Class List? Check.
Office Max trip? Check.
New lunchbox? Check.
Systematic Classroom Management Plan designed to set the stage for the whole year? Um…..
I have been in the urban public school world long enough to see bright-eyed new teachers quit by Halloween. I have handed out Kleenex during consultations like nobody’s business. I have great respect for teachers, especially since I have not ever been a teacher, nor have I had to manage a class. I get the kids one-on-one or in a small group for a short period of time. The one-on-one setting is a beautiful setting to learn a child’s potential, and form a positive relationship with a student. It is the best part about being a school psychologist. Teachers often do not have the luxury of such a relationship in a classroom of 30 kids.
I am no expert in classroom management, but I know what I’ve seen work. Here are some gems for general and special education alike. The bias is towards a large, urban classroom, but the general principles apply to all kids. A fantastic teacher/friend of mine composed this list for helping teachers with difficult classrooms, which I have added to, based on my observations:
1) Call each student’s parent/guardian at the start of the year and introduce yourself. Make frequent positive calls in the first few weeks. Sure, that sounds like a lot of work, but if the first few calls are positive, then the first discipline call will be a lot easier.
2) Post the rules in several places. Keep them simple. Try three: Be Safe, Be Respectful, Be Responsible, then have the students give real examples, in the positive direction (e.g. Use nice language, keep hands and feet to yourself, ask for help when you are having a hard time, eat only in the cafeteria). It’s better to write what you expect (use nice language) instead of what you don’t expect (no cussing). It’s easier to redirect the child in the moment.
3) Create a point system that combines academic and behavioral expectations that is broken into short intervals. The interval length (15 mins, 30 mins, 1 hour, math time, morning) will depend on the age and the class composition. In general, during the first few weeks, the more frequent, the better. Then it can fade to longer intervals or intermittently (e.g. set a timer for random intervals and when it dings, those on task get a reward). The students should have some role in tallying their daily and weekly points so they are bought-in. They should be able to see their success. Also, the positive behavior plan helps teachers from falling in to the trap of the Scarlet P.
4) Inappropriate language is the antecedent to many more disruptive behaviors. They say alcohol is the gateway drug; inappropriate language is the gateway for more disruptive behaviors. To start, if a student cusses in class, give everyone else a point for using nice language. The second the student who just cussed says something appropriate, give him/her a point.
5) Pick your battles. While unchecked behaviors can become big behaviors, the savvy teacher needs to know what to let go and what to crack down on. In general, when the motive behind the behavior is manipulation, crack down immediately. If not, then use your discretion. For example, it might be acceptable to ignore the tardiness of a student who lives across town, but not acceptable to ignore a negative comment toward a peer that starts a chain reaction of arguing that disrupts the class.
6) Read the children’s cumulative folders. Gold. Mines. The files can give you much insight into the patterns of behavior and learning that are already established. You can also see what interventions have already been done.
7) If you start out strict, you can ease up as the year goes on. If you start loose, it is much harder to get stricter.
8) The academic work must be at a level the children can do. This seems basic, but it is worth highlighting. If the work is too easy, they lose interest. If it is too hard, they might act out (better to look bad than dumb!). Find the optimal level of challenge. If students feel successful, it will eliminate a lot of behavioral problems.
9) Consult! Consult! Consult! If you have one child who is your nemesis, consult with your school psychologist and have her/him come observe the dynamic in the classroom and work with you and the student.
10) Have a life. Work on your own coping skills and schedule fun. I know teachers who give up everything to be the best teacher on the planet. That is noble until you are burned out. Ask for help when you are stressed out. Remember to put your oxygen mask on before helping others!