Tag Archives: Classroom management


“The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?”

(Not the exact question I was asked to give, but close enough.)

Sub for long enough and you get to the point where you look forward to unusual days. Last Wednesday started normal enough, but I had something interesting happen about halfway through. I was subbing for a history teacher who wanted me to show a movie on Martin Luther in the first period. No problem. Not my favorite thing to do, but easy enough. The rest of the periods were to be used as a study hall to catch up on work for this and other classes. I knew the students would see this as synonymous with ‘free time,’ but there was little I could do about that.

During the day, I am sure that word got out that this teacher was absent and the students would essentially free to do as they pleased. That was true of all the classes except fourth period. For them, the teacher had left me a long question to ask. It took most of the white board to write the explanation and the instructions for what they were to do, but I did as instructed. Imagine the consternation of the students who entered fourth period assuming they were to have a ‘free day’ only to find they were to write and thought provoking essay. You would have thought I had sentenced them all the forty lashes tied to the ship’s mast. Needless to say, managing the class for that hour was difficult as the students did everything they could to avoid actually having to do the assignment.

A number of questions entered my thinking as I wrestled with the students to keep them on task. Why was this class singled out? Was it some sort of punishment? If so, it would have been nice to have been given an explanation. Perhaps the students were being punished and they knew why, but I didn’t know and that would have been helpful information to have.

Next, I wondered at how hard they seemed to think this assignment was. To help alleviate some of their fears, I held a class discussion on the subject assigned hoping to spur their thinking a bit. I thought they had enough information by the time we were finished that writing the essay would be a snap. Sure enough, two of the students were finished five minutes after I asked them to start, but they were the exception. These were high school seniors and many of them claimed that they intended to go on to college. Did they have any idea how much of this kind of writing would be required at higher levels? Did they not realize that many of them would be answering a question much like this on their entry application? Apparently not.

I still have no idea why fourth period was singled out this way. If I get the chance, I am going to stop by and ask that teacher when I am at his school next. I can’t wait to hear his answer: it’s bound to be interesting.

Bad News for 4th Period


Posted by on October 26, 2015 in Education, Policy


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Giving Noisy Kids a Chance

Recently I was reading a book on classroom management and found a statement I thoroughly disagreed with. The author made the statement that if students act up in class you should fist assume the assignment you have given them is too difficult and they are acting up to avoid the work.

“How naive!” I thought. Many of the students in classes where I sub start acting up long before you have had the chance to hand out the assignment. It may be true that they are trying to avoid work, but not because they think it is too hard,they haven’t even seen what it is yet.

On further inspection, it occurred to me that the author was making the point that we should start by assuming the students do feel they are up to the task. I can see where that may be helpful, but in my experience, most of the students I see in class that act up are simply seeking attention.

The other day, I was  subbing in a middle school math class with several challenging students. That is, they were noisy and didn’t want to stay on task. I demonstrated the first problem on the worksheet that was assigned, then asked one of the noisiest girls to come up and help with the second problem. At first, she hesitated thinking this was some sort of punishment that would involve embarrassment. I assured her that I would not let her get embarrassed; all she needed to do was follow my instructions. We did the problem together with me telling her exactly what to write at each step.

As soon as she was done, three more hands went up, all wanting to come work on the board with me, all of them among the noisiest in the class. One by one, I let them all come up and work out a problem. In almost every case, they did not need help from me and they loved it because it meant that for a few minutes, the entire class was focused on them.

I have used this technique in several classes since, and have found it quite effective. If students want attention, then I let them get it by working at the board. They get to demonstrate what they now with the promise that I will not let them stumble. It’s a win for them, a win for the class who gets to see the lesson from the eyes of a peer, and a win for me, because management issues are greatly reduced.

This is a work in progress for me, but I would encourage you to give it a try and see how it works for you. There’s little downside and lots to gain. Just the way I like it.


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Counting Your Words

I was in church this morning when someone stood up to sing. Before the music started, the singer decided he wanted to say a few words. I have never been a fan of this “sermon before the sermon” but don’t mind if it is kept short. Unfortunately, this person wanted us to know just how passionate he was about the theme of the song and what it meant to him and how it had effected his life, and on and on. To his credit, most people forgave his indulgence once he started singing as he had a wonderful voice. Now I know I should have been listening to the words and considering their meaning, but I’m afraid I had tuned this gentleman out two paragraphs into his soliloquy.

My mind wandered to something I read this week in Gary Rubenstein’s book, Reluctant Disciplinarian. He says a mentor once told him that “teachers have only a certain number of words they can say in the year before their class tunes them out. New teachers use them up in the first month.” I thought that was particularly sage advice when I read it, and now, having sat through words I thought were unnecessary, I had a new appreciation for this bit of wisdom.

