understand expectations? This should include everything from how to enter and exit the room, how to sit in their chairs during work time, how materials are collected or passed out, and how to ask questions or get your attention.
Routines must be taught. It might seem cumbersome, but it’ll save many headaches in the future when you are clear and stay consistent.
During the first few weeks, focus on these routines and walk them through even easiest of tasks by demonstrating, modeling, and practicing. Provide positive feedback and revisit problem areas.
Chunk the different routines so that students are not overwhelmed. In middle and high school, students travel to many classrooms during the day and each one is different. It must be overwhelming and it is unrealistic to expect that they will remember all that you require. That does not mean that you should just throw up your hands and question your objective. It simply means that you should be compassionate with your criticism and demonstrate again what your routines look like in practice.
The first day of class, I walk them through the routines when they happen. I say things like, “When you walk into the room, sit quietly at your table and show me that you’re ready to begin. What does that mean? What am I looking for as a teacher?”
The following day, I will let them come in naturally and observe what happens. If they come in after sprinting down the hall, bumble into their seats, and immediately begin gossiping with their tablemates, I will stand at the front of the room quietly and wait. Eventually they quiet down. This is usually prompted by a conscience students saying, “Guys, she’s waiting!” Then I will ask the students to tell me what the routine is for entering the classroom. After that, we practice again. We go out into the hall and return to the room using the routine that has been introduced.
Eventually, this will become second nature. Teaching routines seems so tedious, but believe me, it will create an ease in your classroom and make everything run much smoother in the long run.
Keep it Doable
Some classrooms have great success with their good-looking behavior charts with clips, stickers, color coded warnings, etc.
As an art teacher, I see many different classes a day and by the time they are in middle school, most students have seen so many behavior charts and warning systems that they are over it. I find that they are difficult to keep up with and I have set an expectation that I cannot follow through on. It demeans my credibility from the start.
You must know what kind of teacher you are and if this system is something you can implement effectively and consistently. I am not one of those teachers. So, instead I keep it super simple. I try to create an environment wherein all students feel comfortable learning, trying new things, and one they want to be in. By having good relationships with each student, it allows me the opportunity to talk with them one-on-one and realize what they require.
I also have a very clear and concise consequence system. I stick to it and show them that I am committed to providing them with the structure they need to learn and I care about holding everyone accountable for their actions. Consequences only work if you are willing to follow through on them.
Keep it Calm
I tend to get over excited about the smallest of things. I just love what I do and I’m often so jazzed about our content that I can get overwhelming. Being this way can excite students about the content, but it can also overstimulate some to the point where they can no longer focus on learning.
It is unfair to ramp up a group of students and then yell at them to be quiet. That makes no sense. So, I have tried to channel my exuberance into a positive Zen state. I remain calm on the outside even if I am bubbling over on the inside. I feel that my enthusiasm will come out anyway, but in a more controlled way. It also helps to not appear stressed and frazzled. It looks as though I am in control and that students can trust me. I wait calmly and silently until the room quiets down and bodies stop wiggling and then I speak in a kind, but soothing tone. I can literally feel the room relax.
All teachers are different and all students react to different classroom management techniques. But I try to stick to these main 3 even if I veer off from time to time to help individual students with specific needs. Try it this school year. Remember to keep it structured, doable, and calm.
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