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Customer Discussions > Education forum

Classroom Management, the unaddressed reality?

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Showing 1-25 of 31 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 5, 2010 1:38:26 PM PDT
As I look over my journals of my last 8 years of teaching, classroom management is my least favorite thing to think about, but apparently the most important issue facing the success of my students.

From one page I wrote:

"Not understanding well the nature of the 9-year-old mind, I have too long assumed that
high expectations and engaging lessons would solve behavior problems-besides, many
"professors" told me I was "exactly right." Professors, of course, have forgotten the
nature of the 9-year-old mind and focus on theory, research, and the systematic
complicating of the teaching profession. Hence, I was more than reluctant to accept the
realistic amount of time I'd have to spend re-teaching and rehearsing students in how to:
quietly open their books, how to sharpen pencils, how to return to their seats, how to
raise their hand and wait to be called on before speaking, how to put away coats and
backpacks, how to line up quietly, how to listen to and participate in lessons, how to
work with a partner quietly, how to react to fire drill bells, how to prepare for dismissal,
how to read quietly, how to take a test, how to stay on task, how to sit quietly and
patiently when finished with an assignment, how to ask to be excused, etc. I realize that
it was indeed my ego that couldn't waste a day doing the mundane. My ego was about
my personal genius! My creativity! My knack for simplifying and demystifying math
and science and social studies for 9 year olds... I realize now that it was my reluctance
to waste time on such mundane rehearsals that made me lose my temper so many times in
the past. "Why should I have to waste everyone's time teaching proper behaviors?" I'd
rationalize. "I want a class that's busy thinking and working-not sitting like robots."
that just make the class orderly but not smarter," I'd continue. "Do I want to bore them
and lull them into submission with droning repetition of procedures?" My answer today
is yes. Why? It works so well that I am now more able to get them thinking and working
without resorting to dramatics, punishing the class as a whole, or any of the other
fruitless waste of time and energy. I now am a complete fan of Wong's book, for the
most part, and look forward for a shorter version with less sales pitch to slog through and
more method to steal. (I've literally pored over the entire book in an overzealous fervor
for several weeks)

I have finally accepted my role as a calm, unruffled repeater of phrases like:
"Perhaps you didn't understand the directions, I asked you to open your book quietly to
page 148 and read quietly for 15 minutes. Would you please show me you understand?"
I certainly hadn't been willing to do it near enough times to have an effect. When I do it
right, the room quiets down and 8 other off-task students snap to it. I thought I had done
this before, and having seen no immediate or sudden effects (the way Wong likes to use
the words "suddenly," and "what you do on the first day makes all the difference," I'm
sure I expected unrealistically that the first week would establish the routine.
Unfortunately, the rehearsal must be maintained; the repeated requests for exactness in
compliance must be relentless. On top of that, I have been skeptical that any class can sit
like robots all day while a teacher reiterates procedures and expectations at the expense of
interesting activities or educational content. I'm pretty sure the robot students are not
learning much. So, in such a hurry to keep my class from being boring I often rushed into
activities and assignments unconfident that any student would sit quietly and actually
listen to my tediously detailed explanations of procedures and protocols. I had a few set
routines and procedures, though most of them were rather unsuccessful in my opinion.
For the life of me, I can't understand why students continually forget the few procedures
that I must remind them about everyday. Now Harry Wong and my mother in law have
convinced me that I need to spend even more time on rehearsing, demonstrating,
reinforcing and maintaining the procedures.

This year I was reprimanded for putting a tally mark next to the name of a student, being cited for causing "unnecessary embarrassment!" The fact that he shouted over by teaching continually, and had 43 checks during the day meant little.

I basically urged the other students to tell their parents about the tally marks if they wanted something to change. The parents must have responded, and the offending student was removed to another class. I know this because the administration threatened my job because of "parent complaints." (What their report doesn't show was that parent complaints supported me, and threatened them for not doing something about the student earlier. They tried to write it all off as my fault, saying that I failed to notify them and fill out proper paperwork... even though there was plenty of paperwork to support my position.) Since that time, our class has been productive, bully-free, and scoring higher than ALL the other classes on ALL the county benchmark tests. However, I was not rehired at this school because the administration chose to threaten my job rather than back me up with support--even though the student had been in detention most of the year, and has a record from other schools as being a big problem--constant disruption...

