Effective classroom management is foundational to student learning, and yet, most teachers enter the classroom entirely unprepared for the reality of “managing” their students. I can readily admit I was clueless, and it made my first year as a teacher really hard. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Read on to discover what I learned that prepared me to take on the challenge of teaching without losing my sanity or drowning in the frustration of challenging student behaviors.
Classroom Management: A Make Or Break Factor
While I can only speak to my own experience, my first year teaching was THE WORST. Like Mona Lisa Saperstein – THE WORST.
Two words: Classroom Management.
It was bad.
On top of (re)learning all the content I had to teach, developing all of my lessons from scratch, and figuring out how to, you know, help my students learn… I was also trying to master classroom management, which NO ONE *REALLY* TAUGHT ME.
Good one, Teacher Training Programs.
It is interesting that the very foundation of our success as teachers — our ability to manage a classroom in order to facilitate learning — is the very thing they DON’T teach you in many teacher training programs. [insert face-smack] As a teacher-in-training, I learned all about assessments and adaptations and instruction, but no one really helped me figure out – how do I “control” these kids!?
Plus, when you consider the fact that science instruction should be very hands-on, student-driven, and… well… potentially pretty messy… you realize, we are NOT setting our teachers up for success.
Hold Up: CLASSROOM CONTROL?
Let’s back up — they really SHOULDN’T be teaching you how to CONTROL the kids anyway – so excuse my use of that term. The goal is to MANAGE your class so you don’t have to CONTROL it.
Yes, you are leading it… so technically it should be under your control. (There shouldn’t be things happening that you don’t really want to happen.) But the goal is actually for your students to “control” themselves with just a little guidance from you as needed.
Again, that’s the goal.
And that’s what they DO NOT teach you.
You learn about assessment, instruction, adaptations, how to fill out forms, what types of questions to ask on tests, and the content knowledge you are supposed to know. You typically don’t really get what you need in terms of classroom management.
And that’s one reason the first few years as a teacher can kinda SUCK.
And it’s probably why lots of teachers leave the profession in their first 5 years. (Confession: I very nearly did.)
This is why MY first year was THE WORST. (Side Note: I’m so glad I didn’t bail! Because I do LOVE this education field, I LOVED teaching, and now I love working with other teachers, sharing all I have learned and supporting their professional journeys!)
Through my experiences my first few years teaching, I developed an understanding of the basic premise of a good classroom management strategy. I did a lot of investigating on my own — reading everything I could about different strategies, exploring what others were doing, and figuring out how to implement those in my own middle and high school classrooms. I was able to then apply that learning in an urban charter school where I taught summer school, and then in a high school science classroom in our local urban district.
Anyway, the gist is that I got pretty good at this seemingly elusive ability to “manage a classroom” — a skill I *totally* failed at my first year.
ALERT: The things I am about to tell you may seem too simple. They may seem like they won’t work. Let me tell you: THEY WILL. They are not always easy to achieve, it may take some time, and you may have to use some trial and error to see what works for YOUR STUDENTS. But in the end, THESE STRATEGIES WORK if you give them a chance.
HOW TO MANAGE A CLASSROOM AND NOT HATE YOUR LIFE
I’m going to break these ideas down into three simple Classroom Management Must-Haves. I’m going to do a quick overview of the three, and then we will dive deeper into an area of expertise I really excelled at: procedures. We’ll look at some SPECIFIC strategies and resources for establishing procedures, specifically in science classrooms.
“Must-Have” One: Build Relationships.
If you are a first-year teacher, you’ve probably heard someone say: DON’T SMILE. DON’T BE NICE. DON’T LET THEM KNOW YOU’RE HUMAN.
Here’s my advice:
DON’T LISTEN TO THEM.
Believe it or not, you are NOT in control of your class. Nope. It is NOT automatic, as much as you wish or believe it should be. You don’t just walk in and have their respect. You don’t just walk in and have control.
You are ONLY in control if they ALLOW IT. (Teaching and learning require teamwork — the teacher and the learner are partners in the experience… and if you disagree, you aren’t going to be successful. #wowthatwasharsh)
So the first thing you need to do is GET THEM ON YOUR SIDE.
