Avoiding the Death of Classroom Management
Classroom management is an art. It’s a delicate balance of authority and personality; it is a dance of persona between classes; it is a tapestry of calculated looks and tones of voices. Strong classroom management is the backbone of a successful school year and it is important to maintain it throughout your career. There are, however, pitfalls that can be the death of classroom management. Knowing these pitfalls is the first step in evading them.
Pitfall #1: Handling Problems Publicly.
Addressing student misbehavior in a public forum draws attention to the student’s behavior. Not only is this re-affirming negative behavior, but the student is more likely to be openly oppositional when addressed publicly, thus undermining your authority. Instead, address the behavioral issues in private and aim for the bare minimum of spectacle.
Pitfall #2: Not Waiting for Quiet.
Many teachers believe that if they speak loudly, then the mild chatter will die down and the students will listen up. This is very rarely the case. Allowing that last bit of chatter to linger causes problems: students who don’t hear what you say will either (a) turn to a neighbor to ask, adding to the chatter or (b) follow instructions incorrectly and (c) learn that it is ok not to listen to instructions. To avoid this pitfall, force yourself to wait a few extra seconds until everyone is completely quiet before addressing your class.
Pitfall #3: Only Speaking in “Don’ts”:
If I tell you not to think about an elephant, what do you think about? Yep, an elephant. Similarly, if you tell a ninth grade boy not to tap his pencil, he still has pencil tapping on the brain. Instead, tell students what to do. These directives can address the problem at hand (telling the student to put their pencil under their textbook until you tell them to use it) or distract the student with another activity altogether (asking them to read a passage or a question for you).
Pitfall #4: Staying Up Front.
Proximity is a huge key to stopping misbehavior before it gets going. If you’re always at the front of your classroom or sitting at your desk, you can’t pick up on trouble in the early stages. By the time you notice a problem, it’s already gained momentum, making it much harder to stop. Instead, walk around and monitor your classroom. You will not only be able to quickly catch and redirect behavior, but you will also be able to assess student learning as it’s happening.
Pitfall #5: Focusing on the Problems.
It’s natural to give your energy to misbehaviors – to only comment when something goes wrong- but you’ll get more cooperation if you give equal (or more) attention to the good behaviors. This is especially true when it comes to students who have trouble with self-control. In many studies, positive reinforcement was exceedingly more effective than negative reinforcement in classrooms at all levels. It may take some effort with some of your more disruptive students, but make it a habit to call out good behavior when you see it. 9 times out of 10, that student will go longer in between disruptions.
Pitfall #6: Taking things Personally.
No matter what’s going on, taking student misbehavior as a personal affront can only make things worse. A lot of the time, student behavior has very little to do with you as a person. The student may struggle with authority in general, be going through issues at home, or may just be generally insolent. In those moments where a student (or students) really seems to be getting your goat, it can help to think of yourself as a service provider – like a dentist – and your students as patients. If your patient got a cavity, you would treat it as best as you could, but you wouldn’t take it personally. If things don’t always go well, it doesn’t have to be about you.
Classroom management is so complex, it can take years to develop a style and a system that works. By avoiding these pitfalls of classroom management and replacing them with more effective practices, you’ll build a better classroom for everyone.
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