Ideas and concerns about classroom management in any setting would be greatly appreciated.

Posted on Apr 5, 2010 7:06:40 PM PDT
Classroom management is vitally important but did not click for me until about four years into teaching. I was frustrated by the limitations of classroom teaching - I had come into classroom teaching through outdoor and environmental education, which is very different in many ways. In environmental education, you are with your students twenty-four hours a day, and there are other adults (a ratio of 1 adult:8 children) to support you, and there is a built in culture of consensus and respect. Furthermore, the culture, environment and routines are foreign to all newcomers in environmental education, so as the adult, you set the tone right away. The focus is not on abstractions, but on relationships within the group (most camps start with hours of trust games and ice breakers when their kids arrive), and how to make a fire to make something tasty for dinner.

Classroom teaching lasts only an hour a day (for secondary education), the routine is familiar, and depending on the mix of individuals and without a strong teacher, the culture can be disrespectful and toxic. (I am remembering my fourth period class from my first year with a shudder.) Also, for me, genetics and photosynthesis are as equally relevant and interesting as lighting a fire or climbing Mt. Whitney, but to your average 13 year old, they are not. They are too abstract.

My first principal was a much better teacher of classroom management than my teacher education program was, but quite honestly, I think classroom management is something that would be hard to teach to someone who does not yet have their own classroom. She kept saying to me, "You have to teach your students with direct instruction how to turn in papers, how to respond to your classroom, how even to come into your classroom. You have to be very clear about what you want and don't want, with yourself, and with your students. You need routines."

It wasn't enough to have a seating chart, and it was not enough to rely on general expectations and the culture of School.

My routines include:
1. A seating chart
2. A turn-in box
3. Responding to questions in chorus (I don't do raised hands - everyone participates, no option for opting out)
4. Posted and verbal instructions on Safety, Responsibility and Respect
5. Extra work for students who finish early (if you are in science, then that is what you are doing, not reading or having "free time" or talking with your neighbors)

When something is not going right, like you, I say, "Perhaps you didn't understand. Let's try that again. As scientists, we make graphs, because a graph is worth...____________"
and then my students know to say, "A thousand words." And then they create the graph of our data (or whatever).

For me, I do not like put-downs and informal language, like "frickin" or "crap" or "sucks" or "shut up" - some teachers don't mind, but I do. I just say, "We don't use that word in my classroom." I don't argue with my students either. If they are not participating, doing their assigned work, or if they are being disrespectful or unsafe, I send them to "OH" (Opportunity Hall).

I have been really fortunate to have had two principals who are very supportive of my work - both the science and the classroom management. I also work in a small school, and there are four core teachers per grade, and we meet weekly to discuss students who are not succeeding primarily to plan interventions for them.

There have been a few recent books and articles on this topic:
1. Never Work Harder than Your Students, by Robyn R. Jackson

2. Building a Better Teacher, from the NYT Sunday Magazine

One of the most important things about classroom management, according to the theory, is to have an engaging and relevant curriculum...and perhaps that is true. But my first principal said, "It is clear you know your subject. And you are good at creating positive individual relationships in your classroom. But you won't be able to teach anything until you have the classroom management." She was right.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 5, 2010 9:06:19 PM PDT

I feel your pain.

Our educational system has run amok. Our leaders are, for the most part, politicians out to protect their own kiesters. The people who are making decisions about what should go on in classrooms have, for the most part, never actually taught - and I'm quite certain have not taught in the same circumstances in which I currently find myself. Every teacher who wants to get out of the classroom seems to invent their own new "research-based" strategy for teaching - and then they give this strategy a really nifty acronym and go around and give workshops for a captive audience of teachers who are going to be forced to use this new strategy in their classrooms - whether it'll work for them and their students or not. What we're dealing with is insanity.

I am going to share a letter I recently sent to my State Superintendent of Public Instruction, my representatives, the Commission for Hispanic Affairs in Washington State, my School District's School Board president, and (in a slightly different version) Pres. Obama:

I `ve been teaching since 1979. I have lived through countless reforms, "transformations," and educational acronyms. I've worked in both upper middle class schools and in poor schools. For the last 12 years I worked in a middle class school with academically-successful students. This year, wanting a new challenge, I moved to a "failing" school.

