Real talk. I used to fear my students. Not like “ahhh-they’re scary!” No, my fear was far more insidious and subtle. I feared their opinions of me. I gave into their demands and desires all the time because I truly wanted to be liked. Their opinion of me defined how I viewed myself. But wait- that doesn’t make any sense! I’m not a teenager looking for affirmation from 15 year olds. I’m an adult, physically and emotionally. And looking for my own value in my students was never going to end well. Our identities should be in something big and unchanging- God. I am enough and worthy exactly as I am. So are you.
Yet as I was looking for my value in the inconsistent, raging opinions of teenagers, I began to realize that I had absolutely no control over my classroom. And that’s not conducive to learning or teaching. It was a vicious cycle where I didn’t want to fix the behavioral issues because I didn’t want to be disliked yet I hated the way I felt so out of control in my own classroom. Lose-lose.
So I started to implement these classroom management strategies. One at a time, slowly. But consistently. It won’t work if you’re not consistent and enforce the rules. And the rules have to have consequences if they are not upheld. Students won’t magically behave just because we created rules or are working on classroom management.
So here are my best tips and tricks for classroom management. You’ll notice that a lot of my strategies are subtle- maybe not even consciously noticed by students. In my book, that’s a win-win.
- Proximity is everything. Obviously don’t be inappropriate or creepy in any way, ever. I honestly shouldn’t even have to say that. But anyways, your proximity has power. For example, last week I had some students talking while I was giving directions. Without interrupting myself, I walked over to the students, waved my hand to gain their attention, and continued talking. I stood by them until I was finished giving directions. They stopped and I didn’t have to pause my whole class to get them to listen. My students are used to me moving around like this so they just turn their heads to wherever I’m standing to hear directions. If students are doing group work and are having an off topic conversation, I go stand by them. They typically stop. If not, I warn them without a trace of anger. Matter-of-factly.
- Believe the best of your students. If one of my students has their head down, I wait until my presence won’t draw additional attention, say the student’s name quietly until they look up, and ask if they’re okay. Then I ask if they need to walk around the hall really quick or grab a drink of water. I assume the student is tired or upset or needs privacy for a minute. I always assume my students are not trying to be disrespectful. You know why? Because they rarely are. I don’t yell at them or get angry. I ask them calm questions. I offer assistance if I can. I give them the opportunity to feel cared for, seen. It makes all the difference to them.
- Establish consistent, reliable routines. They might not know it, but students crave routine. Humans love routines and our brains crave them because they’re efficient. So the first 10 minutes of every class, my students know they will write. They have the same sheet of paper they take out every day and add a new written response to their warm up on it. They quietly write for 5 minutes. We then discuss for 5 minutes. Such a simple routine, yet as I turn the lights off…they do it. They have the chance to begin thinking about History or Econ and transition into my classroom. Then we get to the lesson of the day. And with sophomores, I always have them get back in their seats the last few minutes of the period, and I give reminders and instructions for any homework. These simple routines allow us to not waste time and students start to do them with little prompting. It creates a sense of order. Routines, routines, routines.
- Seating charts are life. I used to be TERRIFIED of giving students seating charts for fear they would hate me. But you know what’s a bad idea? Letting students sit wherever they want. Literally the worst. Teenagers don’t make good choices. Adults do. (Usually.) Creating seating charts allows students to work with a variety of people and it allows you to choose strategic groupings. It allows your classroom to be more orderly and for the side conversations to be kept to a minimum. It also turns free seating activities into a special privilege. When students know you’re not afraid to move them at will, they’ll take your warnings seriously and start behaving accordingly.
- Do not pair your highest skilled student with your lowest skilled student. This is not a good idea for many reasons- mostly because it’s not actually helpful for either student academically. Yet from a classroom management approach, it’s poison to student engagement. When they’re working together, the higher student will feel bored, frustrated, or do all the work. The lower skilled student will then not be helped at all. Both will likely begin acting out or zoning out from the lesson.
- Build rapport and take every opportunity to show students you care. This is probably the most important tip. Your students need to know you like them and care about them as individuals. Learn their interests, their life stories, ask how they’re doing in your warm ups and actually read their responses. Ask what support you can offer. Notice failing students and follow up with them. Offer office hours. Show them you care. It doesn’t have to take up all your time. It just has to be meaningful.
- Plan lessons that take up the whole period. We don’t want gaps of time where students aren’t doing anything productive or have too much wait time. Why? It’s prime time for misbehavior. This is why everything with my sophomores has a timer. If they’re doing a worksheet, they know how much time they have. If they’re doing a think-pair-share, they know how long they should be talking. Free time or wasted time is not conducive to learning and it’s beyond stressful because all the behavior issues show up.
- Constantly communicate your expectations with students. For every single task and assignment, I give my expectations for what I want students to learn/produce and and and what their behavior should look like. Should they be talking? Quiet? Listening to music? Should they find someone to work with? Should they stay seated? Tell them what you expect and why you expect it. For example, I’ll usually tell my students that they need to be quiet in the next activity because it’s individual and I want them to practice on their own before checking with a neighbor. Now it doesn’t seem like some mean mandate- they understand why they’re being quiet and how it will benefit them personally. Explaining your reasoning works wonders with teenagers who tend to think adults are constantly being unfair.
So this is a start to better managing your classroom. You’ll be amazed how much impact simple changes can have. And make sure you check out my first, second, and third blog posts in this series if you haven’t gotten a chance yet.
P.S. Part Four here.