Friday, October 15, 2010

Week 5: Playing Whack-A-Mole

You can be an expert on a subject, have a wealth of teaching techniques and still be an awful teacher if you can’t get a class of students to stop talking to each other, pay attention and sit in their seats.  One of the hardest things for teachers to master at any level is “classroom management,” the educational term for the ability to get a class to engage in the material.  And if you are wondering why this is so hard, then you've never been in front of a classroom full of children. 

The year started out well. I explained my expectations to all my classes. We rehearsed my countdown hand sign that let them know when to be quiet. I corrected some students who were misbehaving immediately and things went great a couple classes. Then as if all my students planned it this way, they seemed to all forget EVERYTHING we discussed in that first week.

. . . sigh . . .

This caught me off guard in the beginning of the week. I didn’t want to stop my lesson to reinforce things that we had already gone over, but that only resulted in lack of productivity as students continued to act as if I was a brand new teacher. So I changed it up and I started classes later in the week with a review of expectations and those classes went a lot better.

In order to maintain expectations, reinforcement really is key. Sometimes it feel like I’m playing “whack-a-mole” as one teacher put it. You can’t ever let your expectations slide so sometimes it seems like you’re spending the entire lesson walking out the room reminding students on how to behave.

This includes utilizing phrases like: take off your hood, put your shoes back on, face forward, stop talking, put away those silly bandz, sit-up straight, now’s not the time to read, that’s not your desk, chairs are made for sitting, stay in your space, hands to yourself, we aren’t at a hair salon, stop tying your shoes to the desk, no one will be friends with you if you keep picking your nose (I’ve said ALL of these thing in the past week).

Are children “bad” when they forget expectations or “test” them? No, of course not. They either honestly forgot about or simply weren’t sure if the expectations I held at the beginning were going to continue. Rarely are children intentionally rude. Is this “testing” a bad thing? As exhausting and annoying as it can be, trying to find limits is a sign of students’ cognitive development. Limits create a sense of stability and predictability that we all desperately need to get through the chaos of life.

Getting students to pay attention is not about power.  I make sure every one of my students to pay attention because every one of them is important. A student may seem like she is happy when they are allowed to misbehave but what the message you are sending when you let an expectation go is: "I don't care."

Classroom management is not about figuring out ways that you can get students to stop talking. It’s about creating a space in which students feel valued.  Only in a classroom filled care and respect can teachers and students join together in the journey of education.

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