So before I began my job in December, every current teacher, former teacher, instructional coach, school nurse, school secretary, mailman, hair lady, cashier at the grocery store, etc. preached to me about how necessary solid classroom management was. Okay…maybe I exaggerated on the amount of people that discussed this with me, but it seriously felt like that’s all anyone ever said when my new teaching career was brought up. I obviously knew that was important, and I really appreciated their advice, but I was getting a little tired of hearing the same thing over and over again. And, if I’m being completely honest, I thought that my classroom management skills were one of the less important things I needed to work on. Oh, how naive I was. I look back at this point, and it’s almost comical. I entered in to my classroom and really had no sort of classroom management plan at all. I was coming in behind a teacher that quit, and my philosophy was going to be whatever this former teacher already had in place. To my (naive) surprise, she didn’t have anything in place. So my first week was basically just me telling the kids to sit down and catch a bubble (Kindergarten speak for “stop talking”) every minute of every day. By that Friday, I was exhausted. And I was left wondering if the rest of the school year would be the same way. That was when I reached out to my mom, and some helpful teachers I have met along the way, and came up with a few basics. Disclaimer: I have said this before, and I will say it again; I am NOT an expert at any of this. I am still new and I have so much to learn. But, these are a few tips that I have learned since I have been teaching.
- Have some sort of discipline plan in place. I decided to use a behavior chart with clothespins. Every student has a clothespin with their name on it, and they all start on a certain color everyday. When they make good choices, their clips move up, and when they make bad choices, their clips move down. The students know that if their clips get moved down, their goal is always to get back to the starting point or higher by the end of the day. I like students to leave my room knowing that they made good choices and will have a smiley face on their conduct calendar to go home.
- Set rules together as a class. If you walk into any school supply store, you will find a ton of cute classroom rules posters. They are great to look at and can help decorate your room, but they don’t really mean anything to the students. If you sit down with the class and brainstorm and come up with rules together, not only will they understand the rules, but they will feel more inclined to follow them.
- Practice, practice, practice. This is something that I definitely did not do enough of, and am still having to stop during the day and go over the rules with my kids. At the beginning of the year, or when new rules and procedures are put into place, there should be plenty of time allocated for you and the students to practice all of them. Role play everything and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. When you feel like you have acted them out as much as you can, do it one more time for safe measure. Kids, especially young kids, need the practice to follow them to the best of their abilities.
- Finally, set procedures that are going to be led mostly by the students. I saved this one for last because I am having a very difficult time with this tip. When I started, I just wanted to be in charge of everything. I was too afraid to hand over control to a group of 5 year olds. I was passing out writing journals, art paper, lunch badges. I was sharpening pencils, handing out snacks, cleaning up trash, tidying up my classroom library. I was doing all that in addition to trying to teach the class basic lessons and it became too much. Right now, we are working on some new procedures that are student led to make our school day more efficient. The best advice I can give on this is to not be afraid to let students do some of the classroom management themselves. You will be surprised at what they can do.
I think classroom management is a journey that is never ending in your teaching career. Just when you think you have it all together, there will be something new you need to learn or adjust. You may have a tough group of students one year and will need to tweak your plan to meet the needs of that class. You may also have a really self sufficient group of students another year, and will need to make adjustments to your plan at that time as well. I am certainly on a learning journey as a teacher and I’m sure you all are as well. Hope these few tips have helped!