The school where I now teach is the only school in the district that hasn't had any building improvements in the last twenty years. It's ugly, run-down, and neglected. My new school is called a "dual language" school, although it doesn't exactly fit the dual language model, which would have a population ratio of 50-50 English-speaking experts to Spanish-speaking experts. Probably most of the new children who move into the district and speak Spanish as their first language are placed at my school, and I suppose some people might say that what we're seeing here is segregation. 78% of the students at my school qualify for free and reduced lunches. (The other four K-8 schools in my district have a distinctly different population to go along with their distinctly different results on states assessments: The percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced lunches in my district's other K-8 schools are 31%, 24%, 50%, and - for the other school in our district that struggles with low test scores - 68%.) My school is also the only school in the district that has two "split" classes.

For all the challenges, I love working here. I love the students, and I've never worked with a staff more competent or dedicated, or one that works harder. It's incredibly fulfilling to work in a place where I know I can make a real difference. Walking through this school's halls is magic - one hears Spanish, children's voices singing to Mrs. Smith' s guitar, and staff members in the hall working with groups of students learning how to speak a second language. There's a wonderful energy here - it's a dynamic place, alive with the celebration of learning. There are a lot of factors that affect students' test scores over which teachers have no control. But the things that my new school's teachers can control - the instruction that they provide their students at school - is as good as it gets

Recently the staff at our school learned about a grant for which our district is applying to try to bring more monies here. We were told that if our school gets this grant we were going to be asked to work harder, have longer days, and an extended school year. This felt like a slap in the face. I don't think it's possible for any of us to work any harder. I, who had students with academic success last year at a different school, might now be rewarded for moving to a more challenging school by being asked to work longer hours. And if, on top of this, my pay is going to become dependent on whether my students pass these state tests - I've got to ask you - what teacher, in her right mind, would voluntarily move to a school that's more challenging, requires more work, might end up paying her less, or even lead to termination of her job?

The students and staff at my school need equity with the other schools in our district. We're the only school in the district with a gym that's cramped and unsafe, a student population that mostly speaks English as a second language, and two split classes. We know these things have a huge impact on our students' test scores and how they feel about themselves as members of this district: Our students' ability to communicate in English makes it challenging for them to answer tests that are given in their second language; the split-classes have forced teachers to neglect one grade's curriculum to focus on another grade's curriculum; the amount of preps that the fifth and sixth grade teachers have impedes their ability to plan thorough lessons for any one subject because they're trying to plan for seven. It's not a lack of teacher quality, but these other factors, that prevent our students from success on the state assessments, and feeling valued as members of the district's community.

Teachers are public servants, we're not public slaves. We actually have lives outside the classroom - parents, children, communities in which we are active - and we shouldn't be expected to sacrifice our out-of-school lives and our physicial and emotional health to work any harder or longer than we already work. It would be nice to be appreciated, rather than used as scapegoats, by the people we serve.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 6, 2010 9:50:37 AM PDT
Emmanuel says:
Wow. You have the makings of a great teacher book here. Write me a piece of that check when the royalties start coming in. Good luck!

Posted on Apr 6, 2010 9:56:06 AM PDT
Emmanuel says:
Alpha Wingoov said, "And if, on top of this, my pay is going to become dependent on whether my students pass these state tests - I've got to ask you - what teacher, in her right mind, would voluntarily move to a school that's more challenging, requires more work, might end up paying her less, or even lead to termination of her job"


Posted on Apr 6, 2010 1:29:16 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 6, 2010 1:32:07 PM PDT
Doc Fitness says:
The Edutainer: Connecting the Art and Science of Teaching
This book offers strategies to new teachers on how to manage a classroom, thereby managing classroom behavior.
There was a great quote in the book:
"Students' behavior is a direct reflection of what you expect and what you allow." - The Edutainer

Posted on Apr 6, 2010 4:28:36 PM PDT
Bill Cecil says:
What a great topic for discussion. Classroom management is probably the number one reason we lose 30-50 percent of our new teachers within five years. I am convinced that you can't teach until you can successfully manage your students. I do believe it is taught in most colleges, but it is a topic most new teachers don't pay a lot of attention to until they are suddenly faced with the reality of having 25-30 students to manage in their own classrooms. Maybe, like me, they thought they wouldn't need it because they would "WOW" their students with their awesome lessons. Whatever the case, I think it is very common for many new teachers to enter into this profession not really strong in this area.