Harry Wong says much the same thing in The First Days of School. He says “the person doing the work is the one learning.” All too often, the person doing the most work is the teacher and frequently that work is being done in the form of talking. In Wong’s class, he had the work posted on the board and his students were trained to get started as soon as they entered the room. Now I know, subs rarely walk into classes so well disciplined, but I love the idea of keeping words to a minimum. Say what you need to say and let them get to work.

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Posted by on October 12, 2015 in Education


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A Truth About Classroom Management



I recently read an excerpt from a course on classroom management. My overall reaction to the course was that it was a bit thin on good advice, though they did make one significant point; your personal classroom management style is not likely to be a single system (and there are many different systems out there) but an amalgam of bits and pieces from several different systems. That sounds like very good advice to me.

I’ve had the chance to read a number of different systems including Love & Logic, SEDI, direct discipline and many more. I have approached each of these disciplines hoping that they had the complete answer, only to be disappointed in part. None of them works alone, in my opinion, but as each one fell short of expectations, I came away with pieces of a more complete system of my own.

There are several reasons why this is true. For one thing, what works with one age may not work with others. Over the last few months I have done a lot of work at the middle school level and do a pretty good job getting those students to do what I want. However, this last week I subbed for some 1st graders and found that the skills I used with 8th graders were not working with these younger students.

Another variable is the person using the skills. I am a man, and a fairly good sized man at that. I can stand at the front of a group of rowdy middle-schoolers with my hands behind my back and give them a stare that will quiet the room. (A technique that was powerless with 1st graders.) However, I’m guessing that such a technique would not be so effective if I wasn’t such an imposing figure physically.

Classroom management is THE biggest challenge substitute teachers face. Most of your students will assume that having a substitute is the same as a free pass to do whatever they like. We don’t have months, weeks or even days to establish a system, we have mere seconds to establish authority for the day. I have a host of tools I use, and I’ll give you a few here, but I strongly encourage you to develop your own.

Contrary to popular opinion, the attendance is not the most important thing for you to do first thing in the morning. Your first task must be to get the students on task working on something as soon as they enter the classroom. I typically ask a hard working student to help with attendance after the class starts. Trust me, busy students are much easier to maintain than those who give you a hard time with attendance.

Don’t be afraid to send someone out of the classroom in the first five minutes. I used to give a lot of warnings, but have come to the conclusion that this is counterproductive. Sending someone to another teacher’s room in the first few minutes for a clear violation of your policies sends a very strong message to the rest of the class: you are not to be trifled with.

Carry a coaches whistle. I subbed for a PE teacher one day and was surprised at how quickly kids responded to a whistle blast. I have worn one ever since. Now before you argue that a coaches whistle is far too loud to be used indoors, let me tell you how I use it. The kids, of course, know how loud it is, and as a result, I rarely have to do more than put the whistle to my lips and the class quiets down. In the rare cases when that doesn’t work, I give a very short blast; nowhere near enough to hurt anyone’s ears. This typically only happens with very young kids who haven’t had any experience with whistles yet.

I have also found that a stopwatch is one of my favorite tools. Tell students they have 30 minutes to write the answers to 20 questions on a worksheet and they will spend the first ten minutes talking to their neighbors and will have a hard time getting back on task as time runs low. However, if you tell them they have 90 seconds to get the first question answered and they are likely to see it as a challenge. It’s a tool that can be overused, but used moderately, it can be powerful and is especially useful for under-motivated students.

I’ll post some resources below, but let me encourage you to look at a LOT of different systems as you develop your personal classroom style. There may not be any one system that is perfect for you, but you will develop one that is if you just glean enough tools from the systems out there.


YouTube: When I first realized I needed major help with classroom management, YouTube is where I went first. I was surprised at the quality of the information I found there. Check out some of these videos and you’ll go back to school excited to try out some new techniques.

Edutopia: Open a free account and you will have access to a number of tools they make available. All for free.

STEDI: This is one of the first and best sources I found when I started looking for classroom management instruction. It’s not free, but everything they offer is top quality and worth every penny. Consider it highly recommended.

Udemy: Dr. Tracey Garret offers a course on classroom management for a modest fee on the Internet learning channel, Udemy.

Love and Logic: This system is great for putting much of the onus back onto the students, which I like, but I’m not sure it is all that useful when you have only minutes to establish control. Still, it’s great information and a really solid system that a lot of school boards are beginning to implement.

Harry K. Wong: The First Days of School should be required reading for anyone wanting to spend any time teaching. It is an industry standard with a very encouraging message. It is written by Harry K. Wong and you can get a preview of his philosophy in the interview found here.

There’s a ton more out there, but that should get you started. Trust me, you don’t have to wear yourself out and you can preserve your dignity and that of your students as well. Just make use of as many resources as possible and watch for learning opportunities everywhere. I’ll post more resources as I find them. Please let me know if you have a favorite that hasn’t been mentioned here.

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Posted by on March 25, 2013 in Uncategorized


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