In my profession, I have worked with first-year teachers, seasoned teachers, and teachers in between and have noticed one common thread – struggles with classroom management. This is not to say that all of the teachers I have worked with have classroom management issues – instead what I’m saying is that when I see issues in a classroom, or ask a teacher what their biggest struggle is, classroom management is usually at the top of the list.
When I see classroom management issues, I can usually see the reasons for it. It isn’t always about procedures and it isn’t always about whether the teacher has prepared a meaningful lesson that will reasonably take the whole class period to complete. Often, it has so much more to do with the way the teacher interacts with his/her students.
I’d like to point out the three most important things (in my opinion) to consider when examining the reasons behind classroom management issues:
1. Like children. We all got into this profession, hopefully, because we wanted to make a difference in the lives of children. However, I have seen teachers who clearly do not like kids. Whether they have always disliked youngsters or whether they have become burnt out and resent them, the result is always the same – constant battles between students who are keenly aware of their teacher’s dislike for them and the teachers who are just counting the minutes until class is over.
If you find yourself in a position where you are quick to make statements like “kids nowadays have no respect” or “teenagers are just a bag of hormones” – you may want to step back and see your students for what they are – young versions of the adults you and others will influence them to be. Young people are all the hope and possibilities contained in our futures, wrapped up in little bodies and brains that are (or can be) excited into wonder. Be in awe of them as they walk in your door. Smile at the realization that you have been given one more class period to be a part of who that child will be for the rest of his/her life.
2. Have clean slates. I’m not talking about making sure to clean your whiteboards or chalkboards, I’m talking about wiping clean the slate in your brain that says “Johnny always gives me trouble” or “Susan never has her books”. This slate absolutely must be clean every single time a student walks in your door. If you are remembering Julio acting up during yesterday’s class while he is trying to answer the question you just asked, you will react differently to his answer than you would if you had wiped the slate clean. It is so important that each new day is truly new – that our students understand that if they made a mistake yesterday, it will not be held against them today. If you tend to hold grudges, or predict how your “troublemakers” are going to react, the result will be constant battles with specific students which quite possibly could be because of your own influence.
3. Think about the big picture. I have witnessed teachers spending many precious minutes of instructional time enforcing rules that have no bearing on the potential for learning in that classroom. If I have a rule that says my students cannot chew gum in my class, and it takes me the first five minutes of class each day to make students spit their gum out, I’ve just placed gum as the most important thing in that classroom for the day. We all know it is going to take longer than five minutes in a secondary classroom, because students who are subject to rules that make no sense to them will stretch those rules to see how far they can go. I’m using gum as an example, but what I want you to do is take a look at the rules you have in place – are they really necessary? Did you just add this one because the teacher next door has it on her list? Does it really matter if Tanya has a pierced lip?
Ask yourself: Does this affect the ability of students in my classroom to learn? If the answer is yes, then it must be a part of the rules you enforce in your classroom. If the answer is no, choose your battles wisely, because it is very easy for us to make a small situation much worse and demand much more time than is warranted. When working with teenagers, this is especially important because when they are in your classroom and you think they are thinking about other things, they are often considering the reasoning behind the rules and the reasoning behind the assignment you just gave them. If they cannot “buy in” to why they have to comply, they won’t, and some of those students will turn nonsensical rules and irrelevant assignments into the miserable hours of disciplinary issues that some teachers face daily.
I’m not trying to say that procedures should get thrown out the door. Obviously, there must be procedures in a day of learning that has so much in it and so little time. These tips are just a way to think about classroom management AFTER you have the procedures in place and are still struggling.
Take a look at your style from an outsider perspective. Then take a look at it from a student perspective. Reflect on those perspectives and make the changes necessary to provide the best learning environment for your students. You will go home at night much less stressed and there is a bonus – you will build stronger relationships with your students.