Classroom Management — Kids Speak Out
- Grades: 9–12
Classroom management can be one of the toughest skills for a teacher to master, but it is essential. Without it, learning cannot occur. I teach a graduate course in classroom management at a local college. As a high school English teacher who's spent the past fifteen years in an urban community, I felt I had the practical experience, as well as the academic background, to teach this class effectively. Even so, I felt that I was falling short in truly conveying the classroom management experiences that the soon-to-be teachers would face. When I began reflecting on my own experiences as a new teacher, I thought about particular students who tested my limits and pushed me to the brink. I thought about how I dealt with those students well — and when I completely dropped the ball. Wouldn't it be great for teachers to hear firsthand how students view classroom management? Read what they had to say, and watch videos of some of my current students reflecting on the topic.
(Post includes Video)
Students Who Tested the Limits
Steven and Derek were both seniors in my Mysteries class, an English elective designed to help students improve their reading skills and their creative writing technique. They were a challenge from day one. Both had lengthy discipline records; both were fifth year seniors. They were constantly testing me. While I prefer my classroom environment to be welcoming and relaxed, Steven and Derek initially thought that meant they could get away with anything. It wasn't long before I had to reel both of them in and set them straight.
Steven had already dropped out of school once. He lived alone in a foreclosed house not far from school. Because Steven was completely on his own, I soon learned that the stresses of his daily life sometimes got the best of him. One day in class he came up to my desk and asked if he could "take a lap." "Take a lap?" I asked, dumbfounded. "Yeah, I just need to move around for a few minutes. I promise I will do my work." I decided to let Steven take a lap. He took my pass and came back a few minutes later, sat down, and got to work. From that time on, Steven would occasionally ask me to "take a lap." I always allowed him to do so, and he never took advantage. When he came back, he was always focused and on task. After that, Steven ceased being a problem. I got to know him, and he soon saw me as an ally in his goal of achieving his high school diploma.
Derek was a bit of an "Eddie Haskell" type. For those of you younger than fifty, that means he liked to flatter a teacher in order to get out of trouble. The first time Derek took the bathroom pass, he disappeared for ten minutes. I wrote him up to his dean. Derek was furious. He didn't talk to me for at least a week, until I pulled him aside and discussed the situation with him. Derek eventually admitted he deserved to be written up, and he also admitted he was testing me. Derek had a great wit, and I used humor to handle his classroom management issues. It wasn't long before he was completing his assignments on time and earning an A. Derek's final paper for my class was fifteen pages long (it actually exceeded the assignment parameters). It was a well-thought out mystery, and Derek admitted it was the best work he had done in high school.
So I asked Steven and Derek if they'd like to speak to my grad school students. They recruited one of their friends, Matt, who, with a little difficulty, had received his high school diploma that June, the first one in his family to do so.
The Kids Speak
It was a hot July night when the boys met my twenty-two grad students. They discussed the significance of their first impression of a teacher, and how necessary it was for the teacher to strike just the right balance of friendly, respectful, and stern. It was important that the teacher be patient with them. If the teacher presented him/herself as an easy mark by not having classroom rules established the first day, by not being well-versed in the content area, and by not having well-structured lesson plans, the students felt that the teacher could be an easy target for unruly behavior.
Each one of the high school students said that they "test" a new teacher almost immediately, and each used the same method: the student would ask to go to the bathroom and would then stay an inordinate amount of time out of the classroom. If, when the student came back, the teacher did not address the lapse in time, the student knew he could take advantage.
The scheduled half hour stretched to two hours as the graduate students peppered the high school students with questions. I found myself taking notes. The students reiterated how they tended not to act up when they felt that the teacher truly "cared about" them, as evidenced by the teacher asking questions about the student's work, home life, and job. Taking an active interest in the student's life was powerful. Rewarding the student for his effort was also key.
From the presentation, I culled the strategies most effective in dealing with and engaging students like Derek, Steven, and Matt:
- Have high expectations for ALL students. Students recognize when a teacher doesn't expect much from them, and they will respond accordingly.
- Establish rules and procedures for your classroom and make sure students are aware of them.
- Use progressive discipline. If you throw a student out of your room on the first day, you won't have anywhere to go with future infractions.
- Have a "private" conversation with students about their behavior. Never underestimate the power of speaking to a student as a mature, responsible adult.
- Humor can go a long way to de-escalating a potentially troublesome classroom management issue. Just be cautious with sarcasm.
- Address classroom infractions. At the very least, speak to the student about his or her behavior and give a warning.
- Be consistent with discipline. And try to look at each infraction with "new" eyes. Sometimes the usual suspects aren't the responsible parties.
Jim Burke's book, Classroom Management, is a handy little desk reference that covers all the ins and outs of classroom management from meeting the needs of English language learners to supporting students with special needs. I highly recommend it.
What helpful hints for classroom management do you think your students would provide? What questions about classroom management do you still need answered? Drop me a line!