“WOAH – WHAT?! I’m NOT in control!? But I’m the teacher!”
If you want to go into work each day and ENJOY your job and ENJOY your interactions with students, you NEED your students (or the majority of them) on your side. It doesn’t mean they will like EVERYTHING you do, and it doesn’t mean they will always LIKE you. But it does mean that they KNOW you care about them and their education, that you’re going to treat them fairly and with respect, and that you are there for them. Let me repeat that:
It doesn’t mean they will like EVERYTHING you do, and it doesn’t mean they will always LIKE you. But it does mean that they KNOW you care about them and their education, that you’re going to treat them fairly and with respect, and that you are there for them.
We will get more into this later, but I want to just say here — there’s a fine line between “getting them on your side” and “doing whatever it takes to make them like you.”
Yes, they will like you if you give them candy. Yes, they will like you if you let them slack off. Yes, they will like you if there are never any consequences. That doesn’t mean they are on “your side” though, because they aren’t doing WHAT YOU REALLY WANT THEM TO DO!
That said, if you work to build a relationship and then follow up with the next two Classroom Management Must-Haves, this isn’t a problem. You can have their admiration and respect — get them “on your side” — all while maintaining control.
“Must Have” Two: Set Procedures.
Procedures are kind of like the oil that keeps your classroom running smoothly and efficiently. Behavior problems tend to arise when there is friction.
What does friction look like in a classroom?
Friction looks like students walking into your classroom and not knowing where to sit. Or what to do. A backup of students at the supply center. A lull in activity while you prepare materials. Even actual conflict between students, whether verbal or physical.
Friction causes problems.
But many of these things can be avoided by establishing strong procedures early in the year, consistently reminding students of these procedures, and holding them accountable to adhering to them.
Procedures provide structure to your classroom. Your instructional strategies should vary based on the content and where you are in your instructional sequence. Your procedures should remain consistent. In fact, procedures make it easy to employ a variety of instructional strategies, because they provide the backbone regularity that students and teachers crave.
Procedures must be taught. Students will not know what steps to do to carry out the tasks they have been assigned. Teach them. Procedures must be reviewed. Students will not remember every single step you give them at first. You’re probably not their only teacher, and honestly, how they enter your science classroom is probably pretty low on their list of adolescent concerns. So don’t be afraid to remind them – without judgment or exasperation. Most of the time, when students aren’t meeting your expectations, they aren’t doing it on purpose. A gentle reminder goes a long way.
“Must Have” Three: Be Consistent.
Consistency is the difference between effective relationships and procedures and a crapshoot.
You can establish great relationships, and your classroom can still be a disaster. You can set up awesome procedures, but if you don’t consistently enforce them, they will do nothing for you. To manage your classroom, you must be clear with your expectations, and then you must consistently enforce those expectations.
If you expect students to enter class, get their notebooks, and sit down, you cannot say nothing when they enter class and wander the room. Remind them of your expectations. If they blatantly ignore your instructions at that point, remind them of the consequences. If the behavior continues, apply the consequences.
And be consistent with your consequences. Don’t make empty threats – and really, the goal is to not make “threats” at all. Give students the chance to do the right thing — give them the reminder of the appropriate action, if necessary provide a reminder of the consequences. And if it comes down to it, apply the consequences you have established.
You don’t need to get angry, you don’t need to yell, you don’t even need to scold. And honestly, not only do you “not need to” do those things — you shouldn’t! The best redirections, the best consequences, the best approach to a disciplinary situation — it doesn’t have an emotional “charge” at all. That’s why a calmly stated, “I asked you to do XYZ, I reminded you of the consequence. You decided to continue, and now we have this consequence,” works wonders.
It has been my experience that many students at the middle and high school levels (not all, I admit, but many) will leave that conversation agreeing with you! You treated them respectfully, you applied consequences fairly and consistently across the board (all students, same treatment), and you gave them every opportunity to make a better decision. You maintained your positive relationships, while adhering to the standards you expect your students to uphold in your classroom.