Classroom management has become one of my passions since starting my career 24 years ago. Once I realized I wasn't very good at it (which only took a few days), I started reading everything I could about it -- not just in education books but from business books as well. To this day, I still love learning new ways to better manage and lead my teams. My favorite thing about teaching is that every year I get to create, lead, and be a member of a winning team. I don't get to pick my team, but I do get to build my team each year. There are four things I focus on whenever I get a new team of students to work with each year. I call these four strategies "Setting the Table for Success" because I use these four strategies to help prepare my students for the year long feast (learning the 5th grade curriculum that I will be teaching) that they will partake in with me.

The four strategies are "Create a Shared Vision," "Team Building," "Teach, Model and Practice Team Procedures," and "Establish and Consistently Enforce the Team Rules and Consequences." By investing a few minutes each day for the first 21-30 days it saves me tons of what would become wasted time the rest of the year I would be using to put out brush fires in my classroom each day. Not only do these four strategies save me time, they save me a ton of frustration I would most likely be feeling if they weren't firmly in place.

I could go on-and-on about this topic, but the last thing I will share is the best piece of advice I ever received as a young teacher that has served me well all these years. Tell your students you care about them on the first day of school and take the time to explain to them why you care about them and their success. Too often we think it should be obvious to them that we care, but we need to make sure they know this. I once read a great quote that said something about people will only start to follow a leader once they know that the leader cares about them. I think there is a lot of truth to that quote.

I hope more people participate in this discussion. We (in education) don't seem to give this enough credit about how important it is in helping teachers teach and students learn. In my opinion, it IS the foundation that everything else is built upon!

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 7, 2010 12:33:33 AM PDT
Eric H. Roth says:
I agree.

From my perspective, every K-12 teacher should read and reflect upon that outstanding NY Times article "Building a Better Teacher". It's a classic.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 10, 2010 7:09:49 AM PDT
Great article on school "reform":

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 10, 2010 8:13:21 AM PDT
Great article, Karen!

Thanks to all who have posted, I've been reading up on all the great articles and programs mentioned.

Please keep them coming.

PS: "Students' behavior is a direct reflection of what you expect and what you allow." - The Edutainer

I believe this is a common sense maxim. However, I find it a little hard to swallow that every chronic behavior problem can be preempted with perfect classroom management techniques before they occur. There are always problems during the day, and a few students that may be resistant and rebellious as to expectations.

I agree that there are techniques that can help minimize these disruptive students, and try to learn from the best, but often, there are a few students that refuse to cooperate for many months.

Given the fact that perhaps only the most experienced teacher will know whether "voicing positive expectations" are enough, or whether outside help from parents or administrators to exact consequences is merited.

One thing is for sure, going straight to parents or administrators too soon may be counter-productive. It's also clear that when you do contact parents or administrators, there is a judgement made about the teacher as to whether the action was "too soon" or "too late." Either way, it seems that the teacher is always the one to take the blame.

So while I like the idea that the teacher sets the tone and expectation, there are difficulties encountered with some students that can be exasperating and detrimental to the classroom environment.

I really like the "Love and Logic" program, for one. However, it's clear that there is no panacea, or cure-all technique, for classroom management.

Most teachers I know do not support the idea of cooperative groups, partner work, or classroom competitions. They seem to want to eliminate all need for students to interact with each other--knowing that the more students pay attention to each other, the less they listen to the teacher.

When in NYC, there was a city-wide mandate the required at least the appearance of cooperative groups--you could actually pack 30+ students into a small classroom this way--but with little guidance in the lesson plan ideas that could make the setting productive. At my current school, the administration is very traditional and prefers the rows and columns featured in nearly every "model" classroom video of Doug Lemov's DVD.

The appearances show a teacher completely in control of a classroom, with a high degree of "buy in" from students. You know of course, that every soul in the room is painfully aware of the camera, and Lemov is only going to choose the most exemplary minutes from each session...

