Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Teaching Tuesday: Classroom Management

Today's Teaching Tuesday topic (whew, now that's some alliteration) comes from my teacher/blog friend Megan at M*Print.  After being assigned a particularly challenging group of students this year, Megan has called on the blog world to share their best tips for classroom/behavior management, co-teaching, and groups of diverse learners in her aptly named link-up "Better Together."

I'm thefurthestthing from an expert in this area; but, I'm up for the challenge...

But first, before I share some of the things that (mostly) work for me, I think it's important that you know a little bit about my situation/experience since it kind-of sets the scene for my philosophies and techniques:  

Currently, I teach in a speciality center with an advanced curriculum.  My students apply to the program and are accepted based on a number of criteria, and they have to meet certain academic and behavior standards in order to stay in the program.  In short, my students are "the cream of the crop."  Of course, it's not all rainbows and butterflies here - I still get attitudes, Chatty Cathys, and (plenty of) hormones - but, it is quite different from where I was three years ago... 

For the first four years of my career, I taught "regular" and "co-taught" English to ninth and tenth graders.  Granted, the school was/is one of the best in the area, BUT each year I had at least one or two classes full of students who saw school (and the teacher) as the enemy.  Most of these kids had been told over and over and over again that school "wasn't there thing," and many were just biding their time until they were old enough to either drop-out or get a GED.  

Despite my young/naive/ Dangerous Minds & Freedom Writer inspired hopes, I quickly learned that - in the real world -  these are not the teachers that get nominated for "teacher of the year" or recognized at the football game on Friday night.  My students had lost hope in education long ago... Their spark for learning had been replaced by frustration when it "didn't come as easily" for them as it did their peers, or by exhaustion when their "after school curricular activities" involved forty-hour a week jobs or raising their younger siblings.  I - their teacher - was just another thing in the way... Another talking head trying to get them to care about Romeo and Juliet or the-five-paragraph essay when they had MUCH bigger things to deal with.

Now, here's the part that you really need to understand... I DO NOT consider it "graduating" or "moving up" to get to teach advanced classes.  In fact, that is probably one of the biggest misconceptions of new teachers out there and a MAJOR problem in some education systems today.
It is an HONOR to teach the alternative-learning or collaborative classes.   I made the switch to my current position two years ago because I had a new baby at home, and the work hours/opportunity at this new school made more sense for my family.  But, while my students are wonderful right now, I LOVED my previous position too.  And, while I'm sometimes more "intellectually" challenged (and, almost always more challenged to get papers graded quicker) in the advanced classes, the other classes provided a different - and VERY FULFILLING kind of challenge.  My challenge with those students wasn't so much about getting them to pass the class, as it was about making lifelong readers, writers, and learners out of them.  And, when I did see great progress - when I saw a "lightbulb" moment over Lord of the Flies or had a student come back years later to tell me they were the best writer in their college class - those victories were even sweeter.  Really. 

Ok... So, now that I've (hopefully) established a little street-cred here and (one way or the other) shown you a little piece of my heart for the more "difficult" classes and students out there, I thought I'd offer three little tid-bits of advice for classroom management and collaborative teaching from my own experience.  I hope it will be helpful!

1. It is ALL about mutual respect. Often, by the time students get to high school, they have long-ago lost respect for their teachers.  (Be appalled if you want to, but it's the truth.)  Gaining their respect cannot be done by enforcing rules, dressing cool, or exerting power... It can only (very slowly at times) be earned.  Teenagers care SO much about being respected  (SO SO MUCH).  I promise you, the BEST thing you can do for your classroom management is to MODEL the respect you want for yourself.  I don't make harsh demands of students.  I don't yell.  I don't enforce (in my opinion) silly rules like "you may only go to the bathroom once a nine weeks."  I talk to my students like they are human beings with lives outside of school.  I get to know them - why were you up so late that you are sleeping through class now?  I believe them when they say they didn't get their syllabus signed because they haven't seen their parents in two weeks.   I give students the benefit of the doubt and, slowly, they begin to do the same for me.   They listen when I teach and do the assignments I ask of them because they trust that my intentions are good and that I really do want to help them.  They speak to me with respect, and they listen when I ask them not to do something.  They "have my back" against their peers.  It is ALL about mutual respect. 

