Saturday, July 18, 2015

Seasoned Sages Sundays: Classroom Management

We've all been there: you've put a lot of time and effort (and maybe even money) getting lessons and activities planned and ready, and it's all gone horribly wrong. Kids are out of their seats, supplies are now toys, and God only knows what That Kid is doing. This is why classroom management is the first skill a young teacher has to master; without it, nothing else works.

I remember the day that this happened - again - in my classroom. Part of me wanted to just quit. Then, I got mad. These little $%#@s hadn't earned a classroom; I had. One hot place was going to freeze over before I'd allow them to take mine. I pitched a fit of epic proportions. After school, I went to a veteran teacher across the hall for help setting up a consistent and simple management plan. (I had gotten my first teaching job the day before school started and in the next state, so there hadn't been time for thinking about it much.)

You'll  notice that I didn't go to the office and I didn't kick kids into Helen's classroom. That turned out to be a good move, because that shifts the responsibility for my discipline to people who aren't me. Why does that matter? Well, later in my career, when I found myself teaching in an inner-city middle school, our principal pointed out to all of us in a staff meeting,

"When you let the office handle your discipline, the office gets the respect. Not you."

She's right. So, my dear newbie, rather than give you tools to manage your classroom, which I'm hoping you'll pick along our hop today, I'm going to give you an attitude. You'll need it. My one, best piece of advice for you is this:

It's your classroom. Own it.

It's all you, babe. You make the choices about lessons, about routines, about how children will treat you and your classroom, and exactly how much crap you're going to take. Take some time to think about limits, because once you set them, you have to make them stick. Children can't deal with 'this rule matters sometimes'. If it's not worth enforcing, don't make it a rule. (I don't care that much about hand-raising, but the kids know that only a fool backtalks me.) Be true to your word; no false threats and no empty promises. Ever.

If you've ever been in a Target, Wal-Mart, or grocery store, you've probably seen children totally owning their parents. These kids will be in your classroom this August, and many will expect that you will abdicate your power as their moms and dads have. In more than a few cases, calling home is  pointless. which, again, is just as well. Wait...what? Yes, because parents are just like the office. 

Children need to behave in your room because YOU said so. Not the office, not their mamas. You.

Now, before you think I sound like an ogre, consider this: because I have control of my classroom, and my own (and the other kids in the grade) know it, I can actually have a lot more fun. It's OK to lie on the carpet in front of the Promethean to take notes. Yes, you can read around the room. Most of my work is done collaboratively because things don't get out of whack. When I say stop, it's done.

Case in point: we had a fabulous overnight field trip to the Georgia Aquarium. All  60 of the kids had their bed rolls laid out in front of and around the giant tank with the whale sharks and the manta rays, getting ready to climb in. Caleb, a boy from the classroom next door, whose sleeping bag was perpendicular to mine, said, "You know, this would make a great pillow fight. How could we start it?" I turned around, grinned, said, "I dunno. Maybe kind of like this?" and lit him up. He looked stunned for a second, then grabbed his pillow and got me back. Then it was on like Donkey Kong: sixty kids, two teachers, pillows flying. It was a great fight.

I let it run for a few minutes, and when I used my Teacher Voice (Bonus advice: you must develop this and your Stink Eye.) to count down from 10, it all wound down like it should have. By 1, everyone was panting and laughing, but it was done. If I didn't know that I could maintain control of something like that, it couldn't have happened. It would have ended up with at least a couple of kids in tears and something (or someone) broken. 

Kids do want structure, and in the next few weeks, you need to think about what YOU are going to do to provide it with simple, consistent rules along with their fair and consistent enforcement. In the end, this is the only way you can be the fun teacher with the engaged, happy classroom that you've been envisioning for the last four years.

Good luck! Remember, the Seasoned Sages are here for you. Feel free to send up a flare, should you find yourself struggling, using one of the social media buttons up top. On that note, there is a new teacher chat on Twitter each week. (I thinks it's run by @Cybraryman) that is totally worth your time. 

Be sure to pin this link-up to help your teaching friends!


  1. it's all you babe Heh!! That's a good one.

    Really great blog Lizzie. I learned all of these lessons the hard way my first year teaching. I think my biggest mistake was not asking for help when I needed it because I thought that admitting that I had no idea what I was doing would make me look bad.

    Love, love, love, the pillow fight story. It sounds like you a fun teacher. I think the key to good classroom management is keeping the kids engaged and having fun..but still owning your role as commander and chief of your classroom. :)

    The Whimsical Teacher

  2. Great post, Lizzie. You make such a great DO love structure. I also love your principal's quote about establishing respect. This is so true. I remember having a similar discussion with a middle school principal on handling challenging parents. She taught me that the teacher is the one who must establish and maintain the rules in order to earn the respect of both the students and parents. I am excited you make this a linky instead of a hop...I will be back to link up.

    The Organized Plan Book

  3. My very first long term teaching assignment was as the third teacher for the year to a 6th grade classroom teaching Math and Science. The students would enjoy a five minute passing period break even though they had me for two periods. On the second day of class 3/4 of them decide to come in tardy, grinning and casually sit down, except for one student who had remained standing talking to her friend. I asked her to sit and she defiantly said, "Yo, Ms. P. we got rid of Mr. X and we got rid of Mr. Y and (she points at me) we can get rid of you!" I looked at her, looked at the class, all eyes were on me and said, "Class we need to have a talk here. Z, have a seat." She sat down, all the while grinning at her classmates, confident she had just derailed my lesson for the day. I inwardly groaned and prayed, "Lord, what do I do now?" Then I said, "Class, I am here to stay" I'm thinking "No, Lord, no way - I don't want this battle!" Then I added, "The only way for you to no longer have me as your teacher is for you to be permanently expelled from my classroom." Mouths dropped and all stared wordlessly at me. Seriously, I had no idea what I was saying. The I announced, "Tomorrow there will be NO passing period, we will make up the time lost due to your tardiness today." Verbalized moans and cries of "You can't do this" and I responded, "I can and I just did. NOw, let's see if it only works out to be one day without a passing period or if I will need to take it for the rest of the year. Please get out your Science." All students silently got out their Science work. The next day when the passing bell first rang, several students slammed their books, all looked at me and I slowly shook my head from side to side in a NO fashion and announced, "Time for Science." They all put away their Math and got out their Science. That was the only time I had to actually take away their passing period. I was in charge and they knew it.

    1. Good for you! It honestly doesn't take a huge amount - some rules, some consistency - and most kids will be on board. But that's SO hard to know in your first year! Well done.

  4. Great post, thank you for sharing your wisdom. I'm not going to link up this time, but I'm definitely following you - you know what you're talking about, and write about it with wit. I loved your post!