STUDENTS AND TEACHER IN A CLASSROOM AT CATHEDRAL HIGH SCHOOL IN NEW ULM, MINNESOTA. THE TOWN IS A COUNTY SEAT TRADING… – NARA – 558214 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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.