How to manage a classroom—without failing miserably
I failed at classroom management: The scenario
There are kids swinging from the rafters. Spitballs and scrunched up worksheets flying across the room. You are pretty sure there are some kids doing shifty things in the back, but hell if you want to know. Your ears are bleeding from the noise level, and you are damn sure no one can hear your explanation of what an adverb is. And you realize your classroom management is in shambles.
Sound like you?
It was maybe a month into my first-year teaching. The class was at a verifiable screaming level in terms of loudness, kids were being disrespectful, I didn’t have so much as a classroom to set rules upon, and it felt like this was the scenario in every single period. I was crying. An embarrassing amount. And sometimes during school hours. Does this sound familiar? I was starting to have nightmares about someone walking in and just firing me because I was so bad at this. I felt like an impostor.
But I turned it around. (With lots of wine and tough questions.)
And so can you.
I really think part of it was that my teaching program never went over the impossible “what if I don’t have a classroom?” scenario. So much of what we are taught as a teacher in terms of classroom management is dependent upon having an environment you can control. (Can you tell I’m still bitter about this, however long later? Yeah. If you’re an admin, don’t make your teacher’s float. Putting us in a closet is better than making a first-year teacher float.)
So how did I turn my classroom management around? Well, it involved a game plan developed with a glass of wine and rock music (my battle armor!).
Step 1: Reflect on your classroom management (Why is there a kid on the rafter to begin with?)
How much of this was out of my control? The environment, and anyone’s behavior that wasn’t my own. Yeah, that cheesy line they give us in teaching programs. But it is the truth. I couldn’t control anyone’s behavior but myself, but dammit, I could devise a way to make these kids understand how hectic this room had gotten. Part of my reflection involved coming to terms with the fact that I was failing in classroom management, but I also wasn’t. I had to take a step back and realize that while I thought it was chaos, others saw it differently. My administrators thought I ran a decent ship (ha!), my coworkers promised me they’d been there too, and every article I looked up online said that it happens.
I took it as a small win that I even realized I needed to fix things, so you should too. You’re making the effort to fix your management, and it probably isn’t even thatbad.
Now, I work with teens. And I am used to them thinking the world is ending because of a breakup or spat with a friend. So it is entirely possible that I was (and you are) entirely too close to the situation to realize that it’s not that bad. Take a step back, and reflect.
Step 2: Feedback (Hey kids, why do you think Trevor is on the rafter?)
This is where I pulled out the big guns. I took a portion of each class period one day, armed with reflection sheets, and had students write down what they think was positive about their classroom environment, how the classroom was managed, and what needed help. Then we talked about it.
This was the quietest and most concentrated I had ever seen them.
Kids love having voice. Ask any student their opinion on school lunch or dress codes, they love being heard. Getting them to contribute in terms of classroom management is the same thing.
Some of them, of course, said I was making them write it for nothing, but other students really contributed.
Then, we had a conversation on how to get them to buy in to behavior in the classroom. And I got real with them. My philosophy as a teacher is that we are a community, we are family in this room, and you do not disrespect and hurt your community or family. I got teary-eyed. I was real with them.
My biggest ace in the hole as far as classroom management became letting the kids know when I felt disrespected or disappointed. Literally “I feel disrespected right now, and that’s not a good feeling. Do you like being disrespected, [name]?”
From this activity, we came up with some great classroom norms, and I learned some good things from them about how Iwas contributing to the classroom’s behavior.
Step 3: Stick to your rules (Trevor, per our no-rafter rule, you get a detention for hanging from the rafter)
This one is hard, especially as a first-year teacher. You don’t want to be the teacher the kids hate, or the witch that brings down the hammer. But if you don’t stick to the rules you make, the kids learn not to take you seriously. Groundbreaking, I know.
Step 4: Behavior Contracts (Trevor, if you don’t hang from the rafter, here are your rewards. If you do, you can explain to your mom why you like to do this.)
Your school might already have behavior contracts or a system for behavior. At the school I was at, I was told to make them myself. Luckily for you, I found some great resources you can tap into for this purpose. Remember, behavior contracts require time on your part to observe the student and
Step 5: Reflect again (Oh God, is he hanging from the rafters again? / My rafters are pleasantly empty)
- Remember: Different classes might require different rules
- Celebrate small wins.
- Remember positive feedback
Heather Cianci of It’s Lit Teachingsays “I wished I had learned to focus on the positive.”
Heather says: “During my first year, I spent a lot of time telling students what they shouldn’t do. Now, I focus on desired behaviors and expectations. When I see a student on-task or working hard, I tell him or her “thank you” out loud. This affirms the student and acts as a gentle nudge for other students to behave similarly. Just thanking students has made a huge difference in behavior and relationships in my classroom.”
Remember you are doing your best.
Need more help figuring out this classroom management thing? Try out these blog posts by other teachers who have absolutely been there.
New Teacher? Start Here by Samantha in Secondary
Top Teacher Tips for First-Year Fears by SRTA Spanish
5 Common Classroom Management Issues in High School by Reading and Writing Haven
Top 10 Tips for Teaching in the Inner City by Science in the City Classroom
Classroom Management: 3 Ways to Stay Calm and Consistent by Mrs. Teaches Math
\11 World Language Classroom Management Strategies by Secondary Spanish Space