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.


  1. I share this experience with you. Lately I have been musing over the idea of wether it could be possible to have a class be your tribe, like Seth Godin wants customers to be his tribe... I'm getting his book for christmas :)
    'cause a tribe would work to have kids feel shame if their behaviour hindered the group. Problem is, I do like to see students as individuals, do I'm not sure if this would work, and completely unsure as to how to pull it off.

  2. I haven't heard of that book until you, Eva. I'll want to check that out.

    And I hear you about how to pull this off. I think that there are things that work on the daily level and on the more long-term level, but I am still struggling to make sense of this.