Classroom management. It’s a phrase that strikes fear into most new teachers and many veterans.
The 21st-century classroom is filled with diverse learners, who come with myriad needs and a variety of social and emotional issues. When class sizes balloon to 30 or more, classroom management can become problematic. But classroom management doesn’t have to be difficult.
The good news is any group of students, no matter what its individual social-emotional issues may be, can operate as smoothly as a class filled with academic-minded students, who enter eager to please. All it takes is eliminating rules and building community. The tips below demonstrate how this can be done at any school.
5 classroom management tips
1 — Never use a list of Do’s and Don’ts
Many teachers begin the school year reading a lengthy list of do’s and don’ts to students. This is not only an awful experience for the students, it’s a surefire way to erode any respect students may have had for you, when they entered the classroom. It’s best to steer as far as possible from lists like these, because they must be followed with consequences. The moment you discuss rules and consequences, your chances of building a community of enthusiastic, cooperative learners declines.
2 — Throw out the assertive discipline handbook
This is good advice for all teachers, but the newbies should pay careful attention. If you’re from the Lee Canter school of gold stars and names on the board, it’s time for a U-turn. There’s a mountain of good research against extrinsic motivation, and I can tell you from practical experience using assertive discipline that it only serves to unravel your learning community. If students need rewards to collaborate cooperatively and engage in class activities, then the activities need to be rethought. If negative behavior continues, putting a student’s name on the board and threatening to send her to the office won’t change her attitude toward you or your class work.
3 — Eliminate all sarcasm and condescension
For more than a decade sarcasm and condescension were my primary classroom management tools. When assertive discipline didn’t work, I tried zero tolerance. I responded to poor behavior with superiority and sarcasm, not realizing that the immature behavior in most cases stemmed from extreme boredom with my traditional teaching methods. Responding to teens with sarcasm rarely builds rapport or inspires respect. There were times I thought being sarcastic made me cool in the eyes of the offender’s peers, which might, I hoped, make them behave appropriately. All it did, though, was humiliate a child and, in many cases, make him hate me and learning.
4 — Stop enforcing silly rules
This one is tough for some teachers, because most schools have student handbooks that are littered with silly rules. If this is the case, you don’t have to endorse breaking them; simply ignore them. Imagine how many classroom management issues would disappear forever if you stopped managing things like: gum chewing, movement, talking out of turn, bringing a mobile device to class, listening to music during group work, sleeping (this one’s definitely on you), etc. Most of these can be ignored. Some might require a simple sidebar chat or nonverbal cue. When I was teaching, water bottles weren’t allowed in class. Some of my 7th graders liked to bring water, so ignored the water bottles. One day a student asked me why I did this, saying it wasn’t allowed, according to the handbook. “I never said it was allowed,” I answered with a wink. After a puzzled look from the student, he smiled and said, “Oh, I get it.”
5 — Build a community
It took me far too long to figure out that the classroom wasn’t my private domain, filled with 25 prisoners that I could manipulate. When I finally realized that kids will become independent, enthusiastic learners if they are part of a non-threatening community, I threw out everything that most teachers consider classroom management. I told my students the first day of the school year that they were part of a unique community, governed only by mutual respect. This point has to be revisited often. If the activities are engaging and mutual respect is discussed constantly, traditional classroom management becomes obsolete.