I started teaching at a middle school in Oakland, Calif., about 20 years ago. My first year was pretty rough. I was prepared to teach science, but my first semester I was given two periods of beginning Spanish, one of English, and two of science. My credential program had not really dealt much with behavior issues. The idea was to deliver a rich curriculum, and the management would take care of itself. If you are already teaching, you know this does not always work.
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I floundered a bit the first year or two, and took help wherever I could find it. My best resources came from my colleagues down the hall. They had been at the school a few years and passed along valuable ways to make things work.
Here are a few of the things I learned:
For example, when learning about states of matter, I had students team up and design their own experiments focusing on dry ice. They came up with ideas like measuring the amount of time the dry ice took to turn to vapor in different liquids; attempting to measure the temperature of the dry ice; or collecting and testing the vapor that the dry ice produced. After a review process, the teams carried out their experiments. Then, each team created a display and presented their results to their classmates. In the process, they all learned about the properties of dry ice—that it turns to vapor much more quickly in water than in air, that frozen carbon dioxide is much colder than water ice, and that the vapor is heavier than air and puts out a candle. Their findings led us into other explorations of the states of matter. They were having too much fun to misbehave!
The secret to behavior management is really about having the students fully engaged in the learning process, and it involves more than just rules and office referrals. After all, the whole point of getting the class to focus is to do some meaningful work—to reach new understandings, to create new expressions of their knowledge, and to build new skills. But we have to know how to manage our teacher-student relationships in order to get there.