My class is lively and spirited, but sometimes gets a little too loud and out of control. I need ideas about how to settle the kids down and keep them calmer without being mean or dictatorial.
There's certainly a range of how much movement and chatter in a classroom teachers feel comfortable with. None of it bothers me as long as children seem purposefully engaged in whatever they're doing.
These are some things that seem to help keep things OK:
First, greet each child warmly and by name at the door when she arrives. Children feel more accountable for sensible behavior if they know you know they're in the classroom.
Then, have a routine that the children know, some place they're expected to go when they've gotten their coats off. Maybe they're supposed to get a book and flop down to enjoy it with a friend. Or maybe they're supposed to choose one of your language or math development games and sit at a table to play it quietly with others.
A third and very important tip is to make all transitions brief by getting your act together. Be ready with the next thing by the time half the class has put away the previous things or before you invite the group to move to the upcoming activity. Nothing leads to chaos quicker than leaving a bunch of little kids lingering while the teacher talks to someone, or begins to prepare for the next activity!
When you're moving the class to the bathroom, the lunchroom, the playground and so on, do it cheerfully: gather everybody quickly, sing a song while waiting for a few slow pokes, get the show on the road! You wouldn't believe how frequently I see surly teachers snarling at bored and restless children, who, naturally, fill time lapses and activity gaps by poking each other, jostling, giggling too loudly — you know what they do! The secret is not to leave time lapses and activity gaps. Lots of big, fat play periods, yes, but that's very different from waiting times.
I'm sure you have some little signals the children are familiar with, like blinking the lights, and then putting your fingers on your lips. Or pointing down with your thumb in jabbing motions meaning "sit down" — you know, things like that? Since all teachers have to deal with this noise level thing, you might want to ask every good teacher you know what he or she does to keep it friendly and sociable, yet keep it down. You can make a little collection of tips and practice them as the need arises.