In addition to classroom procedures, you will need to establish general rules of classroom conduct. Students — especially the older ones — will respect rules more if they've had a hand in creating them. Many teachers develop a list of what they consider the bare essentials, and then negotiate the remaining rules with their students.
The following list is a starting point. Use these rules as guidelines, adapting and expanding them to meet the needs of your individual class and grade level.
- Treat others as you would like to be treated.
- Respect other people's property and person (no hitting or stealing).
- Laugh with anyone, but laugh at no one.
- Be responsible for your own learning.
- Come to class and hand in assignments on time.
- Do not disturb people who are working.
Experienced teachers agree that it's best to select only a few rules — those that contribute to successful learning and an orderly environment. (No one can remember a long list, anyway!) Make your rules as clear and specific as possible. Then decide with students' help for the consequences for breaking those rules.
Teach rules as you would a regular lesson. (Indeed, the veterans say it should be your first lesson!) Discuss each rule individually, explaining the rationale behind it and asking for examples of how it could be broken. Explain that rules help make everyone's time in school more enjoyable; use examples to illustrate this point as well. It's also a good idea to post the rules as a reminder (many schools even require this), and send a copy home with each child.
First-grade teacher Susie Davis suggests posting "picture" rules for kindergarten and first-grade students. Kathy Wesley finds that with her primary-age students, it's best to "teach only the most important rules the first day, then ad a few and review the following days. This is the most important time to be consistent with implementing rules. Often, a "rule offender" will not have to be spoken to again about rule infractions. Fast, Firm, and Fair really does work!"
Older students might write their own copies of the rules; just the act of writing the rules helps children remember them better. It's also a good idea to have students help to determine classroom rules. Experience shows that students who have "ownership" are much more likely to follow classroom rules — and Deborah Charles, of New Jersey, can attest to that. Each year her primary students establish seven or eight rules revolving around two basic questions:
- What does it mean to be in a safe environment?
- What does it mean to get along together?
By teaching rules and routines consistently and enforcing them at the beginning of the year, you are establishing good discipline. After all, good discipline and student behavior starts with good classroom management. The key is to prevent problems before they occur. Good managers are "authority figures." This does not mean ruling with an iron hand, but, rather, providing leadership and a strong example of how to behave.