As I prepared for my first year of teaching, I was so excited for the school year to begin. I wrote each of my students a postcard welcoming them to my class. I bought each student a pencil box and used my fancy new label maker to put their name on it. I felt so ready my first day, I had everything scripted, every moment planned. And then my students arrived. Within the first five minutes of my opening circle, one of my third graders had tied his shoes together, another student had locked himself in the bathroom, and two girls were crying. I only had 20 students in my class, but I had completely lost control. Unfortunately, this day set the tone for the year, and I never quite recovered. But I sure learned a lot! Here are my top tips for managing your class:
1. Have a procedure for everything
Before the school year begins, you should have an idea about how you want things to be done in your room. Write everything down, from sharpening pencils, to using the restroom. Within the first few days of school, teach these procedures explicitly, and practice them repeatedly. You can even make it a game! Challenge the class to beat their time lining up quietly, give praise or rewards when they succeed. Make them do it again when they don’t. This can seem tedious and time consuming, but it will make your class run much smoother.
2. Be proactive not reactive
Figure out what your classroom management system will be before the students arrive (like many teachers, I use ClassDojo). Make sure it is something that is easy to stick with. If you have a point system, make sure you know what will happen if your students receive a certain amount of points. Don’t make the prize too difficult to obtain, or students will lose interest. You also need to decide what consequences will occur when a student breaks a rule, or misses an assignment. Try to connect with every student, if a student is particularly difficult, go out of your way to catch them doing things right and praise, praise, praise!
3. Take it off stage
At those inevitable moments when someone misbehaves in front of the whole class, it can be hard not to react immediately. Especially because you don’t want your other students to think that kind of behavior is ok. The best thing you can do in the moment is acknowledge the behavior in a calm voice, and tell the student that you will be discussing the incident at a later time. As soon as you have a chance, take the student aside and discuss a consequence away from your other students. Sometimes this 1:1 conversation is consequence enough.
4. Be consistent, follow through
Give praise, follow through on consequences, then follow through, and follow through some more. No matter what you decide to use as a classroom management system, you have to be very consistent. Students will quickly pick up on your failure to follow through and may feel that you are being unfair, or may take advantage. A student teacher once asked me what to do when a student was constantly interrupting her. In my class, interrupting the teacher results in the loss of a ClassDojo point. I asked her if she took a point from him the first time he did it, and she said “no.” Of course he continued to interrupt, there was no consequence! She did say she felt bad taking points away from kids, so it is really important to consider what you feel comfortable with when designing your classroom management system. My feeling is that as long as you give a lot of positive feedback, negative feedback should have the desired effect of correcting the behavior, without damaging your relationship with your students. You can also think about it from the other students’ perspective. By taking away a point from someone who breaks a rule, you are being fair to the students who do not break rules, and protecting their learning.