I prefer, as a measure of my technique, not to focus on how well I can lead students' attention during a guided lesson, but how much students show a willingness to drive their own learning and practice when I've finished. In short, it's more important what the students are doing than what I am doing...

Since I am somewhat of a show-off, grandstanding, edutainer, I have to consciously minimize my personality after the guided lesson, and force myself to whisper so my students can stay focused on their work and assessments--which is more important than the most clever lessons I can "edutain" with.

I struggle with my temper on occasion. I feel an overwhelming need to express disappointment when a student is shirking potential, refusing directions, feigning helplessness, or throwing a screaming tantrum like they are on the Jerry Springer show--something they never do when the cameras or the administration are watching.

I can understand the sentiment that if I was a better teacher, none of these toxic situations would occur. So I work very hard to improve my management style--being entertaining doesn't prevent students from trying to be entertaining too. But despite Wong's idea that you must start the first day of class with everything figured out beforehand, the unexpected occurs.

Behind closed doors, teachers and students are imperfect and flawed as people can be. I think a true test of classroom success is whether progress and improvement are being made through the year in both social harmony and academic achievement. But what works in one setting may not work in another.

Posted on Apr 10, 2010 8:34:02 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 10, 2010 11:59:30 AM PDT
Aaron Roston says:
Classroom management: the dirty little secret of urban teaching. All teaching is built on it, and nobody mentions it. The disconnect between what new teachers are told must happen in the classroom (i.e., get them to pass the test, hold them to these state standards) and what actually happens in the classroom (how do you get 25 teenagers to stay in their chairs if they don't feel like it?) is just one of the many reasons that new teachers quit in droves. You can't enact meaningful, long-term reform in so-called "failing schools" if your strategy is one of attrition, which is what it is now. For a fuller telling of this story in the Bronx, here's the book I wrote about it:
Fellows In Arms: A 21st Century Teaching Saga

Posted on Apr 10, 2010 9:09:55 AM PDT
Lad Nova says:
I clicked on this post because I'm a new teacher at an ESL preschool. I have an assistant teacher and when she is speaking their language they listen like angels. When I start talking its like speaking to a brick wall. Only after repeatedly raising my voice do I get results.

I hope it's okay to barge in on this post with my problem, but I'm sure one of you have had experience with this. I've taught preschool to native speakers with good results and firm classroom control but this is a whole new bag which feels completely out of my control.

Thoughts. Please.

Posted on Apr 10, 2010 11:25:17 AM PDT
I am a visiting writer in the schools. It is very interesting to be a guest in classrooms with so many different climates, mixtures of students, and teaching styles. Classroom management is always a challenge as a visitor and I'm amazed at the ways that the host teachers are able to keep classroom rules enforced [or, not. In some cases.] The best classrooms are where very diverse students somehow have learned to respect each other, each a part of the classroom "team."

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 10, 2010 12:49:52 PM PDT
Hi Aaron, thanks for the book.

I am also a NYC Teaching Fellow in your own cohort--I taught at PS70 in the Bronx from 2002-2005.

Posted on Apr 10, 2010 5:41:42 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 10, 2010 5:47:03 PM PDT
This is a great discussion. To what degree does "tracking" affect classroom management and ultimately student learning? Tracking is mostly passé now, but a lot of schools still seem to indulge in covert forms of ability grouping. I have an "average" class that is packed with students whose parents resent their child's exclusion from the "upper" classes. A lot of behavior problems get concentrated in the lower classes. I am amazed and exhausted by the effort I need to expend on my own "calm, unruffled" repetition of very reasonable and simple procedures. It's necessary to enable learning, but in my mind there is a clear correlation between this lost time and the learning "deficit" perceived to be qualifying this class.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 10, 2010 8:38:37 PM PDT
David Rickson: I am amazed and exhausted by the effort I need to expend on my own "calm, unruffled" repetition of very reasonable and simple procedures.

V: Yes, however, even as parents of very gifted children, we are often surprised by how exhausting their own resistance to instructions can be.

If we "lose it," then it shows we don't "have it in us" to stick with them through thick and thin, and that we don't care enough about them to keep pushing. We mean for our anger to to say that "we won't tolerate" disrespectful behavior. But what it really says about us isn't very becoming.

