The classroom

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The Classroom:

Do YOU manage it or does IT manage you?

I guess that a lot of teachers, new and experienced, share the same anxiety when we hear the words "here's the list of your students," "here's your classroom," and "Good luck!" It comes by default that the phrase "Good luck" means that we need to figure out how to progress through the year facing the daily challenges without losing control over our students (Barbetta et al. et al. 1). Every September is the beginning of a new academic year that requires a big load of preparation including the preparation of the year's academic plan for a new bunch of students, the layout plan for a new classroom setting, and the specially tailored techniques for a new classroom management plan. All three planners mentioned previously are the major pieces of a huge puzzle that can provide the teacher with a smoothly running class and the students with a safe and stable learning environment in midst of an outrageously changing world (Barbetta et al. et al. 1).

Teachers in schools all around the world are expected to prepare a well-thought classroom management plan, in order to ensure qualitative and quantitative academic performance. Yet, classroom management procedures might differ to some extent from one school to another depending on the school's philosophy and expectations of how its teachers are expected to teach and manage their classrooms (Henningsen 1). Therefore, it is my duty as a specialist in professional development and as a fellow colleague to share my classroom management experience with other teachers. I ensure teachers that they can achieve effective classroom management as they gain a lot of practical experience especially when they learn from their mistakes and learn from other teachers' mistakes via observation (Barbetta et al. et al. 1). At first, teachers need to understand the meaning behind the concept of classroom management before applying it in class. According to Andrea Babkie, classroom management is defined as "managing the instructional environment to increase positive academic and behavioral outcomes [...] using behavioral techniques as preventive measures" (Babkie 184). However, according to teachers who are new to the field of teaching, classroom management is defined as "a pure nightmare waiting endlessly to turn into a dream come true". In order to make this dream come true, it is important to clarify some of the most crucial strategies that can aid a teacher to achieve effective classroom management.

I have tried my best in categorizing some classroom management techniques, which I have found extremely effective and truly practical over my 5 years of teaching experience in the Preschool and Elementary classes, into four major categories as placed by Dr. Marjorie Henningsen:

Managing people:

  • Managing One's Own Behavior: "Most kids hear what you say; some kids do what you say; but all kids do what you do." Kathleen Casey Theisa (Klein 78)
  • This saying is an important tip that every teacher must remember. This tip can really save teachers from committing the most common classroom management mistake by helping them become more conscious about how they behave in class. After all, many students imitate what adults do without thinking whether it's good or bad just because they like to do so! If the teacher shouts, the students will do so too. In addition, this saying made me more alert of how I speak, act and react in class. If teachers really want to prove themselves to be effective teachers, they should model appropriate behavior and encourage students to imitate them. Thus, it becomes the responsibility of the teacher to train herself to display proper manners in front of her eager learners. For example, I have solved the problem of raising my voice to get myself heard by applying reverse psychology on the students by complimenting them for "respecting my voice". Once I say that calmly yet a bit loudly for them to hear me, they would stop and say: "Sorry miss, we do respect your voice." It does take a little bit of time and practice to bring all students on-board, but eventually they will "respect the teacher's voice" and become attentive. They even started using this phrase with their classmates when they want to be heard.

  • Non-verbal Communication: I can't stress more on the teachers' need to train their skills in reading and responding to non-verbal communication from the students. It's important to read students' facial expressions and body gestures; especially with the younger ones who can't fully express themselves verbally, before deciding to ignore or deal with certain misbehaviors, complaints or nags. If the student appears to be ok and not bothered by being ignored, it will be a positive sign for the teacher that the student will be fine and the issue was a total bogus. However, if the student appears to be extremely uncomfortable and unhappy with your decision (the students' droopy eyes, full-face frown, and sloppy shoulders can tell a lot), then the teacher has to react quickly to resolve the matter in a different way as it is not healthy to leave the child discontented as this affects their participation in class. In addition, dealing with the issue is one of the ways to motivate the child to join the class participation when his need for attention is sought (Barbetta et al. 15-16). Besides this, teachers need to be careful not to ignore too much or to deal with every single issue, so teachers need to choose wisely (Barbetta et al. 15). For example, one of my students once said something really inappropriate in class and I know that he has a special case of ADHD, so I decided neither to ignore his outburst nor to let it go. I simply stared at him in a firm way and I observed him shrink back to his place noting that he felt guilty about his act and I didn't need to say a single word. After all, non-verbal communication can sometimes be stronger and more effective than a thousand words (tip: conserve your saliva and rest your vocal cordsJ).
  • Setting rules: Many teachers misunderstand the idea behind setting the classroom rules. They think that all rules must be applicable to their students only, but the essence behind strongly functional rules lays on teachers committing themselves in applying the rules too. It's important to stick to a maximum of five simply stated rules in the beginning of the year so that the students feel that they will be able to follow them, and these rules can be reviewed in the middle of the year if the teacher and the students collectively agreed to do so. In addition, students will feel at ease with positively directed rules such as: "If you finish your work early, grab a book to read", "We walk in class and in hallways", and "We calmly raise our hands and politely wait for permission to share". Besides this, sometimes students need the silent treatment (caution: this strategy may be used only when the teacher has a strong presence in class, or else the teacher will lose total control over the class), as it can be applied to warn the students that major rules have been broken. It kills the students to see that their favorite teacher is not talking to them, but being authoritative in class is a necessity. I always remind myself: "It's your class, you run it, you are the major decision maker, and your word is the final word."

Also, teachers should be consistent with how they run their classroom, and this can be achieved by showing students that they will: (1) stand in the face of those who break the rules and giving appropriate consequences (starting with a non-verbal warning, verbal warning, community service to pay back their debts to the community [either by cleaning the tables in the classroom, emptying the trashcans or washing the windows], and finally sending them to the principal when it's an extreme case), (2) not accept or tolerate bullying inside or outside the classroom such as labeling bad words as "Silly words said only by silly people" and hitting as "a violation of Human Rights" (I say these with tense and sincere emotions), and (3) provide intrinsic rewards (I call them "Duracell" because they are more durable than extrinsic rewards) such as saying "You are such a caring community member" or "You have been so respectful and responsible today" to students who behave well in class and follow the rules (Henningsen 2-3). In this way, the teacher will be empowering students who abide by the rules and reinforcing the implementation of the rules no matter what.

Before starting any lesson or activity, I always remind the students with the rules in a fun way using humor to focus on what they should be doing verses to what they should not be doing. Sometimes I like to act goofy in front of the children in order to break the ice or to decrease the level of tension and stress since students might have faced a long tiring (maybe boring?) day at school. So, when the students feel at ease with me, I can be promised with more cooperation and productivity in highly cognitive and challenging activities. Besides this, when I want them to work in groups, I make sure that each member of the group has understood his/her specific function instead of leaving them figure things on their own. As a result, I would ensure myself that I have grasped their attention, maintained a relaxed atmosphere and achieved my objectives. Teachers need to remember that if one way didn't work for dealing with the misbehavior, they need to try using another strategy instead of keep on trying to enforce the same inactive strategy (Barbetta et al. 12). For example, I couldn't once get the students focused on an activity since a student was fixing her fluffy hair in midst of the activity. Instead of shouting at the students, I asked them if they have a hair blower for her. Indeed they laughed and told me to look at her, rather than looking I said: "Well yeah, but check out how our next activity fixes its hair" this got them back to the lesson straight away (especially that the student finally finished fixing her hair). Don't be upset with children's childish comments; cheer up and embrace it!

Managing ideas:

  • Verbal Communication: It's extremely vital for teachers to communicate with their students instead of keeping their distance away from them. It pays a long way to build a healthy and friendly relationship with the students because the teacher would get to know and understand their students' personalities, cases and learning styles. This leads to learning exactly how to provide students with clear directions and know how and when to help the students be aware of the steps in order to achieve the task. If students know exactly what to do, are genuinely interested in the activity, and are aware of where exactly they are going to reach, students will gladly perform what the teacher asks them to do (Babkie 185). In addition, teachers must show students with words that they respect them so that in return the student will respect them (remember that respect is earned, not inherited or claimed with power). Teachers should never expect students to respect an authoritarian person (aka scary monster in kids' world), as they unconsciously know that any person who disrespects their value as human beings are not worth being respected at all (Babkie 187). Major tip: Post the following proverb on the wall "Treat others as you wish others to treat you" and encourage your students and yourself to abide by it in every single way. You can even share stories of how it was applied in their interactions with other people.
  • Role Model: Teachers are viewed as role models by the students, and so it's significant for the students to see that the teacher is there to support them when required. Students need to feel the trust and honest love in the classroom as it will be the maximum bonding experience that students need in order to perform better in class. This bond will allow all students to express themselves freely without fearing the chance of mockery to occur from their classmates; students need to feel secure and safe from humiliation that can threaten their very existence. Teachers need to remember that children are egocentric and they need someone to guide them towards becoming functional members of their community who care about people other than themselves. I have once faced a very embarrassing situation in class where I allowed a student to go to the board and explain her answer. Unfortunately, the student had a wrong answer and the rest of the class laughed at her. I directly looked at them with a firm look and asked them if it was respectful to laugh like this. I also asked them if they'd like me or anyone else to laugh at them and they definitely didn't want that. In this way, I have shown students the value of respect and how strongly I am intolerant to mockery (Henningsen 3).
  • Learners verses Perfect: Teachers always think that they should appear as the all-knowledgeable wizards of their time, thus making them vulnerable to some students who like to outsmart their teacher. In order to avoid such an embarrassing confrontation, teachers need to show their students that they are also learners and not perfect beings, and that they too need to learn in order to become better (you don't need to know everything, but you are ready and eager to learn). This will stop students from bullying the teachers, and will actually respect the teachers for including themselves into the circle of learning. Therefore, it becomes truly meaningful to include students in the decision making process and in the reflection process since the teachers' ideas are solely not enough to make a well established decision or reflection and their students' contributions are as highly valuable, interesting and insightful as their teachers' ideas (i.e. we are not perfect creatures; we rely a lot on other human beings to make our lives complete). Last, but definitely not least, teachers should never ever label students (e.g. monkey, turtle, rascal...) because they will lose their students' trust and the respect they have been building all along.
  • Alternative Expressions: The teacher gathers the answers of the students and realizes that some didn't write much. Why did that happen?

Not all of the students are interested in expressing themselves in written form. It would be appealing for the students to work on a worksheet that asks from them to write and draw. In this way, they would be comfortable to know that they can compensate for their incomplete written response via the drawing. In addition, it would be great from a teacher to motivate her students to reply in many means that suits them. The written responses could be complimented with arts and crafts, music, poetry, technology or whatever fits the objectives of the lesson. The teacher must keep in mind that students could and should display their understanding of the lesson in various ways that are compatible with their style of learning and performing (Babkie 186). For example, we are requested at school to involve students in committee work, so we have this 6 year old child as a member of our Community Service Committee. Every time we talked about planning issues, he would wonder around obviously not interested in what we were talking about. Therefore, in order to get him interested, we provided him with a copybook and colored pencils and asked him to be our minute taker for our meetings by drawing pictures of what we were talking about. This worked like magic and he never interrupted our meetings again with his requests to go home early.

Managing space:

  • Personal Zone: Provide each student with enough working space (i.e. the length of half an arm on each of the right and left side can be enough) in order to protect the child's personal zone from being "violated" with pinching, poking, shoving, and unwanted borrowing of personal materials from the other children surrounding the child. In that way, you will be hearing less nagging from the students. I always hear students complaining about their classmate bumping into them "mistakenly" while seated, which can be interpreted in two ways: (1) the students don't have enough space to work comfortably, or (2) the students are bored from the activity that they want to tease other students. Either way, the class has been disturbed and this is an issue that cannot be ignored. I usually deal with these issues on the spot according to the intensity of the problem by either: (1) keeping them on the same table but moving the students apart from each other to give them more space to work, (2) changing the place of one student, or (3) verbally and firmly dealing with it and bringing their attention back to the lesson. I strongly advice teachers to avoid asking students about the details of the issue because it will waste a lot of time and a lot of blaming will occur and that won't be healthy for the students. I have learned this by experience.
  • Physical Layout: Teachers need to arrange the layout of the class in a way that allows teachers and students to breathe and move comfortably (Babkie 184-185). This includes the furniture (tables, chairs, cubbies...), resources, manipulatives, books, and other things. I know from vast experience of trying to teach in small crammed places that it's difficult to move around thus making it quite hard to constantly check on students' work and to follow up on students' behavior and consequently on their performance. A possible solution was to keep my eyes scanning the classroom repeatedly to ensure everybody that I'm there to support them and to catch students' confusion. Also, from experience, I noticed that children become very, very confused in crowded and unorganized places to an extent that they become disoriented and dysfunctional. Sometimes they sigh a lot, cry extensively, and nag terribly. Children are growing up in a huge world that they don't know yet but are on the path to discover it, and anything that is bigger than them might scare them, worry them, interest them and even agitate them. So, when they start to ask questions, interfere and appear to be "nosy", teachers must not mistakenly take it for discipline problems since students are testing their diameters with their own experimentations. Instead of asking them to sit down still and be quiet, teachers must encourage students to inquire and allow them to fool around with things until they find answers which will fulfill their curiosities. This is a good opportunity to teach them via fun activities how to use the things found in their classroom and where each material goes back to their rightful places (on the shelf, in a cabinet, at the corner...). This exercise will: (1) help them become familiar with their immediate environment, (2) help them feel responsible for their own learning, (3) give them something constructive to do which can count as a transition time from one activity to another (Babkie 185).
  • Organization: "THUD!" "CLUTTER!" "SPLAT!" "THUMP!" "AWW!"

The teacher sees students shoving and the level of noise pollution has increased dramatically, what must the teacher do? Simply, before the students arrive to class, the teacher can take at least two minutes to organize the classroom environment in a way that would ready the students for the lesson. It would save lots of time to have the needed materials accessible and would make less noise to have the materials exactly where students can find them. For example, the teacher can prepare the required resources on the students' desks (such as pencils, papers, glue sticks...). Additionally, the teacher can move the desks and chairs closer to each other in order to ease group work, yet allow individual work. Also, to save more time, the teacher can have the students pack up the materials in places where they can find them again when needed (Babkie 184-185).

Managing materials:

  • Preparation: If the activity requires certain materials, resources and manipulatives, teachers need to make sure prior to class time that they have an enough quantity on the table to go around since careful preparation will encourage every student to participate instead of having one student dominate the whole activity. It will be better if the teacher assigns a role for each student to take care and deal with a certain material. The clearer the tasks were set, the better student interaction the teacher will receive.
  • Options: I always remind new teachers to give students limited yet several options to choose from in a way that whatever they choose will work for the teacher and their students (giving two options is usually the best and easiest way for students to choose from and it will cut down from the time lost in class). Although students will not realize that the teacher has limited them to two options, they will realize that they have been given the power to choose whatever is convenient for them. Meanwhile, whatever the students choose will also be convenient for the teacher because she has set the options. It is worth the try, but teachers need to remember that they have to appear sincere and firm with the options they have provided as students are able to read facial expressions very well and tell a fib from the truth.

Although effective classroom management does not come easily, it is not impossible to reach it if teachers set their mind to put their foot down in their classroom. When teachers feel frustrated in their classrooms, they need to remind themselves that they are the adults, that this is their classroom, and that they are able to take things in their own hands in humane ways that do not harm students physically, emotionally, and/or verbally (Henningsen 3). In addition, I recommend teachers to do their homework and research for resources that will provide them with easy yet applicable strategies that will bring back the proper management to the classroom. As such, I am pleased to share two articles which I have retrieved from ERIC for the authors Babkie and Barbetta et al. that can help teachers, as they helped me, avoid common classroom management mistakes in their classroom and learn the proper ways in preventing and facing difficult and challenging classroom management situations.

In conclusion, teachers, whether new or experienced, should not allow their classroom to manage them. On the other hand, effective teachers should manage their classroom in order to aim and accomplish maximum educational and academic benefit for the sake of the students. In other words, effective teachers need to apply authoritative control over their classroom in order to provide a constructive and positive learning environment that caters to different styles and types of learners.

List of References

  • Babkie, Andrea M. "20 Ways to be Proactive in Managing Classroom Behavior." Ed. Robin H. Lock. Intervention in School and Clinic. 41.3 Jan. 2006: 184-187
  • Barbetta, Patricia M., Norona, Kathleen Leong and David F. Bicard. "Classroom Behavior Management: A Dozen Common Mistakes and What to Do Instead." Preventing School Failure. 49.3 (2005): 11-19
  • Klein, Allen. Up Words for Down Days. Ed. Donna Lee Lurker. New York: Portland, 1998: 78-79
  • Henningsen, Dr. Marjorie. "Classroom Management and Discipline Procedures" Wellspring Learning Community. 3 September 2009: 1-3 (School Property)