When I first started teaching, I was a 22 year-old non-education major teaching high school English. My students were 9th and 10th graders, so there wasn’t a ton of difference between our ages, especially since several of them were repeating the class. Not only was I clueless about how to manage a classroom, but I didn’t even have the same type of background these kids did, so I couldn’t relate to them well at all. Growing up in the Midwestern farm town didn’t give me a great deal of comparison to my urban student population. Talk about being out of your comfort zone.
Since then, I’ve read just about every book out there on handling difficult classroom management – Fred Jones’ Tools for Teaching, Harry Wong’s First Days of School, all things research-based by Marzano, and even Rookie Teaching for Dummies by W. Michael Kelley. But I read all of these books AFTER I began teaching. That first year was rough, and many new teachers don’t survive it. If you’re one of those new teachers searching for a way to handle your classroom, don’t give up just because it’s hard. It’s hard for everyone. You are not alone!
So, after almost 10 years in the classroom, I’ve found that the only thing that really works for learning effective classroom management is good, ol’ fashioned trial and error. I do incorporate some of the strategies I learned in the books above, but I also learned many tricks along the way from fellow teachers by listening and watching when they teach. I didn’t have any really good mentor teachers, though, so I had to take it upon myself to observe my co-workers in action. No two groups of students are exactly alike, so the problems you encounter in each situation is as unique as the students who fill those seats.
So, here are a few techniques that I find work well for my particular student population (urban, 70+% Free/Reduced Lunch), and mesh well with my personality.
The Look: Often, students just need a small, non-verbal reminder that they aren’t doing what they need to be doing. For this to work, they must know what the expectations are – if it’s been made clear that they are to be working silently, and someone is talking, “the look” will do wonders without distracting everyone else in the room.
Let’s practice. Clear your face of emotion – no smile, no smirk, no scowl. Tilt your head slightly to one side, and pick a spot between their eyes and stare at it. Once you have their eye contact, you can glance down at their desk or the board (wherever their focus is supposed to be), and then back to their eyes so they get the hint.
Some students will try to turn this into a staring contest. You must win. You will have won when they return to doing what they’re supposed to be doing or stop the behavior that earned “the look” in the first place.
Not all teachers are successful users of “the look.” Your personality plays a big part in what works in handling discipline. I smile easily in general, so when I bust out “the look” and there’s a blank look on my face, they know there’s something wrong. There’s a really funny bit in Fred Jones’ video series Tools for Teachers about “the look.” He advises that first, you make eye contact, and then you very slowly (regally, is how he puts it: “like a queen”) turn your whole body toward the victim of your stare. It cracks me up every time I see him do it. It’s really a bit much for the classroom, though, because the exaggerated movement does what “the look” is not supposed to do – it draws attention.
Many kids don’t want to be in the spotlight – can’t handle being in the spotlight, even. There are some who like to be the center of attention and will do anything they can (good, bad or otherwise) to get it. “The look” may not work for them. But the majority of students will shut down the minute they know you’re watching them because they don’t want or need to escalate to the next phase of Operation Discipline.
That’s all for now. Part 2: Shutting Down Back-talk coming soon. “It takes one fool to back-talk. It takes two fools to have a conversation!” – Fred Jones Tools for Teaching
Thanks for reading! Comments and questions always welcome!
*Note: All of my teaching experience has been in the secondary setting, so these tricks may not work as well with elementary aged students.
Word Count: 3027