MissCtoMrsR : I am so sorry you are dealing with this. I know how rough that is. I worked at a similar school in the Middle East and I had to leave – it wasn’t sustainable to keep working there. There was a teacher there that everyone respected. She swept into the classroom and it was silent. When she spoke, everyone listened. She kept her voice low and calm. I mad respected her.
After 10 years I am pretty good at behavior management, to the point that I never have the same behavior issues my fellow teachers have. My middle school students stay in seats, don’t talk over me, and stay relatively engaged. I rarely have to discipline. In talking with my students, they claim that I am stricter and the other teachers aren’t, but they love that I am because they know where they stand and the classroom is calmer. I am strict yes, but I am never mean. I never yell or even raise my voice.
Specialist teachers have it rough, because you see the kids for a short period of time and a lot of kids view the class as ‘extra recess’ and not work. Behavior management is usually lacking, I think because their classes aren’t run like normal classes and they should be.
Here are some of my best tips for managing a class.
First, rules and consequences. Have a simple set of very basic rules posted clearly. Talk about them at the beginning of class. Rules like 1. Raise your hand to speak 2. Stay in seats 3. Be prepared for class 4. Respect yourself and others. I go by a 3 strike rule. I have a chart with the kids names and the rule number. When a kid breaks I rule, I simply say, “You broke rule 3” as I walk by. When they break a rule twice, they have to get up and go to a desk in the back. I explain this desk to them at the beginning of the year. It is not a ‘time out’ chair really. It’s recognizing that they might need to take a break. They can come back whenever they want to – they don’t have to wait for me to tell them to rejoin the class. If a kid fights me on it, I don’t force them or argue with them. After 3 strikes I send a form letter home. They start over the next time I see them. What is important here is not how parents react or how kids react, at first. The important thing is that they see some sort of enforced discipline cycle.
Second, attitude. Never ever yell or threaten. Always remain as calm as possible. Don’t argue or act upset. Kids can be really horrible and it’s very hard but you can’t take it personally. It’s a losing battle, sometimes they are trying to push your buttons for fun. Kids want to be treated with respect and kindness, and if you aren’t they won’t respect you. Likewise, if you aren’t strict and don’t enforce your own rules, they also won’t respect you. That means that if someone calls out an answer you need to tell them they broke a rule. Even if you love that kid and they never do it. You have to apply the rules across the board. You have to be strict about it. When a kid breaks a rule, I strive to treat them as if nothing has happened. I work very hard to let them know that I still care about them just as much and I’m not angry with them.
Third, presence. I am aware of my body language. When I want my kids’ attention, I move to the front of the room and ask for it. I don’t move and I don’t talk until I get it. I never talk over students or raise my voice to be heard. I don’t repeat things I have already said. When I finally get their attention, I deliver instructions in as short a time as I can, and I try to be serious. Lighthearted fun is for engaging instruction. I joke and act silly plenty. But when I’m giving instructions or talking about discipline I am all business. I speak slowly and calmly.
Fourth, be aware of your role and what you are doing wrong, and be aware of the atmosphere in the room. Kids should want to be in your class. They should get something out of it. Engaging lessons, a connection, something. Before every class I spend a few minutes asking the kids how they are doing. I share something of my own life. If I am not relating to the kids, if I am not designing lessons that are engaging (not every lesson but most) then the kids will lose interest and at that point it is partially my fault that they are bored and acting out. If I am wishy-washy with discipline or I yell and threaten them and they dont respect me, it’s my fault. If everyone is exhausted and people are upset and there is just no learning happening I need to take a step back and do something else. You have to take a good look at yourself and see where you contribute to the problem and that is NOT easy.
Fifth, cooperate. The classroom is both yours and the students. Each are equally responsible for what goes on there. So, involve the students. Tell them that you have been having a difficult time teaching because things are out of control, and ask them what they think about it. Kids are smart and they already know what the issues are. Ask them if there is anything they think you should be doing differently and be prepared to listen. If they bring up mistakes you make, apologize for them and search for ways to do better. Involve them in this process, but remember you are still the boss and what you say goes. Still, kids crave being heard and respected, and they love a disciplined class.
Sixth, love your students. If they talk a lot, tell them you love a talkative class because everyone has such interesting ideas. Tell them you love how energetic they are. If they don’t engage, tell them that you appreciate that they are introspective. It doesn’t matter what, but make them feel like they are loved every day and that you are HAPPY they are in your class. A lot of kids feel like teachers don’t like them. Show them you do. Give them compliments. If they say they hate you, say that’s fine but I still like you. If they refuse to do work, tell them you are confident in their ability to do it. If they make mistakes, share embarrassing stories of your own. Make your classroom a place they feel they belong.
I know this was long but I hope it helped!