Teaching is rewarding, exciting, and often fun. But make no mistake; teaching is a business. We compete for salaries with other districts and cities, federal funding is often based on attendance, and some districts have been known to deny people tenure in order to hire new, less experienced teachers. This hurts the kids, but keeps some taxpayers happy. Harold Geneen is correct in saying that we all have the power to create leaders. However, if you don’t have ownership and control of your classroom, you will never get the chance to impart knowledge.
I have seen teachers who were absolutely brilliant in their content. Unfortunately, they did not have the management skills to create a learning environment in their classrooms. This chapter should help all teachers, novice and seasoned, create a learning environment rich in knowledge and respect. MOST IMPORTANTLY, please always remember that the GREATEST Classroom Management tool is this: An ENGAGING LESSON!!!
Managing Student Behavior
I remember when I first began to teach. I was lucky enough to be part of a school where the toughest dean resided. She was respected and feared by the students. She laughed when years later I told her she scared me as well. When the kids misbehaved, a daily occurrence, I said I would send for her and they quieted down rather quickly. One day I threatened to call her and they continued their poor behavior and even began throwing spitballs at me. I soon found out what they already knew. She was absent! I never had control of my class; she did.
I immediately asked teachers with excellent class control if I could observe their techniques during my lunch hour. I sat and learned from the Masters and over the years I have honed my own skills to create what I think is a very powerful formula for managing student behavior.
It is not difficult to teach in a classroom where students are misbehaving. It is IMPOSSIBLE! The following is a step-by-step approach to managing student behavior.
First, all students get a contract the first day of class. You have to decide on your rules; I can’t do that for you. I often ask what rule number three is as part of my Notebook Quiz. You can ask any number on a Notebook Quiz (always number your rules so you can direct them to the rule they broke quickly.) Some of my rules include:
1. No foul language
2. No hats (bad hair days are your problem, not mine.)
3. Raise your hand to ask or answer a question
4. Never throw your work out
5. Garbage gets thrown out at the end of the period (I hate when they get up and throw garbage away when I am teaching. It distracts me and is rude.)
6. You are responsible for all work even if you are absent
7. The period is over when I say so, the bell means nothing to me. (I do not allow kids to pack up before I dismiss class. Those who do are made to leave last.)
8. Bring a Loose-leaf Notebook, two pens and two pencils EVERY day.
(I don’t lend pens, I rent supplies. They cost points or a phone call home. I used to take money but not anymore.)
I have them sign the contract and their parent signs as well. I then make copies of the contract. I keep one set and return the others to the students. They have to keep it in their notebooks. I like to have an outline in front of me indicating the rules I would like to be in my contract. However, I allow the students to create some of the rules that will be part of the contract for several reasons:
- Their rules are usually more stringent than mine.
- They take class very seriously when they have taken part in the creation of the contract.
- This allows them to have OWNERSHIP of some of the management of the classroom.
If someone gets up to throw out the garbage I say to that person, “Do me a favor, remind me when we throw garbage away.” They know this is a rhetorical question and hold the paper until class is over. This way, I make it the student’s decision to follow the rules, not mine.
Let students know that their signature means they are agreeing to follow the rules as set forth by you. You are counting on them to be true to their word and honor their commitment. In fact, when they arrive late to class, I have them sign a late sheet that I keep on a clipboard. They will be signing many contracts in their lives and this is the first of many. Although I want to set an example in my class, I sometimes throw garbage out during the period and they ask me to repeat the rule since I just broke it. When this happens, they are truly taking ownership of the rules.
Allow me to get this off my chest. While I agree that we need to be role models for our children, I don’t believe I need to leave my cell phone at home. We are no longer children and we must teach them that with certain jobs and situations, certain privileges exist. We have gone to school, graduated and followed all of the rules. Now it is their turn. I tell them they will be learning how changes are made and they will do this when they become teachers or leaders in other chosen professions. I also mention that well educated people have been changing rules for centuries, so they are in good company.