Classroom Truths Part II: 8 More Survival Tactics


This is part 2 of a two part blog on teacher hints toward being successful at the front of the room.  Take a look at Part I: Classroom Truths: Realities & Useful Hints and tell me what you think.

1) Allow fresh starts. Some teachers will read students’ files to get a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses before the first day’s school bells ever ring.

Instead I publicly announce to my students on the first day that I do no such thing unless warranted. I also don’t seek prior teachers’ thoughts on my incoming class. Allow me to explain why.

I want students to have a fresh start within my classroom’s walls. If they had fantastic years in the past… I tell them I hope that will continue, and if they’ve had a poor showing, it is now their opportunity to make a change. Does this work? I’ve had some great successes in which students have a banner year within my classroom yet can also recall students in which there was no change from previous year’s antics. Regardless, I stick to the premise that everyone is due an opportunity without preconceived notions.

2) Be open to criticism. No, I’m not referring to one’s supervisor but to one’s students.

I have the “parking lot” bulletin board in my room divided into four parts: positives / things you liked, things you would change, notes to me, and questions. So of course they like to share notes (it’s amazing what they will tell you about what occurs in the bathroom or in the cafeteria) and things they would like to change. I hear all about what I did that they didn’t like. It’s an opportunity to teach the importance of sharing positives — complimenting, doing something nice just because.

If a student thinks I am being unfair, I am open to hearing their complaint if done respectfully. Early on we discuss how to respectfully comment when we feel like we’ve been treated unfairly. It’s yet another skill worthy of developing in young people.

3) Know what button to push — this isn’t intended negatively nor does the knowledge come the first day as I mention above.

Sometimes a student needs a figurative push, sometimes they need their space. Sometimes they need to answer a difficult question, sometimes an easy one. Sometimes a quiet one-on-one conversation is best, other times a public word of encouragement or refocus is more effective.

As I write this, I immediately recall my classroom management class many years ago. I don’t know if my professor would like my approaches, but I will respond by sharing this. They don’t teach you in “teacher school” how to motivate students — whether toward academic success or excellent behavior. It’s yet another skill that teachers have to develop.

Taking into account their style and personality a teacher has to figure out what works for them. I should also mention this: the button to push changes from student to student, from day to day, from subject to subject, and sometimes… from hour to hour.

4) Use “the look” or “the tone” sparingly. These tools don’t work if you’ve worn them out.

5) Raise the bar. Convince students that they can achieve success in the classroom. At the beginning of the year I ask students whether they want a fair & tough teacher or unfair & easy. They always choose the fair option although it comes with difficulty.

After a few weeks I share with my students a “secret” — my tests are tougher than the state assessment. This tough standard might not look as good on the report card initially but the thought processes involved equate to success in so many other ways.

6) Stress Character. If students understand that your decisions regarding what you’ll accept in the classroom are based on a core set of values, they will understand (whether they want to or not) where you’ll draw the line in the sand.

7) Whisper when you want to be heard — students will wonder why you’re whispering.

8) Allow a student to be the teacher — students’ word selection and the unusual nature of them being at the front of the room might just convey what you couldn’t.

8) Lastly, the longer I teach the more I realize how much I’ve been affected by my first year as a teacher. Depending on whether you were supported and had excellent mentors, or not, that year sets a precedence for your success and student expectations. I was very fortunate to have a team committed to helping me survive my first year… and want to return to do it all over again.

I wish all teachers had the same experience I did but know that many didn’t… perhaps this will be good material for the next blog.

I hope you found these useful to you.  Please share your “secrets” below – I look forward to adding more to mine.


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