Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Struggling to get better at classroom management

I have to run off to prepare a class or two. This blog is usually quite silent on weekdays, and for a good reason -- I have four preps and no curricula to help me along. But I'm struggling with classroom management, like I have since I started teaching, and I want to write something that I think is true.

Almost everything that I've done better on purpose in classroom management is on the individual level. You're confused by my expectations? I'll make my expectations clearer. You use my punishments as a chance to give your "DON'T TASE ME BRO" routine? I'll stop giving you those opportunities.

There's a whole list here. Cold calling. Eye contact. Being sensitive to my movement around the room. Talking to students outside the classroom. Taking points off for bad behaviors, adding points for good ones. Calling students after school to hear what they're frustrated about.

None of these are helping for the situations that I'm in now. Here's what I think is happening:

The big, huge problem with classroom management that I see all the time is that I want the entire group of 15-25 kids to be doing something, but a kid doesn't want to do it. He* gets in the way of the other 14-24 kids doing something. I have to react, because I want to be able to help the rest of the group. The thing that I do (write name down, ask to wait out of the classroom for me, tell him privately he's out of line, make eye contact) doesn't work. I get frustrated.

* It's always a "he." I teach at an all-boys school.

There are two ways that I can get better at this. The first is to find better ways to respond when the student is out of line. I think that everyone agrees that this is small-ball.

The big-picture issue is, what can I do to stop this from happening?

Right now my answer is that I need to solve the individual vs. group problem. I am always going to have individuals who, some days, are not capable of putting in the work that they need to. Sometimes my kids forget to take their meds. Sometimes they just got pissed off by their 2nd period teacher. Sometimes it's just their 9th hour of school* and they didn't have enough sleep and they are having trouble focusing. And that's OK, but I need to build a classroom where those kids would be ashamed to derail the group.

* They have a lot of hours of school. From 8:30 to 6.

I'm having a lot of trouble with one class right now. We're supposed to have a quiz today, but that's canceled as of now. Today I'm going to focus on planning a positive day that 90% of the class buys and finds worthwhile. I need to rebuild my classroom so that the group's momentum is inevitable, and that no one is willing to get in the way of it.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

When you get down to it, who knows how long I'll be in this profession.

Things that I like:
  • I like the idea that -- for however many hours a day I'm thinking about my job -- I'm thinking about how I can help out some 80-odd people.
  • I like thinking about the big-picture things. I like planning semesters and units in advance, and thinking about the major themes of my classes. 
  • I like planning lessons that really nail what's hard for kids about a new idea, draw it out, give us a chance to talk about it, give the kids a chance to kick it in the face several times and then challenge them to move on to an even more powerful idea.
  • I like designing a classroom.
  • I like designing an assessment system.
  • I like that I'm getting better at getting people to think, just by asking a question. That stuff is like mind control.

    Things that I don't like:
    • The work that I'm doing is really short-term. I plan a lesson, hours later I try out the idea, then I file it away for a year. I have to wait a long time to get a chance to improve on my first drafts.*
    • The kids don't seem to care about the things that I do. The kids, for the most part, don't really know what's good for learning, and their praise for teachers is often weird. His explanations make sense, and he'll take as many questions as you need is praise for a teacher who only lectures. He covers material really quickly means that he moves from topic to topic without going in depth. He makes you work hard means that you have to cram for his tests if you want a chance of passing. I'm not interested in that sort of praise.**
    • I don't like entering numbers into spreadsheets. It's boring.
    • I have a hard time finding things to feel a sense of accomplishment in. The school year doesn't culminate -- it fizzles out, and the last time I see these kids is when I'm collecting their finals. I never feel satisfied after a good lesson or a good unit, because holy cow here comes the next bunch of stuff to teach and I've got to think about that instead of my success.
    • The discriminant stinks. Degree/Minute/Seconds notation stinks. Regents exams stink. Sometimes I feel like I'm playing for the losing team.
    * Part of this is because I teach so many different curricula. I teach Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2 (2 sections) and Computer Programming.
    ** When I run a high school, kids are going to take a class on pedagogy and educational psychology during the first semester of high school. They'll know what research says about how people learn, they'll learn study habits, and they'll be able to judge their teachers according to the standards that we want to be judged by.