This week, we look at another “D” of managing large classrooms, which to me, should actually be the first “D”. As I tell my students, we can’t learn without discipline. So we need to establish order in the classroom, before we can even consider delivering our lesson.
As stated last week, like you, I’ve sat through seminars about classroom management and heard a plethora of ways to establish student discipline. The tips I present are ones that have worked for me and by no means, are they new. Sometimes I ‘burnt to learn’, but learn I did.
So let’s jump right in:
1) Have an entry/exit routine: Whether you have a homeroom or not, you need to establish a set of steps for beginning and ending your class. Don’t just walk into the room, drop your books on your desk and start your lesson. Acknowledge students’ presence and make sure they reciprocate. Your opening routine can look like: an established greeting, then, allow them to take out their books and material necessary for the class before sitting. Your departure routine can be: ensure they pack away their books and exchange an established ‘goodbye’ of “See you next class/ Monday (or whenever you have them next). Good day 3C.”, to which they respond, “Good day Miss/ Sir.” Do not leave the class until they have replied. Repeat your own goodbye a bit louder if necessary.
2) Post the class rules/ standards: At the start of the academic year, establish rules/ standards for your time together. By including students in this process, the ‘manifesto’ is more binding because they have ‘bought in’ to what is acceptable and what is not. Be sure to post the rules/ standards so that they can be visible and you can draw students’ attention to the list, when an infraction occurs. If you cannot post the list, because it’s not your homeroom, make sure to keep a copy of it with you in your lesson plan/ class notebook. That way, you can refer to it and hold it for students to see when necessary.
3) Own your space/ Assign seating: I’ve spoken to this before and during my Dip. Ed., on my field days, I really saw the value of it. When you enter a classroom that’s not yours, it’s important to establish your role as ‘team leader’/ ‘captain of the ship’. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having students sit according to a seating plan that YOU have established. So they sit however they want in another teacher’s class. It’s not your prerogative to follow that teacher’s lead. Trust that YOU know what combinations will make for optimal learning and which will, pardon my Trini, lead to optimal ‘liming’. Set your course, seat each ‘shipmate’ in the best place for him/ her and then, move forward. For that 40 minute or however long period, the classroom is in YOUR hands.
4) Address inattentiveness with eye contact and courtesy: I’ve taught teenage boys for close to 18 years, and they can get especially fidgety. They might snatch a pen from a classmate’s hand for ABSOLUTELY no reason, begin teasing someone for a spot on his/her face or booger in the nose...the possibilities are endless. If you see it happening, don’t pretend that you don’t. Neither assume that eventually, he/ she will re-focus. Nip it in the bud immediately, with courtesy and using the student’s name: “Nicholas/ Nicole, I need you to pay attention. Look at me please.” Establish and maintain eye contact, pause your lesson and wait until he/she complies. Don’t get pulled in by his or her: “Miss/ Sir, I wasn’t talking!” line. Simply repeat your request: “I need you to pay attention please.” Don’t engage in a back and forth. You saw what you saw and don’t doubt yourself.
5) Zone in on minor infractions / off task activity: Apart from never turning your back to the class, you need to circulate. Slant your body when writing on the board and every now and then, pause and turn to face the class. Scan, let them see you scanning and then, return to writing in that slanted position. Always be aware of what’s happening in the room.
Perhaps you’re walking around while you’re delivering the lesson and you notice a student, on the other side of the class, doodling/ drawing or worse, trying to finish homework for the class he/she has after yours. Slowly and calmly make your way over to him/ her. Continue delivering your lesson even when you get to him/her. Then, pause, lower your voice and put the situation in order. Sometimes, all that will be required is a simple tap on their book and a point to the board. Other times, it will be a ‘handover of the other subject’s notebook’ and ‘we’ll address this after class’. Don’t make a big deal out of it by drawing the whole class’ attention to it. It’s an individual matter that needs addressing, so keep it that way. If other students get wind of it, a power play can start to brew and that can lead to the student who committed the errant action, trying to garner support from his/ her peers. That’s the last thing you want to happen.
But if it does….
6) De-escalate drama/ Don’t match the energy: Never engage in a tit for tat with your students. If the student tries to ‘make a scene’ or becomes disrespectful/ hostile, don’t try to show him/ her who is ‘boss’. Be firm, practice self-control and ‘stick to your guns’. Continue with the one-liner: “I’m not going to argue with you, we’ll chat after class.”
If at any time, you feel endangered/ outnumbered or threatened, do NOT remain in the space. Yes, maintaining order in the classroom is part of our job, but subjecting ourselves to verbal, physical and even sexual violence, most certainly, is not. You have as much right to safety as students do. I would also not advise that you jump in to part fights or break up combatting students. Alert the necessary authorities immediately, and follow due process. But NEVER endanger yourself.
I hope these tips help you as much as they’ve helped me during the course of my teaching.
Also, feel free to share some of your own tips with us, because as you know, the 21st Century Team always loves to get your input and feedback!