Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Classroom Management Part 1: Defense

Classroom management is possibly the most important skill to master as a teacher.  You can plan awesome lessons, but if kids won't behave then they aren't going to be successful.  I don't claim to have mastered it, but I am better than I was when I was new.  Kids will spend the beginning of the year trying to figure you out, especially if you appear to be young.  They will test you to figure out just how much they can get away with.  It's really interesting just how perceptive they are.  

Kids are very honest.  I've had many conversations with kids about their other classes and it's so interesting to hear how aware they are of their teacher's weaknesses.  They know exactly what they can get away with, exactly how to make the teacher mad, and most importantly they know which teachers have no control over the class.

These first three points are more defensive strategies.  They are how I deal with incidents that happen in my room.

Pick your battles
I know that everyone has probably heard this before but it really is super important.  There are teachers out there that pick at kids for everything...every. single. little. thing.  To me this is a power trip, they are just trying to prove that they are in charge.  Kids do not respect this.  They aren't going to behave if they feel like this, they are just going to try to make you miserable.

In a room with good classroom management, there is no power struggle.  Instead everyone feels like they are winning.  How to accomplish this is the challenge.  This is one of those things that I think comes with experience.  You need to be both assertive and easy going at the same time.  

I will address something in two cases.  
  • If causes other students to become distracted
  • If it is hurtful or rude to another student
I pretty much let everything else slide.  If a kid is sitting and singing to them self but it doesn't seem to be distracting anyone then I don't say anything.  If I notice kids looking up with that irritated look, then I address it.  With things like this, it's usually enough to just quietly ask them to stop.

For the most part, I find that kids respect my style.  They know come to know that I'm really laid back and easy going, but there is a line and when they cross it then there's going to be problems.  It lets me have a lot of fun with them but still be serious when necessary.

Be firm and consistent
If you tell kids that the next person that talks is going to get kicked out or detention or a phone call home or whatever, you MUST follow through.  If you tell kids that tomorrow you're not going to give any warnings and you're just handing out detentions, then you have to do it.  Don't threaten kids with something you're not prepared to follow through on.  Empty threats show kids that they can get away with things.

This is the part that I had the most difficulty with as a new teacher.  I was always good in school so getting in trouble was the worst thing in the world for me.  Because of this, I always felt really bad giving out consequences to kids.  I distinctly remember giving detention to a kid my first year and letting him talk me out of it because he promised he would be good.  Oh silly new teacher, you are so gullible.  This kid totally figured me out and from then on knew that he could get away with whatever he wanted.

I've learned that it is very possible to be firm without coming across as mean.  I'll usually give kids a "I need you to stop talking across the room and focus on your work.  This is the second time I've asked and if I have to ask you're going to need to come for lunch detention tomorrow."  I don't say it in an angry way, just in a very matter of fact way.  This way, if that kid does it again I explain that they knew the consequence, but made the decision to continue so because of that I have to give them detention.  I don't listen to the whining and complaining that ensues, I just tell them that they made the decision.  This is also where my classroom expectations come in.  I use them as my backup so the kids can't argue that they didn't know what they were doing was inappropriate.

Deal with things promptly
This is related to kids trying to figure out what they can get away with.  Ever have a kid that calls out something totally off topic in the middle of class?  They're testing you.  They want to see what will happen.  If it's harmless, I'll usually just laugh.  If it's truly distracting or rude though it needs to be dealt with immediately.  That kid needs to know that behavior will not be tolerated.  I'll usually give them the teacher look and say something like "that's enough."  If they start to argue back or say they didn't do anything or fight with me I'll ask them to step outside.  What's important is not to engage that kid in an argument.  This shows that kid that I'm not going to fight with them and it shows the other kids that I'm not going to tolerate being spoken to like that.  

I'll give it a few minutes and then when I have kids working on something I'll talk with the kid for a minute in the hall.  I will let them know their behavior is not appropriate and then explain that it is distracting to other kids.  I tell them that I can't allow them to talk to me that way because it makes other kids think that it's ok and I can't do my job if kids think that.  Sometimes this will result in a detention or further consequence, but sometimes not.  I try to be really nice when I go out too.  I'll talk to them in a very casual tone and before they come back in I make sure they understand that we're ok. If possible I'll even try to make them laugh to ease the situation.

In an ideal world, I would never need any of this advice because my kids would all be angels.  We all know that's not realistic, but a big part of my classroom management philosophy deals with how develop the kind of relationship with my kids so that I do cut down on incidents.  Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow where I'll explain some of those strategies that I use.


  1. I'm a 2nd year teacher. We're now in the 4th week of school, and I can tell my students are testing me. Thanks for the pointers! I'm going to keep your two cases in mind (if other students become distracted and if it is hurtful or rude to another student). You made it so simple to remember!

    1. I'd suggest that if they are testing you that you just make sure you're firm and consistent and let them know that you're not going to let them get away with things. But also make sure you don't pick on them for every little thing.

      I put up clear and detailed expectations which I'm fairly firm with for the first few weeks but once the kids get to know me and stop testing me I end up loosening up and letting things slide unless they're rude or distracting. (I don't tell them that though, that's just for me to know)


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