If you’re like most teachers, your first year is THE WORST. Like Mona Lisa Saperstein – THE WORST. Why? Two words: Classroom Management.
Why? Mostly because on top of learning all the content you have to teach, developing all of your lessons from scratch, and figuring out how to, you know, help your students learn… you are also trying to master classroom management, which NO ONE TAUGHT YOU ABOUT.
Good one, Teacher Training Programs.
It is interesting that the very foundation of your success as a teacher — your ability to manage your classroom — is the very thing they DON’T teach you in your teacher training. As a teacher-in-training, you learn all about assessments and adaptations and instruction, but no one really helps you figure out – how do I control these kids!? 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 word. The goal is to MANAGE your class so you don’t have to CONTROL it. Yes, you are directing it… so technically it is under your control. But the goal is actually for your classroom to control itself 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 why your first year as a teacher pretty much SUCKS. And that’s why most teachers leave the profession in their first 5 years. And that’s why MY first year SUCKED. And I nearly left the profession. (Side Note: I’m so glad I didn’t! Because I do LOVE teaching, and now I love teaching other teachers all about what I’ve learned!)
Through my experience in Charlotte, I developed an understanding of the basic premise of a good classroom management strategy. Moving forward, 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 city district. Anyway, the gist is that I got pretty good at this seemingly elusive ability to “manage a classroom.”
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 my area of expertise: 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 BELIEVE you are in control. So the first thing you need to do is GET THEM ON YOUR SIDE.
“WOAH – WHAT?! I’m NOT in control. 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 them (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 engagement 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. Remind them. Most of the time, when they 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. Be consistent with your consequences. Do not make idle threats. Give students the chance to do the right thing — give them the reminder of the appropriate action, give them the reminder of the consequence. But then 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. A simple, “I asked you to do XYZ, I reminded you of the consequence. You decided to continue, and now we have this consequence.” It has been my experience that many students at the middle and high school levels (not all, 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, but you made the expectations students will uphold in your classroom clear. Be consistent.
Where can you find out more about Classroom Management and Building Relationships in the Classroom?