Classroom Management: Ten Teacher-Tested Tips!
Sally McCombs has been teaching for more than 18 years. These days, she seldom has a discipline problem that she can’t handle. That wasn’t always the case, however.
McCombs recently recalled for Education World an experience from her early teaching days. “There was a student who was driving me crazy,” she said. “He was arrogant and disruptive, but my good friend — who also taught him — had no trouble with him. So I asked her what her secret was, and she simply said ‘You have to like him.’
“Notice,” McCombs emphasized, the teacher said “You don’t have to love him, just like him — but it has to be real. I’ve tried to keep that in mind since then,” added McCombs, a teacher at LEAP Academy in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “I deal with kids differently when I really like them, even if I don’t like their behavior. There is generally something to appreciate in every kid.
“I’ve had to realize that letting kids get away with things they know are wrong is not kind,” McCombs explained. “Students need structure. They need to trust us, and that means we have to keep our promises, even if the promise is that you will call home or assign punishments.”
McCombs has found a classroom management approach that works for her — and she was willing to share her experiences for the benefit of others. So were other educators who have found classroom peace. Today, Education World shares ten teacher-tested tips for managing a classroom. One of them might be perfect for you to try this fall in your classroom!
COUNTDOWN TO BEHAVIOR
Nancy Landis, a fourth-grade teacher at Oskaloosa (Kansas) Elementary School, has found a technique for quieting rambunctious kids that works well for her. As many other teachers do, she uses a simple counting technique. “I wear a stopwatch around my neck, and when the noise gets to an unacceptable level, I hold up the stopwatch and begin timing,” said Landis.
“There is always a student who is aware of what I have done, and the word spreads quickly,” explained Landis. “I never need to say a word; they regulate themselves. They know the time that has accumulated on the watch is the time they ‘owe’ before they can have recess.” If the students respond quickly, Landis doesn’t count the time on the watch against them.
Many other teachers employ variations of this technique. Some count aloud. One teacher we know counts aloud in Japanese — and the counting doesn’t stop until all the students join in. She changes the language each month, so children learn to count in a new language while they manage their own behavior!
Another “countdown” teacher sets a goal for the counting time that a given class can accumulate. During the first week of school, that goal might be 200 seconds; the goal might decrease by 25 seconds each week, until it is down to 100 seconds a day at the end of the first month. If the students don’t accumulate that many seconds of owed-time, he shares a “joke of the day.” He says the kids hate to miss out on the joke — even if it is a groaner! Unlike the more-concrete awards some teachers provide, this award cost him only the price of a good joke book!
Most teachers agree that the key to making the countdown technique work is to set a goal and stick to it. The first time the kids lose out might be hard on the teacher who realizes that just one or two students have spoiled things for the others. Peer pressure works amazingly well, however — on the following day, the students are bound to do better!
Charles Kruger teaches at Bethune Middle School in Los Angeles. When a student is being difficult, he employs a technique called a “hallway conference.” It’s a technique Kruger learned in a seminar offered by Lee Canter Associates.
“I go to the doorway — slowly because I want the class to watch — and call the student to the hallway,” Kruger explained. “The other students are quiet — they want to see what is going to happen.”
When Kruger and the student get together in the hallway, the conversation goes something like this:
Kruger: I care very much about your success in my class, (student’s name), and I’m concerned that you seem to be headed into trouble today. You have (here Kruger lists the offense or offenses), and I know you know that is against the rules. Is something going on today that is giving you a special problem? Can I help?Student: (At this point, the student is usually disarmed and often responds “no.” At other times, the student might present a problem. In either case, Kruger will usually continue …)
Kruger: I’m glad there isn’t a problem. (Alternative response: I’m sorry to hear that. Perhaps we can deal with that later.) Right now, this is what you have to do: Go back to your seat and (whatever the assigned task is), and don’t give me any more problems today. Can you do that?… Are you sure?… Good. I’m glad we’re going to be able to keep you out of trouble.”
Kruger and the student return to the classroom as Kruger gives the student a big smile and says enthusiastically and clearly so the rest of the class can hear.
Kruger: Thank you, (student’s name).
