As a first-year teacher just out of college, I didn’t have a clue. My students appeared to be well-behaved, interested individuals. I thought that if I had enough interesting lesson plans and assignments that all would be well and they wouldn’t want to interrupt, impede their own education and basically disrupt the class. Yeah, right. THAT turned out well.
Regardless of all of the theories that you have heard about classroom management and the philosophical base for each one, the theories pale in the face of actual practice. So let me tell you what REALLY works. First of all, consider your own prevention methods–things that you can do yourself to have better control over the attention span of the kids. When they enter the room, do they have something to do? Is there something on their desk or a routine activity that puts them in their seats? Do you usually have your lesson plans clearly defined? How much of your lesson plan requires “busy work,” “worksheets,” or “seat work” to fill up time? Are you using every minute of your class time, or do you have periods of time that are left for students to “talk amongst themselves”? Have you found yourself breaking frequently one of the “rules” for appropriate behavior that you expect your students to obey?
If you are not appropriately planning your time or directing your students through your expectations and classroom routines on a daily basis, you cannot expect your kids to fit into your idea of appropriate behavior. Also, if students are not allowed to have cell phones, but you pick yours up during class to ask your husband to pick up the dry cleaning, you are not earning their respect. Students learn from modeling, and you are their biggest role model.
Once your own end of the deal is upheld, students can then be presented with the discipline plan and procedures. The discipline plan presents easy, positively-worded rules in a short, simple-to-memorize list. Why? Because students forget! Narrow it down! The discipline plan sometimes allows students to take responsibility by creating their own rules, based on what they feel is appropriate classroom behavior. The discipline plan requires the teacher to set up contracts for classroom behavior with the student and with the parent by requiring signatures. The rules of the class must then be posted and frequently referred to during the year. Finally, all of that work does nothing if the rules are not consistently enforced. Follow your discipline plan all year long, without making little exceptions here and there.
“But what do I do?” you may ask. “Do I just give them a detention?” Students fight detentions that are given to them without warning. For upper level students in middle school and high school, give them a step-by-step process. 1 time = verbal warning. 2nd time = the student fills out a form explaining their infraction and what they will do to correct the problem. 3rd time = detention. Staple the form to the detention slip after making a copy. If the student “accidentally” misplaces the detention slip and doesn’t return it signed, take the student to the office and have them call their parents in your presence. When the parent hears about the infraction from the student’s mouth and sees the written documentation that you have talked with the student about it prior to giving the detention, neither the parent nor the student can complain about a lack of warnings.
Elementary teachers will many times use the “color system.” Small envelopes with the students names are hung on the wall and contain slips of construction paper. Students may start on “Green” with a verbal warning. The card is switched to “Yellow” for second warning. “Red” is the final warning and may warrant a “Time-out” or a missed recess. The cards can be sent home to parents at the end of the week or at the end of every day when the student takes home a folder of their homework/classwork. Set very specific routines set to key words from the first day of class. I knew a teacher who could make students sit in one place very easily just by saying “Criss-Cross Applesauce!” The kindergarten students would gather around and sit down while crossing their legs. They would stop talking and look up expectantly at the teacher.
Want to avoid chaos? The best solution is to have a plan. Now that you have read this article, contribute some classroom management tips of your own! What routines do you have? What is your “plan”? Share your personal classroom management disaster or first-year horror story (To be sure, we all have them!).