We can look back to exemplary adults or teachers, perhaps even parents, who made such a difference in our lives through positive, unconditional belief in who we were and who we could become--even when we were acting like complete idiots. They made you see yourself in a new light and then want to change for the better. The only thing the "raving lunatic teachers" helped us see was what we never wanted to become.

I'm not trying to make anyone feel bad, nor pretend that I have anything figured out. I have turned into that "raving lunatic teacher" and parent too often in the past. I was just imitating the only other teachers I saw around me. The shame I now feel from my lack of professionalism or maturity can no longer be rationalized and blamed on the fact that I was "manipulated by children!" I don't wish to go back there. In order to prevent this from happening in my future, I know that I need a greater repertoire of options to practice.

I regret that I didn't have any real student teaching experience, which is a drawback of the NYC Teaching Fellows Program, and have pretty much been left to figure out things for myself. At least the Teach for America group has a set of classroom management techniques as part of the basic training and coaching. Some of those really work.

PS, tracking isn't a bad thing, but if merit pay becomes an issue, that's going to get in the way. People are so stupid to claim merit pay is a simple "no-brainer" reform about how to improve schools. Our no brain governor thinks he's going to make that happen next year. It's so clear they haven't yet begun to use their brains. (He's also suing the Federal Government for passing Healthcare reform, which is telling, but that's an issue for another thread...)

Posted on Apr 12, 2010 4:38:22 PM PDT
I'm a 3rd year teacher, and feel like a decent hold on classroom behavior. But, I struggle too with some of this issues. I thought the "edutainer" label is great. Way too often that's what it feels like I have to do...entertain. I wonder is all the video games and other virtual stimulus they are exposed to? If so, we can't control this (at home).

In some ways, I feel very fortunate to have this class I have this year...huge gifted population and only a couple of borderline students. I seriously thought management with this class was going to be a breeze. Of course, it isn't. They are their own quirky, busy, talkative 9 and 10 year olds. That's when I realized I had to learn to adjust to their uniqueness. They weren't going to adjust to me. I think that's an important area to consider...the individuality of each group and the changes we will have to discover and adapt to. This class taught me that, so we'll see if I remember that next year...

This class manages to waste an incredible amount of time with the routines, which I thought I've taught well...guess not?? I haven't experienced this as much with my other 2 classes, so I wonder if it's part of who they are (so busy, creative, talkative as a largely gifted group) and because of class size. I know in other parts of the country 28 kids is nothing new. But here in NC since I've been teaching, 23-24 kids was the max. There's physically no room to move which of course slows things down.

My last thought is that the teacher across the hall from me is an AMAZING manager of children. So, I always try to study her and make changes. Her ability to form relationships with children is like no other. She genuinely cares about their lives, LOVES her job (doesn't complain too much, or let lots of smaller things get to her), and gets them to trust and respect her. I student taught in her room..I should know everything right?!...but wasn't able to understand all of the intricacies of her routine interactions. They know she loves them. She is respectful, even-tempered, warm, and has an amazing ability to understand why they do the things they do. Who she is as a teacher is who she is a person, so it comes naturally. That's encouraging and frustrating at the same time...this seems fairly simple (expect understanding why they do what they do), yet I don't have relationships as strong as hers. I do know that I love the teaching part of the job and love them, but I'm not as naturally outgoing or warm. It makes me consider if this is an issue. I think it's all about those strong to perfect them???

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 13, 2010 7:18:56 PM PDT
loveteacherbooks: ... I student taught in her room..I should know everything right?!...but wasn't able to understand all of the intricacies of her routine interactions. ...

V: I've recently purchased the 'Teach Like a Champion' book and DVD recommended earlier in the thread. I had seen a few of the videos online beforehand, and didn't really understand them well until explained by the experienced author in the book. I'm slow to adopt and adapt to good techniques but I recommend using even the ones you saw from your mentor that seem like formalities now.

I had gifted students for two years straight until this year, and it was just like starting over. Gifted kids can really spoil you into settling for less than vigorous management techniques. It's taken me nearly all year to get back to the vigilant management strategies I'd learned before I had gifted and motivated students!

I got some good news today: I'll be teaching ONLY 4th grade social studies and science to about 100+ students next year at my brand new school. (SS and SCI have been my greatest passions as a teacher for the past 8 years--my reputation must have preceded me, good scores and high profile projects.)

