Teaching Opinion

Response: Several Classroom Management Suggestions -- Part One

By Larry Ferlazzo — December 06, 2011 6 min read
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Brittany Peppers asked:

I am excited to follow this blog and learn many things about it as I graduate from college and begin my teaching career. My question to you is “In your opinion, what is one thing to remember about classroom management if you don’t remember anything else you are taught about it?”

Brittany has asked a great question, and I’ve organized the response into a three-part series.

Today’s post will share guest responses from several authors of books about classroom management and other education issues.

Part Two on Friday will include answers from other educators who I know and, in most cases, with whom I have worked.

The series will wrap-up next Wednesday with one where I’ll share my own advice, as well as comments left by readers.

Response From Annette Breaux

Annette Breaux is a well-known speaker and has written 101 Answers for New Teachers and Their Mentors and other books. She can be contacted on Twitter at @AnnetteBreaux:

Wow! It’s difficult to identify ONE piece of classroom management advice that trumps all others, because so many of the keys to successful management overlap. But if there is ONE piece of classroom management advice that I continually give to ALL teachers, new and veteran, it is this: Always appear to be in control of yourself, whether you are feeling that way or not.

Before you can be an effective manager of others, you must possess (and display) the ability to remain in control of yourself! And the single biggest mistake that we, as teachers, repeatedly make is this: We let students know when they get to us! We let them know that we are personally offended, angry, frustrated, or just plain fed up. We reveal our “buttons,” and so they push them all year long. You see, it’s a powerful feeling for a student to feel as though he caused you to stop and stare at him.... Or that he caused you to speak with your teeth clenched... Or that his actions made you stare at the ceiling and take extraordinarily deep breaths... Or that the protruding vein in your neck is the product of his handiwork! Children love to feel powerful, and what better way to feel powerful than to control the emotions of an adult! That’s why you simply cannot reveal any cracks in your armor.

The best classroom managers never lose their composure. They deal with students calmly and professionally. Students never succeed in pushing the buttons of these teachers, so there’s never a struggle for power. The fact is that the more out of control a student becomes, the more in control you must appear. Once a student sees you sweat, the more out of control he will get! So deal with every situation - especially the nerve-racking ones - in a composed, professional manner. Easy to do? No. Effective? Always!

Response From Roxanna Elden

Roxanna Elden is the author of See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers. She is a National Board Certified high school teacher currently teaching in Miami.

Like your work clothes, your teacher personality should be a professional twist on your current style. Strengths and weaknesses from your personal life will carry over to your teaching whether you want them to or not. So will personality traits. It is important to keep this in mind as you develop your teaching style, because the more natural a classroom system feels to you, the more likely you are to enforce it consistently.

The opposite is also true. If you are not a morning person, it is better to build five minutes of quiet work into your beginning-of-class routine than promise to start each day with a happy class song. If you will feel silly after a while saying, “1,2,3, all eyes on me,” find a simpler way of calling your students’ attention.

Your best bet as a beginning teacher is to start the year serious, mature, and focused on your subject matter. As you get to know your students, channel the parts of yourself that naturally help you teach them. Look for teacher role models who share your strengths and can help you build your style around them. Think of your teacher personality as a shift from your first-name self to your last-name self, not a complete character overhaul.

Response From Harry Wong

Harry Wong is the co-author of The First Days Of School and other books:

The most important classroom management strategy is the procedure of how to start class every day or period. Start right and everything else falls into place.

Classroom management consists of the practices and procedures used to manage a classroom so that instruction and learning can take place. A smooth running classroom is based on the ability of a teacher to teach procedures, such as a procedure for sharpening a pencil, asking for help, taking turns talking, heading a paper, working in groups, and dismissal. Eighty to ninety percent of what many teachers consider discipline are not discipline problems; they are the result of a classroom that is run without procedures.

The preeminent procedure found in a well-managed classroom is the appearance of a daily agenda. As soon as the student enters the classroom, there is an agenda posted with the schedule, bellwork (for them to get to work immediately) and the objective (that spells out what they will be doing).

As an example, Christina Shoemaker was on her way to teach her next class when she was stopped in the hallway by a colleague. The conversation ended up lasting about 8 minutes and when she entered her classroom late, she was greeted with a wonderful sight. The students were all at work. She asked them what they were doing and they told her they just went ahead and started class without her! They knew the start of class procedures. To see how Christina manages her classroom with procedures, go here.

Response From Gary Rubinstein

Gary Rubinstein is a high school teacher in Houston. He has written two books for new teachers, Reluctant Disciplinarian and Beyond Survival:

Students gauge a teacher’s competence by how that teacher exhibits confidence and decisiveness. To measure this, all a student has to do is ask a simple question. “Can I get a drink of water?” “Can I go to the bathroom” “Can I turn this in late?”

When a kid asks you a question like “Can I go outside the room so I can blow my nose?”, or any other unnecessary question, you’ve got to stop and pretend to consider it for about a second and then you’ve got to look the student in the eye and matter-of-factly say ‘No.’ Then, and here’s the toughest but most important part, you’ve got to turn ninety degrees and walk away.

I call this “The ‘No’ and turn,” and have performed it thousands of times.

Turning and walking away seems like it would be disrespectful to the student but it is not. They asked a question and you thought about it and answered it. There’s nothing else to say or do. Compare “The ‘No’ and turn” to “The ‘No’ and wait.” Now the kid thinks you’re waiting for him to persuade you.

It’s hard to say ‘No’ sometimes, but it’s so important that I’ve devised some tricks that will help you. When a student begins asking a question, you can start mentally preparing to say ‘No.” “Getting ready to say ‘No.’ Getting ready to say ‘No,” I’ll think while the question is being asked. Then, one beat after the question is finished, ‘No,’ and turn.

Teacher and author Jim Burke also shared this advice:

Most classroom management problems come from kids being bored or unchallenged: interesting classes make for good classes.

Please feel free to leave a comment sharing your reactions to this question and the ideas shared here.

Thanks to Annette, Roxanne, Harry, Gary, and Jim for sharing their responses!

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org.When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

Anyone whose question is selected for this weekly column can choose one free book from a selection of twelve -- including my own -- published by Eye On Education.

I’ll be posting the next “question of the week” in a week-and-a-half. In the meantime, please consider sharing your key classroom management advice!

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.