Why? I’ll tell you why I have to remain silent…

Dan Meyer asks the question:

Unless my experience as a classroom manager is several deviations below the mean, other people are struggling with this as I have struggled. New teachers are struggling with this. So why is classroom management the farthest topic from anyone’s blog?

Before reading the comments, to see what his other readers thought, I suspect that others will agree with me: talking about classroom management meaningfully often times requires speaking in specifics about individual students or incidents. For those teachers blogging under their own names, there’s the added thought: “what if…”

What if students come across the site (probability: likely)?

Don’t get me wrong. I think a lot of value can be had by sharing these stories, getting advice from others, and just commiserating about the difficult moments that come up in the day-to-day. But doing so publicly makes it harder, because specifics have to be pitched out the window. (I don’t want a student coming across my blog, knowing a post is about him or her, and feeling uncomfortable.) And for an issue like classroom management, it’s all about specifics. The individual student, a particular incident, a conversation or punishment. Without that, it’s all and all (just) another good teaching tale.

That’s not to say that conversations about techniques on how to keep a classroom running smoothly and effectively aren’t worth having. It means that talking about when a classroom isn’t run smoothly is harder.

That being said, I’m going to hopefully give Dan something to play with… I’ve typed up a list of notes I took before starting teaching this year, given to me by a veteran teacher: Advice to New Teachers on Classroom Management. I normally eschew prescriptive teaching talk (someone telling me this is the way to do things), but these tips are so useful that I ignored my initial gag reflex and I’m a better person for it. (I’ve noticed that I do a lot of these things naturally, which is a good sign for me, I think.)

A list of 16 preventative measures you can take as a teacher for class discipline:
1. Use a seating chart.
2. Intercept student straying and goofing around (e.g. instead of pointing out a student doing this, call on a kid who is chatting to answer a question).
3. Try not to interrupt the flow.
4. Don’t tell kids what they already know (in terms of discipline). Don’t say “throwing that eraser at another student was wrong.” Instead ask them “Why do you think I’ve asked you to stay after class?”
5. Move around the room (and for added effect, stand behind students!)
6. For distractable kids, not only move closer to them, but also a light touch on the shoulder can help.
7. Insert a student’s name in the middle of a paragraph if they are talking and think you don’t know (e.g. “When you write out the polynomial, you start with the term with the highest exponent, Sean, and then you follow it by all other terms with descending exponents…” – the students in the class might be confused, but Sean will hear his name and know you’re on to him. Also, it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the class.
8. Keep students on their toes – call on the ones that are starting to drift.
9. If the class is loud and noisy, use key phrases (e.g. “this is important”) and speak quietly. Students will quiet down and tell others to be quiet.
10. Be able to feel and trust your instinct.
11. Be comfortable expressing your satisfaction and disappointment.
12. Use the power of silence – 7 seconds of dead silence does wonders.
13. If a kid is causing trouble in class, talk with the kid one-on-one outside of class (say “why do I want to talk to you?” and have them answer).
14. If you give consequences, keep students cool.
15. Don’t feel bad for sending students to the office, but go to the office after class to follow-up (to make sure the student didn’t lie about why they were sent to the office).
16. Don’t hesitate to get supervisory support

A list of 27 ways to deal with a class that is somewhat or seriously out of control
1. Be in the classroom on time.
2. Have something for the students to do when they arrive (e.g. every day, get out materials, take out homework, trade homework – set a routine).
3. Start each day with a sense of urgency and back it up – have high expectations.
4. Use your energy and enthusiasm – make the mundane interesting or cool.
5. Present with a variety of activities and modalities (e.g. aural, visual, etc.).
6. Pace – be focused on the pace of your teaching and know your lesson and make your transitions between problems or activities crisp.
7. Own the turf, set up a seating chart.
8. Move around the room.
9. Touch (the shoulder of a student to quiet them).
10. Call on kids effectively (e.g. don’t just call left to right, but on kids who are losing focus).
11. Don’t honor the “call outs” – call on the students who raised their hands.
12. Build a coalition of students.
13. Instead of shouting over students, whisper so they have to strain their attention to hear.
14. Use the power of silence – don’t lecture about every disciplinary problem.
15. Address an issue when it happens, don’t let it fester.
16. Use the power of your own authority (e.g. “don’t you ever do that again”).
17. Build a positive reputation for each kid.
18. Be indifferent – it’s okay to not always persuade and inspire (e.g. “you guys tell me when you’re ready to listen”)
19. Be willing to be personal if you have a decent rapport with the kids (“I came in this morning expecting a wonderful class, but I’m feeling very frustrated”)
20. Identify, isolate, and if possible, co-opt the source of the trouble. One way to co-opt is to praise, which builds a positive reputation for that student.
21. Don’t be afraid of direct consequences (e.g. kick a student out of the room, send the student to the office, etc.) – but follow up!
22. Enlist a supervisor ahead of time (e.g. tell the supervisor that Jane might be sent to her office and this is the reason and make sure the supervisor tells the student that they have already been talking about her).
23. Call home (“I need your help”).
24. Plan an intervention. Plan it out, know what you’re going to say, speak for 7 minutes saying something like “I’ve let you get away with X, Y, and Z, but no more. This is the first day of the rest of the year.” And at the end, ask each student one by one, “Is that understood?” Then immediately go into the best lesson you’ve planned all year.
25. If it is more serious, and you realize the class discord is partially your fault, plan an intervention with your supervisor as a mediator. The supervisor goes in and talks with the students and gives them a chance to complain, and then the supervisor puts the law down the way you would have done in #24.
26. Take action: don’t fret alone, be pro-active.
27. Don’t give up.

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