It doesn’t matter what you teach or how amazing you are at knowing the subject.
If students regularly take over your room. You’ve got no classroom management.
To me, it’s what teacher nightmares are made of. Paper airplanes flying from the hands of students standing atop desks. Laughing at your best efforts while you try in vain to regain control. The mockery of all the time you’ve spent wanting to teach them. The look of panic in the teacher’s eyes as they cradle their head in their hands.
Makes me break out into a cold sweat.
It doesn’t and shouldn’t have to be this way.
It’s not hard to understand that having no classroom management equals the end of learning in your room.
Here are seven strategies to help you maintain order because once the door closes and it’s just you and your students, it can quickly be a scary place if you haven’t thought through how you will maintain order.
1) Find the happy medium between too strict and too lackadaisical.
Over a decade ago I prepared for my first week as the new teacher. I was nervous. I had done all the lesson planning possible, I even had lessons in case I finished my lessons. I was still nervous.
Years before in my first year at Redford University I had decided I wanted no part in teaching. I didn’t want to spend my days telling my students to be quiet. If only I had stayed the course and learned that it doesn’t have to be that way.
And here I sat the Saturday before school started worried that I had made the wrong decision to return to teaching after many years working in higher education.
I sought out the most experienced teacher on my team for help. What she said still resonates. She shared this.
The teacher who is strict or too lenient will fail as a teacher.
Every teacher needs to find that happy medium that works for them. Some of us are more comfortable with groups who are talkative and occasionally loud while others have zero tolerance. You have to determine that comfort level.
I tell my students that I don’t expect them to be soldiers. To be frank, I don’t want soldiers.
Students are little people with history, family heartache and worries. Each with a story, an individual. I don’t want them in lock step as they march toward the cafeteria.
I do however expect them to do their best in following our classroom and school rules. And that’s when I remind them of the following…
2) Three rules: Does it keep me from teaching, keep you the student from learning, or keep other students from learning?
When one of these happens, we don’t learn.
These three questions are simple to remember and can quickly be brought up when students have “forgotten” right from wrong.
Additionally these three remind me that the restless student who learns and doesn’t keep others from learning doesn’t need be redirected. He’s just fine fidgeting in the back of the room constantly standing behind his desk.
It also reminds me to constantly be on the lookout for those whose number one priority is to get the attention of everyone around them.
3) Be Consistently Fair.
Early on in the year I ask my students to make a choice: Do they want an easy and unfair teacher OR do they want a fair teacher that expects them to learn?
I give them an example or two of what those two teachers might look like.
One of them can’t be trusted to do the fair thing from one day to the next versus the other teacher who might be tough, but you also know he’ll be fair.
From their reaction I can tell that most students haven’t been given a choice. It’s the beginning of what I consider building a relationship of trust based on fairness.
4) Start with being predictably consistent.
When students are loud, follow with a consequence. When students get up without asking, follow up with a consequence. When students aren’t doing what you’ve expected of them, reiterate the consequence… by giving a consequence. You have to be that person.
Do what you said you would. Be predictable and be consistent.
5) Continue to unpredictability and continue to demonstrate fairness.
And now that you’re predictable… students have gotten bored.
They understand how the classroom game is played. They know exactly what you will say when they stop following your rules. They know your consequences because you’ve given them before and they know what to expect. They are no longer surprised.
This is when you need to be fair, but a bit unpredictable.
You’ve no doubt heard about having tools in your toolbox.
This is when you need to be creative in order to reach that student.
Instead of mixing it up a bit, some teachers will chase the student into the principal’s office immediately. Won’t they be returned to you in short order? Perhaps even within an hour? Then what?
It’s why you can’t treat all students the same.
Yes, I said can’t.
6) The consequences are different because students are different — by day, by hour, by subject, by the moment.
Our students are human and as such, every day will be different. We hope that the majority of days will be good. Of course they won’t be.
If the student that arrives every morning into your classroom with a smile and then one day you notice as soon as he enters your room that he’s having an off day, that’s to be expected. It’s time to console and lend an ear.
If a student interrupts your lesson every day, quarrels with her peers and keeps others from learning – then that’s a choice she’s making. It’s time to change the consequences and reiterate that your name is on the door – you’re the teacher.
One is having a bad day. One is choosing to ruin everyone else’s day.
Why would you treat them the same?
In my first year when each day was a challenge I hadn’t experienced, one of my students thought a great deal of himself. He acted like he was in high school at the tender age of 10 and no matter what I said about my expectations, nothing sunk in. He was rude to me and others. He wanted no part of learning. When he had an all day writing prompt, he gave me a paragraph within a half an hour claiming that was the best he could do.
His mom had already conferenced with me and was equally disappointed with him.
In fact mom had come into my room one afternoon and grabbed her son by his jacket lapels and started screaming. And what did my colleagues do who had been waiting with me in my room?
They left me, mom and the student in my room as if the fire bell had gone off.
Yes, mom was frustrated. So with his mother’s approval we began a new consequence. It was then that I introduced the concept of the do-over day.
Each day, if I felt like his day fell below my expectations, I would walk him back from the bus loop to the classroom as the buses left. As you might imagine, it left quite the impression. My student went from disruptive and defiant to the type of student I looked forward to seeing each morning.
Was he awesome in every way? No. He was however now doing his best. It took four days of staying after school with him before he realized I was serious about giving his best effort.
By thinking about how to change your consequence beyond a call home, you are reaffirming that your classroom is a place of learning. I will add that on the state writing assessments, he performed at the advanced level.
7) The first week is crucial. CRUCIAL!
Lastly, if you don’t draw the line in the sand the first day about your expectations, you will never reel them back in. Convey to those entrusted in your care the very first day or you will chase them for the rest of the year. There is no going back. There is no do over.
You don’t need to be the teacher that gets mad at the noise and chaos.
With some thought and reflection, your class can be one in which everyone understands your expectations and you can spend more time enjoying your time together instead of wishing the day over.
What do you do in leading your students?
Please share in the comments below. I’d very much like to add to my toolbox of approaches.