One of the first big lessons for me as a classroom teacher was learning to strategically choose my battles. That first year of teaching I quickly found out that I did not have 30 students sitting on the edge of their seats listening to my every word. One common reaction is to suddenly bombard students with rules and regulations. One veteran teacher told me then, “You need to crack down on them at the beginning. That way you it’s a lot easier to lighten up later in the year.” Another teacher told me, “You need to avoid having too many rules. Be lively and lighten up on them. You’ll have a much better time teaching and they will have a better time learning.” With that contradictory advice, it’s a wonder I didn’t just throw my hands up and walk out of the classroom forever. What I really learned from these two teachers was, “I just have to find out what works for me. It’s all in the teaching style.” I did find what works for me and survived in the classroom for 16 more years before moving into administration.
And that’s the issue. As much as I would love to offer some earth-shattering advice to new and old teachers about classroom management, it just “ain’t” gonna happen. Honestly, I can talk about what worked for me and that’s all. So here are four principles that guided my classroom management. Those principles are:
- Always let a student maintain dignity. No one likes to be singled out in front of their friends. When I dealt with misbehavior, I always tried to make sure that it was not in any way a public, personal attack on the student. If the student loses face among his peers, you have lost the war. I always tried to speak privately with a student about his misbehavior, not eviscerate him in front of his peers.
- Never take yourself or subject so seriously that you lose sight of the fact that you’re teaching students. With the high-stress testing culture, this is hard to do sometimes, but we can’t ever forget that those kids sitting in our class have needs and wants quite different from what we have. The best teachers crack a joke every now and then. I used to have a corny joke of the day or story to share with my students. While I am not great at one-liners, I can do some pretty dumb stuff now and then, and “dumb stuff” can be real funny sometimes. You just have to be willing to laugh at yourself.
- Be transparent to your students. Students appreciate teachers who admit mistakes and say they’re sorry. More than once over the years I made mistakes, but I tried to make it a point to sincerely publicly apologize.
- Enlist your students, when possible, in keeping order in the classroom. While high school students don’t often like to be classroom monitors and rat each other out, if you create the right kind of climate, your students will remind each other when they are out of line. It is hard to do this though, because you have to get out of the way and let them do it.
- Keep those class rules to minimum. I have worked with teachers who had 25 class rules posted on the walls of classrooms. It’s not hard to guess what they spent most of their class time doing: enforcing rules. Having four of five rules that cover a lot of behaviors always worked best for me, but to limit it to just four or five means you have really decide what behaviors are most important.
Those are five classroom management principles that worked for me. The key to solid classroom management for me was integrating ideas that I tried into my teaching style. In the end, the advice given to me by the first principal I worked for was probably the best: “Just have fun teaching! If you aren’t enjoying it, the kids aren’t enjoying it.”
Classroom Management Resources
Smart Classroom Management: This is an excellent blog with a lot of practical advice about the subject. You need to subscribe to this one.
The Teacher’s Guide: This web site has links to all kinds of classroom management advice.
Discipline with Dignity: I have two editions of this book at home, the 2nd and 3rd, and I began teaching with the 1st edition. This solid book gives teachers a comprehensive approach to classroom discipline. I found quite a few gems in this book over the years.
Education World Classroom Management Archive: This is quite an extensive list of resources for classroom management tips and ideas. It has been in existence for sometime, but it is an excellent starting place for classroom management.