26 April 2007

Classroom Management

More advice from PLANS.....

Classroom Management Strategies:

Stand at the door of your classroom and greet the students by name as they walk in each day. This is so simple and so easy to do, but it's incredibly effective. Think about how much more you're going to respect someone who knows you and cares about you as a person than someone who doesn't know you from anyone else in the room. If your brain isn't too tired and addled yet, you can try to ask each kid about something personal, mention something that's going on in his life.

Make your expectations clear and reasonable. My biggest pet peeve is hearing kids call one another homophobic names (even "that's so gay" bugs me), so I tell them in the first week that I don't like to hear that in my classroom. For the rest of the year, I always say the same thing when I hear them make homophobic comments: "Hey, I don't want to hear that kind of language in my room."

Don't make more than two or three rules, and be consistent in their enforcement (see: homophobic comments, above). I only have a few rules in my room, but I'm always bugging kids about them: no gay comments, no food in my room, don't be mean/don't hurt one another, and don't keep anyone from learning (including yourself). Of course, I have these posted in my room -- put in positive terms (DO be respectful to everyone in this room) -- and point to them sometimes to remind people.

ALWAYS BE CONSISTENT. You don't have to do the same things every day, you don't have to have a fast and firm routine (though it helps a lot of people) but you do have to be consistent in your expectations and reactions, and you do have to react the same way to all offenses, even when it's one of your favorite kids. If you find that you're not being consistent in your enforcement of a rule, then it's probably not very important to you; stop worrying about it. (For example, I could care less if kids are chewing gum or out of dress code -- I don't even notice. And no matter what anyone says, I refuse to beat myself up over not enforcing unimportant rules.) If it's important to you, always call people out on it.

Be able to admit mistakes without losing control. I used to just say, "Own up to your mistakes!" but recently I've been joint-conferencing with a teacher who endlessly apologizes for mistakes. Admit them, laugh about them, but don't roll over and show your pink belly to anyone.

Move people. It sounds simple and dumb but it works so well. I usually give people a warning like, "I don't think this is working out for you today. I need you both (or all) to be able to learn today, and I think that we could do better." Then they say, "No, Ms. Backes, we won't talk, promise." Then when they're back off task, talking again, I make them move to the other side of the room, or to one of the desks I have facing the walls. Make them. Stop class and wait for them if they're taking their time.

Plan ahead/anticipate trouble. "Last time you guys worked together, it didn't go so well. What are you going to do to make sure you're more successful today?"

Move people out of the room. There are several ways to do this. I have a "buddy teacher" -- the art teacher, whose classroom is across from mine -- and I have an arrangement with her for one kid at a time to sit on the floor facing the back door and read or work quietly. Sometimes I just make people sit right outside my room, where I can see them but they can't see my class. Sometimes I send people out and say, "come back in when you're ready to learn." (Yesterday I did this and the kid walked out the door and walked right back in and sat down. I almost said something, but he stopped the random yelling out and actually contributed to the discussion for the rest of class. Will wonders never cease.) Sometimes I send people who aren't acting up out to work in the hallway and library and keep the people who are being annoying in my room to yell at each other.

"Stop." (Actually, a huge part of my classroom management involves talking to my students the way I talk to my dogs. It works, no kidding.)

Keep moving around the room yourself. (At Grinnell we called this "proximity" -- now I call it 1000 steps a day on the old pedometer....) Circulate. Avoid the temptation to sit at your desk and grade papers or catch up on paperwork. Touch base with everyone.

Don't send more than a few kids a semester to the principal (or through whatever your discipline matrix may be...). My principal LOVES me because I've only sent two kids to her all year, and that was for fighting in my room. The other day, she showed me a referral another teacher had written, which had a needle taped to it (apparently the kid had been poking himself with the needle during class). "What would you have done in this situation?" asked the principal. "I would have said, 'Hey, quit poking yourself with a needle and get back to work.'" "Yes!" said the principal, "and it would have WORKED!"

Make jokes. If they're dropping F-bombs or whatever, I'll say, "Hello.... teacher? Authority figure? Language??" and they usually apologize. (Or sometimes just, "Hey, not appropriate.")

Play to your strengths. I'm funny, chatty, weird, intelligent, and totally spazzy, and I use all of these to my advantage in the classroom. I'm NOT detail-oriented, precise, or rememberfull, so I don't use classroom mangagement strategies that would require me to be so.

Do NOT freak out about stupid things. For example, today a teacher who I like and admire started yelling at one of my students for "sprawling all over the floor, and not acting like a lady!" I was like, "um, was she being disrespectful? No? Was she doing her work? Yes? Then I don't see a problem."

In fact, don't freak out about anything. Once or twice a year, you can strategically flip out and yell at the class (but NEVER do this from a place of anger! it HAS to be calculated, and you can't be personally invested in it -- shock and awe, friends, shock and awe) for something really unacceptable, like making fun of someone, ganging up on people, or whatever.

ALWAYS be polite. Say please and thank you even when you're giving orders. Never sink to their level. Never be sarcastic when disciplining. Never hold grudges; allow everyone to start with a fresh slate every single day (even if you're so sick of their little face you could scream!).

Along these lines, NEVER fight with a kid. Do NOT engage with them, no matter how surly they're acting, no matter how much they clearly need to be taught a big fat lesson about shutting the hell up and being respectful for once. If you fight, they'll fight back. If they're fighty, ignore them, separate them, give them (and yourself) time to cool down before discussing the situation rationally.

Be aware of the fact that the entire class will reflect your energy. If you walk in crabby, they'll get crabby. If you walk in relaxed, they'll feel relaxed (though if they're middle schoolers, you won't really be able to see a difference).

Stand or sit right near them. This works really well for the one kid who's always off task in a room full of generally work-oriented people. Sit on the desk right next to hers and keep tapping on her paper to re-orient her focus. "Okay, good, you've already gotten three questions done. What's number four? What are you going to do about it?" As long as they're engaged, they're not hurting anyone else.

A big part of what I'm doing this year is just not making that big a deal out of much. They swear, they call one another names, and I just keep reminding them that I don't want to hear that in my room.

Pick your battles. Honestly, there are a couple of kids who aren't going to do anything or learn anything this year. If you want to sleep in the back of the room, super, as long as you let everyone else in the room accomplish what they need to do. Push kids to excel, but know that if a kid absolutely refuses to do anything in your class, you can waste your time fighting with him, or you can use it to help the kids who are actually trying to learn.

Choose the worst two or three kids in your class and raise them up to be the people you want them to be. Catch them being even remotely good (for the most obnoxious kids, "good" often looks like "faintly acceptable,") and heighten their success in their eyes. "You did SUCH a good job today, and since everyone admires you so much, the whole class was more successful!" "Can I hang this on my wall so your hard work can help the other kids?" Tell the kids that they ARE the people you want them to be, and they'll BECOME those people. I swear this works, and you may just be the one teacher the kid can get along with. (Of course, there will always be the handful of kids you just don't get along with -- treat them super respectfully, never let them know how much they bug you, and pretend you like and admire them -- but don't waste too much of your time worrying about them, especially if they're committed to disrupting your class.)

"Hi, Connor, how's it going today?" "Hey dude, good to see you." "Thank you for raising your hand!" "Thank you for your hard work today!" "Awesome job today." "You guys worked so hard today; you rock!" And so forth.

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