Even the best teachers can use a little extra help managing their classroom every now and then. Here is a round-up of what I consider my most powerful tips in keeping your class under control and creating a clam learning environment.
1. Over-Plan (Too Much Stuff)
Nothing can get kids going more than free time. If you run out of things to do, even if you are good at “winging it", the students will catch on sooner or later. A good idea is to have your agenda posted for the day so kids know what to expect. Have more stuff on the agenda than you have time for. Whatever you don’t finish will become the first items for the next class.
2. Avoid Escalation (Breathe)
This can be one of the most difficult strategies to master because those little minions can get on your nerves, especially after weeks and weeks of dealing with the same behavioral garbage. When that happens, things can escalate faster than a cheetah on meth. If you lose your cool once, the students will expect it (and even try to make it happen as long as your rage doesn’t land on them). To keep things from escalating try the following in heated situations:
- Don’t talk in a condescending tone. Some of the tones you use with kids would tick you off if somebody used them on you, and it will tick your students off too.
- Allow the student to have the last word when possible. So they mumbled something else as they walked back to their seat to sit down… who cares? They’re going to sit down aren’t they?
- Don’t argue. It is a proven fact that you cannot win an argument with a teenager. So stop trying.
3. Assigned Seating (Benevolent Dictatorship)
I am always amazed when teachers don’t have assigned seating in their classroom. It makes it easier on you, easier on your substitutes, as well as easier on the students.
FACT: Students get into less trouble when they have assigned seating. Let them know that your class is run as a benevolent dictatorship. They will sit where they are assigned. Think about it. As adults, if we go into a meeting we perceive as not important, we sit next to our friends and distract each other the entire time. If adults will do it when given the choice, then students shouldn’t even have an option.
Assigned seating has the additional benefit that at any time, on any day, you can move them all around just to mess with their little minds. Kids run their mouths. If you want to give them something to talk about, re-do the seating chart for one class and not for any others. I’m pretty sure a law is in the works to make it illegal to tell a child where to sit in class (I think it has something to do with their rights). So have fun with it, but use it while it’s still a legal option.
4. Use Humor (Ha Ha)
If you don’t have a sense of humor you shouldn’t be working with kids. Use it to your advantage in class. Remember strategy two? Avoid escalation. Humor can disarm many situations when used properly. Make them laugh, but don’t make fun of them. That will make things worse. If you make sure your lessons are embedded with humor it will help keep everyone’s attention. Nobody wants to be bored and everybody wants to have fun.
5. Solid Structure (Well Defined Procedures)
Students need to know procedures. There should be procedures for everything. May they walk around in your class or do they need to stay in their seat unless they have permission? When is the right/wrong time to ask for permission to sharpen a pencil or use the restroom? How do they find out about make-up work? What happens if they are late? What is the first thing they should do when they get to class? What’s the procedure for dismissal? So on and so forth.
This one should probably be number one, but most teachers know this (even if they don’t do it). If you find you have the same problem in multiple classes it’s probably because you don’t have a procedure in place that addresses that issue.
6. Consistency (Equality for All)
Be consistent and be equal. If you are going to get somebody for talking or another common behavior, make sure you spread the wealth. Don’t hang Patrick for talking and then let SpongeBob off the hook. Also, if the majority of the class is being disruptive when they shouldn’t be, don’t see it as your opportunity to pin that one student to the wall that you just can’t stand. In real life, you can only execute somebody once to make an example of them. So try to stick to that rule in your class. If you are going to make an example of somebody, don’t always pick the same child.
7. Love and Respect
This is one of my favorite strategies because it’s the easiest to fake! The idea is that in general men (boys) want one thing—RESPECT. In general women (girls) want one thing as well– LOVE. This is an oversimplification of course and not all boys and girls fall into that category but you’d be surprised how many do.
We’ve been taught for a long time that students need to know that you care. So the “love" part has been taken care of. But if you think about the boys in your class I think you will admit that most of them care more about whether or not you respect them. There is a simple strategy here that when implemented can work wonders. You just need to start answering students with the words ‘sir and ‘mam, just like you would expect them to do to you. I know it’s awkward at first, but many children have never had anybody speak to them that way and it can make them think you respect them (even if you don’t). Try it for a week on a few unsuspecting souls and I guarantee you’ll never go back.
8. Hide Your Hot Button (Uncommon Common Sense)
This one seems obvious, but looking back on my education I had many teachers who didn’t hide their hot button. So we did what kids do best, we spent the entire year devising new ways to exploit it. Whatever that one thing is that pisses you off… never, never, never reveal it to your class! If they figure that out, they will eat you alive! If you are thinking “oops, too late", then you must immediately begin faking as though it doesn’t bother you anymore.
9. Eliminate Empty Threats (Parenting 101)
If you can’t deliver on your threat (or aren’t willing to), don’t make it. Talk is cheap. If you use the phrase “do I need to call your parents" at least three times every period but are too tired to call every day, you soon lose any leverage that you had (not that there is any leverage in that phrase for some students anyway). The more consistent you are in follow through the more your students will take your words seriously. The less consistent you are, the more the students will ignore those threats. Whatever the case, don’t threaten something that you can’t deliver on.
10. Guessing is Engaging (Confuse the Little Tikes)
This is another one of my favorites. Consequences should be predictable. Procedures should be predictable. It’s my recommendation though that classes and teachers should be a little unpredictable. Students should wonder: what is going to happen in class today? How is the teacher going to handle this? If kids are a little confused and a little on edge the entire class period… you have them right where you want them. Suspense can be a good thing. Interesting is engaging.
11. Get all up in Their Grill (Close Proximity)
When all else fails, use close proximity. If you have a motor mouth in class, stand next to them. If you have a trouble maker then use the assigned seating rule. Put their seat closest to the point in the room where you spend most of your time whether it is in the front, back, or next to your desk. As my students would say, get up in their grill. Make them tired of you always being right there next to them. It solves a lot of issues before they arise. And NEVER, EVER, EVER (under any circumstances) turn you backs on the little angels!