As I'll spend only an hour or two a day with each group, what advice do you higher grade teachers of "roving groups" have about setting the bar so I can hit the ground running next year? I already picture kids walking in, loudly chatting, and acting disrespectfully, as if my class is the designated time of their day to get rowdy, and stupidly pointless in. (I'm an "edutainer" that gets taken advantage of if I'm not extra careful.)

I'm old enough to know that most of the grandiose visions I have of making social studies and science this hands-on utopia may get squashed by my lack of vision and foresight in the classroom management area. How can I best get cooperative groups working well before the first month of training is up? What training should I get done in those first few weeks?

Thanks, my generous mentors!

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 13, 2010 9:02:55 PM PDT
Hi, V,

I start the year with a seating chart, alphabetical, until I get to know the students. They know exactly where they are sitting on the first day in each class because I make color-coded table tents with their first and last names. My first block is red, the second is orange, the third is yellow - you get it - and each table tent for each subsequent class rests under the table tent from the class before. After a week, when I see who is friends and who needs preferential seating according to their IEPs and so forth, I can make a more nuanced seating chart. I have them hand me their table tents at the end of class (the less they are out, the less they will be vandalized) and then I can use them for rearranging the seating chart or for substitute teachers.

With 100+ students in your room, it's really important to keep their space tidy (my own desk is a mess!). A clean, organized space for them means they are less likely to vandalize it.

I also give students something to write on the first day - about themselves as scientists, what they remember from the previous year - that way I can immediately assess (IEP or not) who needs support in writing. It also gives them an opportunity to learn where the in-box is.

For group work...each student really needs a discrete role.

My school has a very high rate of transition - 30% of students who start the school year with us do not remain with us until June. Furthermore, there is so much adjusting of student schedules in the first weeks of school (my rosters are often obsolete daily), and again at each change of trimesters (for up to two weeks), that intact cooperative groups are a pipe dream in my school.

I have to time my group work - October and November are good because the fall trimester has finally settled down. Trimester 2 starts the first week of December and then (annoyingly) we have two weeks of winter break, and many students who either leave our area or come in from another school.

Anyway, if your students don't move around so much, that might not be a problem. My first year, I was used to the idea that the kids you start with are the kids you end with, and the constant moving in and moving out drove me crazy - I did not know how to create a positive classroom climate with all those changes.

Another thing that keeps me organized with students are hanging files - I have two hanging file boxes with every single student in alphabetical order (color coded by letter - A is red, B is orange, C is yellow...etc.). We keep work for student portfolios, so when students are proud of their work, I tell them to put it in their hanging file.

I keep another hanging file box for assignments - if students are absent, then they can go to the Assignment Box to get assignments they are missing.

Most of my curriculum is electronically stored on my hard drive (I write most of it myself); I keep wanting to get it into three-ring binders in an organized fashion, in chronological order, with our state standards, the tests I write, etc. I am about a third of the way done for each of my three subjects. I have a long way to go! Things get so busy!

The first week or so, even middle school students are VERY POLITE. They are ready to listen to you. In science n the first day, we go through the syllabus, they do some writing about science, and I have them do an activity in which they start building a definition of what life is - it involves going outside. Our school uses a system of positive behavior support, which means we have three rules: Safety, Respect and Responsibility. Before we go outside, I tell them what it means to be Safe, Responsible and Respectful. I do that as "THIS IS A REPEAT AFTER ME SONG!" style from Girl Scout camp:

This is what I say, and which they repeat:

I will...
Be safe...
I will walk...
I will keep my hands to myself... (etc.)

They think it is very corny at first but 1-they all participate (no opting out), 2-they all know how to stay safe and 3-they actually really appreciate having very strict rules for that kind of stuff.

I have a class right now that got the tossed-salad treatment of schedule rearrangement this trimester - they are very badly behaved. I was very irritated with them Monday but I don't have them again until tomorrow morning. Sometimes I am thankful that I have them first thing in the morning because the day just gets better from there. One of the things I have realized is that every class does not always get to the same spot - my other three science classes are lovely, and my two Spanish classes are a delight. But these kids need more teacher-directed management for now - they won't be able to do an Each One Teach One data collection lab for human phenotypes. Too bad. