When I joined the teaching force almost a decade ago, many veteran teachers warned me that classroom management was the key to success. In the first week of school, I knew exactly what they were talking about and that first weekend I made managing my classroom my main focus. I had come to the realization that I needed to provide a structured, consistent and firm space if I wanted my students to learn math that year and do well on the end-of-year assessment.
I went into the rest of the year on the defense, ready for the slick comments, the attitude and the apathy to do work in my class. After collaborating with various teachers, I learned how to combat this.
I learned how to engage my students in their education and to encourage them to respect me and the space we were in. Using what I have learned these past few years, I have compiled a list of tips that educators can use as a resource if they are struggling with classroom management or want to be proactive before they begin their first year of teaching.
1. Love Your Students
For starters, if you have chosen to be in education and teach the youth of tomorrow, your students need to know that you care and have love for them. You are an adult figure in their life, and they need to know that every piece of information that you are going to give them is because you care about their future. One of my favorite quotes explains this sentiment, “students don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Students are often coming from troubling home lives and need a positive adult figure in their life, one that guides them and teaches them but most importantly one that cares about them. Once they feel the love, they are more likely to work hard for you and for themselves.
2. Establish Clear Expectations
It’s essential to establish crystal clear expectations. Students need to know exactly what they must do to be successful in your course. If the students do not have clear expectations they will spend time confused and using energy to guess what they need to do to do well. Eventually that confusion will lead to disengagement and students will begin to lower their expectations in your class. Avoid that at all costs and instead make it clear to them what they need to do to excel.
3. Provide Clear Consequences
When students make a mistake, they should have clear consequences for their choices. Although, we never expect our students to be perfect, we should have meaningful, thoughtful consequences that help students get to the root of their mistake. For example, do not assign an hour of detention for a student that did not come into class silently. Make it something productive that helps them learn not to make this mistake again. For example, having them practice coming back into the classroom quietly in that immediate instance would help them see that there is a consistent, meaningful consequence. Students need to understand that they will be accountable to their choices, good or bad.
4. Consistency is Key!
If a student makes a mistake, it is very important to follow through with the consequence. There are many reasons teachers chose not to follow through including, not wanting to engage in a verbal altercation with the student, wanting to give the student another chance, but the key is to be consistent. Students need to understand that their choices and actions have consequences. If teachers are not consistent, students will not take the consequence seriously and will be more likely to lash out when redirected or held accountable.
5. Practice. Practice. Practice!
In order to have students attain habits that will benefit their success, they need to practice. Similarly, in order for successful basketball stars to make the majority of their free throws, they must practice, over and over again. Many professional athletes practice basic skills many times throughout training. That should be no different for our students. They need to practice passing up their tests without talking and turning and talking with a partner and keeping it productive just as athletes practice basic skills. The more practice students have with procedures, the more likely students are to avoid making bad choices.
6. Assume the Best
We must remember that students are on our team and our team’s mission is that they be successful. Even if students are not on the same page (for a minute, a day, or a few weeks) and are working against their own success, we must remind them that we believe in their best self. When students make a mistake, remind them that you believe in them, want them to be successful, and assume the best in them. They are probably fighting a battle you know nothing about and it’s good advice not to take it personal when they act out, talk back, or are refusing to work. We need to assume that no student wants to fail. Even if in the moment all you want to do is give up, don’t. You might be the only champion they have left.
7. Incorporate Fun
I know there are a lot of standards to get through in one scholastic year, and often we find ourselves overwhelmed with how many things we have to teach, what to differentiate, and how to catch students up who are grade levels behind. But at some point, we have to incorporate fun into our curriculum to keep our students engaged and excited to learn. This doesn’t mean you need to be a one person circus but this includes many things, like having students play a game, conducting an ice breaker, or even having incentives for good work. For example, allowing students to listen to music as they work independently could be a huge way to motivate and encourage great behavior.
When students are doing great things, praise them! When students hear praise for great things, they are more likely to continue being amazing for you. On that note, it also encourages students around them to do well and follow suit. Another reason this helps is because it shows that you are paying attention to the class and have eyes on them as they work.
9. Check Your Privilege!
When you walk into the classroom, you need to be conscious about your identities. You need to understand how being a male will be a huge privilege, how being White will be a barrier in a community of predominantly students of color, and how walking in with a college degree will automatically make you more privileged than your students. Even if you grew up the community, have the same ethnic background, and are from a working-class background, you were afforded resources to go to college, resources that our students cannot fathom, so we must understand all our privileges before successfully serving our students.
10. Plan Ahead
There should be no minutes in your day unplanned. Those minutes will surely become a time for students to make mistakes. Whether you have a 55-minute class period or a 90-minute period, there should be no gaps. Plan for students to be productive the entire time that they are with you. Whether it’s notes, group work, or a quiz, students should be kept busy the entire time.