Amanda Koonlaba | November 2018

Confessions of a Classroom Management Nightmare Survivor

Hello. My name is Amanda, and I am a classroom management nightmare survivor.

Effective classroom management is learned over time.  It’s not something you’re born with or that some people have and others don’t.  It’s time we stop shaming teachers for their classroom management skills (or lack thereof) and acknowledge we’re all in this together.

These are my confessions, from the real world of teaching. It’s my hope that by sharing these, we can open up a dialogue of support, honesty and reflection.

Confession 1: I HATED my first years teaching.

When I graduated college with a bachelor degree in elementary education, I assumed I had all the tools I would need to immediately become an award-winning teacher.

Nope. Not one bit. The biggest tool I was missing right out of my teacher prep program was classroom management. I think this is a weak spot for a lot of teacher prep programs because it is hard to do problem-solving around classroom management issues when you aren’t in a classroom full-time. Let’s face it, the supervising teacher you work with while you are in the classroom during the teacher prep program cannot give up control over the classroom management because that would be detrimental to the students.

Anyway, I started my teaching career with no clue how to manage a classroom in real-life. Y’all, I almost didn’t make it. I hated teaching for the first couple of years. It was hard. I could not get my third graders to stay on task. They never put things where I could easily get to them. I was working myself to death managing the supplies we used in our arts-integrated lessons.

Confession 2: I was once too proud to ask for help.

I had three amazing mentors my first year teaching, but I don’t think they understood how much I was struggling with classroom management because I was too proud to ask for help. The reason I was so prideful over this issue was that I’d once told a principal-friend that I felt like my weakest point as a teacher was, in fact, classroom management. That principal gave me some terrible advice: “Never admit that, Amanda.”

To be fair, he was trying to help me get a job. He didn’t want me to sit in an interview and talk about my lack of classroom management skills. I agree that would be the last thing a hiring committee would want to hear. However, that convo kept me from reaching out for help when I did need it after I landed a position.

Confession 3: I found my “plucky.”

I fell in love with the word plucky at some point in those first formative years of teaching. I must’ve heard someone use it in a television show or movie. Once I finally realized I might not make it as a teacher, and all those tuition dollars would have been spent on nothing, I decided I’d better figure out how to be plucky.

Mostly, I am stubborn and don’t give up easily, especially on things I care about. And, I care about educating students. So, I kept telling myself to be plucky. It became my motto and my mantra. I realized I needed to start taking more time for reflection immediately after school each day.

This intentional reflection helped me begin to pinpoint what was going wrong. I realized the reasons my students weren’t putting things where I could access them easily was because I’d never taught them where to put anything. I’d just assumed they could figure it out. (Or read my mind, yeah, I think I assumed that! Yikes!)

I remember the day I realized this.

I just stood there observing and watching the students as they came into the room like I was watching a movie of someone else’s life. These were my students but they weren’t doing what I thought they should be doing. They were wandering around looking for the homework basket. That helped me realize that I never put the homework basket back in the same place every day when I was finished with it. How could they be consistent with their materials if I wasn’t consistent with mine?

I decided not to give up. I started implementing small changes and making SURE to teach my expectations. Apparently, you have to teach students every little thing, like what to do with an unsharpened pencil in your classroom or where to put their homework. Who knew, right? Not me as a first year teacher!

Anyway, you can even do little things like teach them to line their tables up on the grid of the floor. It makes the room look neater, people can concentrate better, and HELLO, grids are math!

Confession 4: I became a bit of a classroom management fanatic.

I ended up learning to love solving classroom management issues. As a result, my own classes began to run like well-oiled machines, and teaching wasn’t as hard anymore. I started to actually fall in love with teaching.

I found myself helping other teachers in my building with their classroom management woes. Eventually, my principals were asking me to mentor other teachers. I was even asked at one point to coach teachers by going into their classrooms and observing. Then, I could make suggestions and help with implementation. My principals actually built hours into my day to do this. So, I taught some of the day and coached some. That was a pretty cool gig!

Sharing My Experiences

Sharing experiences is something I really value. It is important for us to share what we learn in order to help others. I have tried to consistently share my lessons-learned with other teachers. I believe by reaching teachers, I can reach the most students.

I’ve developed quite a body of work on the subject of classroom management. One of my favorite developments is my Managing an Arts Integrated Classroom course with EducationCloset. This classroom management course gets consistent positive feedback and is practical to implement while working in the field.

Grounded in research, my classroom management course is built to help teachers:

  • Use routines, pacing and lessons that model an optimal classroom environment
  • Be equipped with specific classroom management strategies for using group, individual student and teacher workspaces
  • Discover new ways to build positive relationships with students
  • Learn how to use arts integration lessons through expected behaviors and interventions

I honed in on every negative experience with classroom management I’d ever had and how I was able to get set on the right course. My goal is to help as many teachers as possible remain in the field because I know what it feels like to almost give up and leave. With that in mind, I filled the course with specific examples, strategies, and valuable time-saving templates — to help teachers make their dream classrooms a reality.

Yep! Any teacher can have a dream classroom. Teaching CAN be easier and more joyful. It surely can!

I hope you’ve found something to connect with in this article. And, remember, if you need help, reach out. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Tell your principal you want to take this course. Talk to your mentors. There’s no shame in trying to improve your practice because you want what is best for your students. Any educator should also want what is best for your students and should be willing to help you in a non-judgmental fashion just as I have with my course.

Need More?

Let’s connect. I truly love connecting with other educators. You can find me at on Twitter as @akoonlaba.

About the Author

Amanda Koonlaba, Ed. S. is an educator and educational consultant with over 12 years of experience teaching both visual art and regular education. Her career has been driven by the power of the arts to reach all learners. She is a published author and frequent speaker/presenter at education conferences. Amanda was named the Elementary Art Teacher of the Year for the state of Mississippi in 2016 and received the Arts Integration Service Award from the Mississippi Whole Schools Initiative (Mississippi Arts Commission) in 2015. She holds an Elementary and Middle Childhood Art certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. As a coach for The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM, Amanda is on a mission to ensure every student in America has access to a high-quality arts-based education. She blogs at SimpleArtClass.com