“At first I was concerned that some students anxious for extra attention would provoke hallway conferences, and that does happen,” Kruger noted. “But the other students seem to understand, and the student who needs extra attention gets it. If a student is persistent, I try to find other ways of giving him or her extra attention. Even a little attention, such as making a point of greeting the student by name or asking for help with a chore, can significantly reduce some problem behaviors.”
SEVEN MORE TEACHER TIPS TO TAME TEMPER TANTRUMS!
- Pasta discipline.
This technique starts with a large jar and a few boxes of macaroni — small elbow macaroni works best. When students are all working together well or independently on a task, grab a handful of macaroni and dump it into the jar as a reward. When the jar is full, the students have earned an agreed-upon reward. Possible rewards: Free activity time, a night or two without homework, or a special event.
If students are a little talky, you might take advantage and whisper an instruction that begins “If you can hear my voice and (give an instruction), you can have ten minutes of free time at the end of the day.” The beginning of the whispered statement will get the attention of some or many students. Give the instruction just once; those who don’t give you their immediate attention or miss what you say because they were talking too loudly miss out on the reward.
- Three strikes!
Each student starts out the week with three index cards. The blank sides of the cards have their names printed in large letters. If a student disrupts or breaks a rule, instruct the student to write on the lined side of the card (on the first available line) the date and the disruptive behavior. Then the student must drop that card in the fishbowl at the front of the room. Establish a reward for students who still have three cards at the end of the week and consequences for those who have two, one, or no cards left. The next week, the students get their three cards back and start fresh. The cards also serve as a record when report card time comes or when a parent conference must be arranged.
Write the word RESPECT on the board at the start of each week. Each time the class gets out of hand or is off-task enough to be disruptive, put a big X through one of the letters. The class will have discussed and agreed in advance on the rewards and consequences for “keeping” or “losing RESPECT” during the week. Other words — such as REWARD, BEHAVE, or the name of the school — might work as well. You can extend or shorten the time frame, depending on class goals.
- Bell work.
Many teachers provide “bell work” — activities that students jump into as soon as the bell rings to signal the start of the school day. Such assignments get the day off to a purposeful start by focusing kids’ energies and attention. The activity might be written on the board; it might be a review of a skill taught the day before. Other teachers might expect students to come in each day and spend the first ten minutes writing in their journals; there might be a question on the board to prompt those students who can’t think of anything to write. One teacher posted a Daily Numbers sign (from the state’s lottery game by the same name) in the back of the room. Students walk into the classroom and go immediately to the back of the room to grab their “daily numbers” — a half-sheet of ten math problems that review math operations and a variety of other concepts including measurement, telling time, and money. As the students finish the work, they get immediate reinforcement or correction. When they finish their daily numbers, they start right in on the day’s work. When the teacher finishes correcting everybody’s math problems, the morning meeting begins.
- The buddy room.
Many teachers use the “buddy room” concept. Two teachers agree to be buddy room partners. This works best if the buddying teachers are in adjacent rooms. If a student is being disruptive, the teacher takes the student to the buddy room. There a special seat is assigned for such circumstances. Nothing needs to be said; the student heads directly to that seat. Some teachers leave the student there until he or she is ready to return to class; at that point, the student raises a hand and the buddy teacher takes the student back to class at the first opportunity. Other teachers leave a stack of “think sheets” in the desk in the buddy room; the offending student completes a think sheet — which has places for the student to describe what he or she was doing wrong, the effects the behavior had on the class, and what he or she will do to correct the behavior.
- Behavior book.
On the first day of school, many teachers provide questionnaires for students to complete. The questionnaires collect important information — such as phone numbers, addresses, and the like — as well information about hobbies and other interests. Some teachers collect those sheets and keep them in a binder. Teachers who have multiple classes use simple notebook dividers to separate one class from another. When a student disrupts the class, breaks a class rule, or does something positive, the teacher reaches for the binder and jots a note on the back of that student’s questionnaire. Those notes serve as a record for grading or planning parent conferences. One teacher buys three-holed plastic sleeves and inserts each student’s questionnaire into a sleeve. She keeps a pile of scrap paper on her desk. Whenever a student does anything negative or positive, she scribbles a dated note on a piece of the scrap paper. At the end of the class period, she drops those notes into the students’ plastic sleeves. Those notes serve as a record of the student’s year.