Wednesday, July 08, 2009

What No One Will Tell You When You Come to Work at the DOE, Part 3.1: Classroom Management

Welcome back! So if you still think you want this job, you definitely must read this week’s installment on Management and next week’s on Discipline. (I decided they merit two separate posts. Assessment is coming in two weeks.) Oh never have two such important words sounded so boring. But do not skip this post. Your life will most definitely be hell for a full ten months unless you take it seriously. Also, do not think that this stuff does not apply to you if you are teaching the big kids. It ESPECIALLY applies to you if you are teaching the big kids!

I touched on some of these things in last week’s installment, but let’s talk about them in more detail. Half of keeping your little darlings in line is what we call “classroom management.” Classroom management truly makes a world of difference in how your classroom runs and, believe it or not, in how well your students learn. Research has shown that students not only learn better in well-managed classrooms, but they prefer a well-managed classroom to one that is always on the verge of chaos. Since children are fairly well-versed in creating and sustaining chaos, this may surprise you, but it’s true.

So what goes into classroom management? Almost everything you and your students can possibly do in a classroom. I would boil it down to one single word: routine. Have routines for everything. Teach them explicitly and repeatedly in the first couple of weeks of school. Mentally prioritize them and remind and reteach each one as need be. Your students will not only get the hang of it—they will appreciate the fact that there are no surprises, no “gotchas” in your classroom. Circumstances and personality will dictate somewhat what routines you need, but here are ones that you will most certainly need regardless of your age group, classroom, building, etc.:

· Entering and exiting the room
· Where and when to stash coats, lunch boxes, etc.
· What materials to have ready for class
· What to do when getting seated at the beginning of class
· How and when students can leave seats
· Bathroom
· Fire/intruder/lockdown drill
· Asking questions
· Collecting homework and other documents
· Moving and changing seats
· Snack/lunch (for the little ones, generally)
· Assemblies
· Visitors
· Phone calls
· Tests
· Lateness/absence
· Cutting (this one is mostly for the big kids, but believe me when I say that I once caught first graders cutting)
· Projects

Depending on your subject, you may need to teach other routines. If you (God help you) are doing the Teachers’ College nonsense, you will need to explicitly teach how Reading and Writing Workshops are supposed to work. With any luck, you will have been given a book or a binder on this by your administration, but, after all, this is the DOE. (Or is it the BOE again now? Who knows.) If not, Google it and/or pester colleagues. If you have a science lab, you’ll need to teach lab procedures. You’ll figure it out.

It’s worth noting that you may not need to decide what all of those routines are yourself. By all means, if there are department-wide, grade-wide, or building-wide routines on any of those things, follow them to the letter. First of all, if they’re already established and running, kids are more likely to simply assume that things are the same in your classroom and do them without being told. Also, frankly, you have a lot of decisions to make and it will save you some time to follow someone else’s routine. See? You’re already learning how safe and comfortable established routines can make people feel!

I know what you’re thinking. “What?” you’re asking. “How am I supposed to make this interactive and fun and reaching out to all the multiple intelligences? HOW???” Relax. You’re not. It’s okay if the actual teaching of this stuff is somewhat straightforward and lacking in the bells and whistles. Please trust me when I say that your students will appreciate straightforward, easy stuff for a few days. They’ve got a long time to worry about the hard stuff. And if they see that you are very serious about your routines being followed to the letter—and you have to lead by example on this—they will be more likely to follow them. Struggling students in particular like to feel successful early on. If they see that they can please you by walking into the room quietly, taking out a notebook, and starting a Do Now (for example), well, they’re very likely to try the next thing you suggest. And the one after that, and the one after that.

Which brings me to the next thing you have to keep in mind about management: Positive feedback. Frequent, sincere, positive feedback. Do I believe in rewarding students just for doing what they’re “supposed to do”? Well, in principle, not really, but I have to admit that it works wonders. And we’re not talking Xboxes or cars here—we’re just talking about a little compliment, a smile, a nice phone call home. I don’t believe in withholding praise—praise is good, as long as it’s deserved. But remember that it can be embarrassing for older kids, especially boys, to be praised very publicly. Try to be discreet in your praise until you know the kids well—a smile, a thumbs-up, a nod. And even high school kids like getting stickers. If the whole class follows a routine, thank the whole class: “I really appreciate how nicely you all came into the room and started your work so quickly and quietly. That’s going to help us get a lot done today.”

About rewards: This is a touchy and personal subject for teachers, as heaven knows we already pour out enough of our money right back into our kids. One thing I can tell you about rewards is that the best rewards are often free. I have a system whereby the whole class earns “points” over the course of a week or a month that can be used to “buy” a reward for the whole class, like a free period, a party, or a homework-free weekend, all of which cost you exactly nothing. Of course, they can also lose points by screwing up. (If you like this idea, a more detailed explanation can be found here.)

Another way I do rewards is by giving out little raffle tickets for acts that go “above and beyond”: a struggling student aces a quiz, a student spends a lunch period tutoring or helping me in the classroom, etc. Then, every so often, the tickets go into a pool and the winners, say two or three in a class, get to pick out a prize. I get my prizes from the dollar store. Things like pens, sticky notes, little bottles of hand sanitizer, etc. make for nice prizes. I do not do candy or any edibles. That helps me save money while still making all students feel special and recognized.

If you have suggestions for other routines or other ways to get students on board with following them, please do post them in the comments. This week’s post was pretty much all sweetness and light, but we’ll be looking at the dark side of Keeping Your Little Darlings in Line with Part 3.2 next week: Discipline.

See you next time!

Miss Eyre
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