I’m staring mouth agape as a 6th grader walks to the board while I’m teaching and starts writing. It’s my first day on the job in an inner city school and I have no idea how to manage this classroom despite a master’s degree in education, student teaching, and Harry K. Wong (of First Days of School fame).
As I tell him to sit down, he laughs. And keeps writing. He finally sits down but only after repeated commands that get progressively sterner.
It gets worse. My students are throwing things at each other, laughing, and having conversations as if I’m not even teaching. Two weeks of that classroom—and two weeks of crying from the stress—made me get real about what I was trying to do.
I researched, read, and found strategies and techniques that were supposed to help. Finally, after time and pressure, I could finally teach. I still use those same strategies and techniques today and my classroom runs like a dream.
Here are five effective strategies that will ensure your classroom never brings you to your wits’ end, whether you’re teaching in an inner city or suburb. I’ve been through the tears—you won’t have to.
- Create clear classroom rules. Many teachers love the classroom rule that students should “respect each other.” But that rule is too vague. Most kids do not understand how to “respect each other.” So instead, use a rule like “Keep hands, feet, and objects to self” AND “Use kind words” or “Don’t use mean words”. With clear rules—rules that children can follow–you can begin to have the classroom behavior you need.
- Implement consistent consequences. After you’ve created clear rules for your classroom, you must implement consequences EVERY time a child breaks one of those rules. Give a little—miss one time–and students will take a lot. Once a student breaks a rule, let them know with a look or quietly whisper to them why you’re pulling their clip or card (or whatever system you use). Show that you are respectful and kind by never talking to the whole class because of only one student’s behavior. Never single out an individual in front of everyone.
- Don’t give warnings. You may try to give a warning instead of a consequence, especially when you first begin with this method. And when you do, your students will want only warnings (of course) and will want their warnings one, two, or even three times. If they break a rule, give a consequence, never just a warning. Never back down and always be consistent.
- Set procedures for EVERYTHING. One of the great things I learned from Harry K. Wong was to establish procedures for every little action during the day. Kids crave structure and procedures provide clear direction in almost all situations. Procedures also allow for minimal behavioral disruptions. Whether it’s sharpening a pencil, lining up for recess, going to the bathroom, or turning in papers, create a procedure and post it. Also (and this is super important), make “follow procedures” a classroom rule. Otherwise, there are no consequences for students who simply don’t want to follow procedures.
- Don’t Argue. Some students will want to defend themselves, offer excuses, or argue when you implement a consequence. Do not let them, under any circumstances, enter into an argument. Calmly say, “I’m not going to argue.” And move on. If they continue, let them know you will discuss it only after class. Later, listen to them and determine if they broke a classroom rule for a good reason. Be fair but be consistent.
That’s it. Those simple strategies will have your classroom running smoothly every day. If you use these strategies, and use them consistently, your students will understand what you expect. And once they know your expectations, your classroom will run smoothly so you can teach!