2.  Practice Tough Love.  As much as I believe in the power of mutual respect, I still know that there are certain times I need to be the grown-up in the room; and, I have come to realize, that students really do WANT that from me.  At the end of the day, no matter how much I love and respect my students (and I strive to make that evident 99% of the time), I am still their teacher.  My job is to keep them safe, educate them, and prepare them for the real world.  And, like it or not, there rules and "un fun" things in the real world.  I don't have a lot of rules, but I do have a few that I consider detrimental and I enforce them consistently.  (Ok, I try to enforce them consistently... This is, honestly, a struggle for me.)  If you cheat on a test - you get a zero.  If you call me a b*^#@$, I'm giving you detention and calling home.  Every.time.  Period.  BUT, I'm not going to cause a scene about it, and I'm NOT going to hold a grudge.  The next morning, I will greet you with a smile.  When it's done, it's done.

3. Be a Team Player.  If you ever have the opportunity to teach as part of a collaborative team (i.e. a regular classroom teacher and a special education teacher), I urge you to TAKE IT.  I have worked with two co-teachers, and I have learned more from each of them than any college course or teaching book could ever teach me.  The key here?  You are a TEAM.  You are not the "main" teacher.  The special-ed teacher is not your "assistant."  You are BOTH professionals and you are both integral parts of the classroom.  Believe that, and practice it!  Make sure you both have a desk in the classroom.  Make sure both of your names are on the syllabus and the classroom door.  Whenever possible, try to do your planning together for the class and provide opportunities for both teachers to take the lead up front.  Think of your co-teaching experience the same way you think of raising kids with your spouse - you might both have different duties or roles in the house, but you are both necessary and beneficial.  You support each other.  You are a united front. *And, as a note, don't be too discouraged if you don't have a co-teacher.  Use whatever "team" is available to you... Meet with other members of your department to share ideas and get help, join an online forum, attend a conference... DO NOT try to do it alone!!

Ok... I'd originally planned to make this a five-item list, but my hands are getting tired and I imagine I'm losing interest by the second. ;)   If you read all this, THANK YOU!!

What's your best advice when it comes to co-teaching and/or classroom management?


  1. Fantastic!
    The whole thing was well written and your tidbits are very, very true.

  2. Thank you for linking up! I wholeheartedly agree with everything, in particular the bit about respect. I absolutely could not work with teenagers without setting up a mutually respectful space.

    I'm excited for Midweek Confessions tomorrow! I have my own coming your way.

  3. Very well written. I can tell you are a great teacher! Thanks for sharing your heart!

    And I agree...once students know you care about them, they will respect you. They WANT tough love, they want order in the classroom, and they want you to be in charge...but they also want to be treated as humans!

  4. great advice! I have always taught a "co-taught" 9th grade class and an AP senior class. Certainly a huge jump from one to the other in a day. I have always tried to practice the exact philosophies you mentioned above, but it was a great reminder at the beginning of the school year WHY I try to do those things...especially in my collaborative classes!

  5. I love this post!! I am a first year high school English teacher, and completely see eye-to-eye with your opinions on classroom management. I have one rule in my class: RESPECT! Respect each other, respect me, respect the work that needs to be done, respect yourself. If you break that rule, I will deal with you then. I've found it to be very effective.

    However, the biggest struggle I am facing is with APATHY!! These kids are very privileged and have no idea what it means to work hard and to EARN their grades. They've been handed things all their life. It is so ironic to see the "privileged, smart kids" posing the toughest problem of all.

  6. great post- I am a first year teacher in an inner-city school in Norfolk, VA. it is VERY challenging. There is a big,fat, red "F" on our door so we are under constant watch of the state. The students are low-level learners and I am constantly trying to think of new strategies to teach them, and one of my biggest areas of weakness is definitely classroom management. I think I am fearful of losing the students mutual respect so I try to ignore some issues but your second tip really does inspire me to truly be the adult. Thanks for the tips!


  7. We love Megan too and were glad to be a part of her link-ups. We are currently counting down our favorite teaching moments (instructional routines, resources, victories...) of the past year. We would love for you to join us!



Your comments are what makes this thing fun! I LOVE to hear from you and do my best to respond to everyone! THANK YOU!

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