I've gotten a lot of requests for my classroom management techniques and suggestions, so I'm starting a series on the topic. These "mistakes" are all just my opinions, based on my own constant trial and error in managing classrooms, so please take them with a grain of salt, and feel free to share any ideas of your own in the comments.
Mistake #1 - Not owning the room
Have you ever noticed that some teachers can control a rowdy classroom simply by walking into it? And that others can't seem to make themselves heard over the din, no matter what they do? Some teachers have "presence" in a classroom, and their students magically listen and obey. I call it owning the room.
It takes a little practice, and it definitely gets easier with years of experience, but here are my best tips for how to own your classroom. (And it's never too late to reinvent yourself and start using these suggestions. I've reinvented myself multiple times in the same school year. It's better than slogging through a horrible year just telling yourself you'll do everything differently next fall, because if nothing else, you gain practice.)
1. Dress up. Go for casual business attire, and avoid slouchy, out-of-style clothes and ugly-but-comfortable shoes. (Right now I am into Creation L and White House Black Market for clothes ideas and Aerosoles for shoes, if you're in need of a visual or two. If you're a guy, try Land's End (if you want to wear ties) or Carbon 2 Cobalt (no ties) for in-style ideas and looks.)
2. Greet students as they come in your door by name. "Hola, Jared. Hola, Alex. ¿Cómo están?"
3. Watch your posture - stand up straight; try not to pace around nervously. Walk around the room slowly, with a purpose.
4. Make eye contact with students, and keep your expression friendly but purposeful.
5. Speak up. Use good Teacher Voice. Teacher Voice = loud enough to be heard over the loudest student, but not screeching or high pitched. Try to lower your tone, speak from deeper in your chest. Breathe. When you need students to quiet down, say so loudly and confidently. Some phrases I use: "Okay, quiet down please." "Okay, I'm talking now." "Stop talking for a minute." Experiment until you find the phrases that you feel you can pull off in class. Don't start giving instruction or directions until everyone is listening. Otherwise, they learn that they can just keep talking over you and you don't care.
6. Give crystal-clear directions as if you've done this a million times and you know exactly how you want things to be. Even if you're totally winging it and/or it's the first time through an experimental lesson.
7. Address behavior on the spot, as soon as you notice it and have confirmed in your mind that it really is what you think it is. ("Ashley, don't play on your phone right now please. I need you to listen to this.") But, warning--avoid griping at a kid if you aren't absolutely sure they are doing something wrong (example: you are about to tell a kid to stop talking to their neighbor, but then you notice they are helping the other kid get the vocab written down.) If you do call out a behavior (like, "Caleb, don't talk to Ryan right now please,") and the student says "I was just telling him the vocab for last class," make sure you say, "Oh, sorry. Thanks for helping Ryan then." Students these days are very sensitive and they'll hold it against you big time if you "yell" at them (that's what they call it) when they perceive themselves as innocent.
Owning the room is so crucial that if you do it well, you can get away with a LOT of other classroom management faux pas during any given class. Like I said, practice and experience make perfect, so don't be afraid to reinvent yourself right now. You don't have to make an announcement about it, just start doing it and note the differences in student behavior.
And please share any thoughts or ideas you might have in the comments below! I love to read comments.
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