Typhani Harris | February 2015
Recently, I’ve taken on a new position, instructional coach for our first-year teachers. It has been an exciting transition, but the more I work with our new teachers, the more I remember the craziness of first year teaching. This is the motivation for my new series “Coaches’ Corner”, where we explore the authentic situations first year teachers encounter, provide valuable tips and tricks for the first year, and offer new teacher reactions to situations reminding them they are not alone. This series also offers many new teacher experiences including classroom perceptions, teacher and student responses, and multiple strategies to test out.
As a coach, my first order of business was to get to know the new teachers, why they went into teaching, how the first semester went, and the most pressing issues they have had so far. Unanimously, the new teachers commented on classroom management. Unfortunately, classroom management is based on experience and personality. The longer you teach and the more you build your teacher persona, the easier classroom disciple becomes. However, no one likes that answer.
We want and we need immediate gratification for this one. Let’s face it, we can’t do anything in the classroom unless the management aspect is under control. There is so much literature out there on classroom management, primarily because it is the toughest part of running a classroom. However, every school is different, every child is different, and often the strategies simply just don’t work.
Although there is no quick fix for classroom management, there are a few strategies I encourage the new teachers to try.
Standing at the door
Meeting students at the door is seriously the first line of defense. Getting the opportunity to greet each student by name, and chat a minute with them about their day gives teachers the chance to survey the students’ demeanor, ensure they are ready for class, and indulge in stories of activities the students are involved in. Often, student misbehavior has nothing to do with the teacher, but rather is a product of causes outside the classroom. By taking the time to talk with each student, teachers can see where children are in their approach to the day. This gives you a heads up as to how the class period might pan out.
Proximity is always a chance to alleviate disruptions, without blatantly pointing out students or causing a scene. It is common knowledge, that we should not conduct class from the front of the room, or behind a podium or desk. Rather, we should be circulating continuously throughout instruction. Furthermore, our direct instruction should be limited allowing for ample independent or guided instruction. Our role should be moving into the facilitator realm, allowing students to discover their own learning. So, when necessary, standing beside disruptive students, making eye contact, or (if appropriate) placing your hand on a student’s shoulder may assist in keeping students focused.
Children are quite honest. If bored, they usually have no problem telling you. So ask yourself, would you be bored and disruptive if you took your class? We need to remember what it is like to be a student, sitting for hours on end, listening to people talk at us, trying to remember everything…no wonder our students aren’t fond of school. However, if we provide opportunities for our students to get up and move, be creative, investigate subjects from different perspectives, and engage in all things differently, we just may have an engaged and focused classroom.
Don’t try to fit the box
Finally, don’t try to fit into a box. As educators, we need to find our own personalities and style. Try everything, but always put your own spin on it. There is no one right way of running a classroom because we are working with multiple human personalities, character traits, and a multitude of variables that occur outside our rooms, so we must be flexible and find what works best for us and be ready to modify along the way. This is said best by one of my current teachers, Martha Kelly:
“The more I bring my personality into my teaching style the more comfortable I feel and the more my teaching skills improve. Sometimes I see what another teacher is doing and I think “Oh I have to do that!” But then I try it and it falls completely flat. I’m slowly realizing that I can’t force myself to fit into a box of what a teacher “should be”. I have to make the box fit me”.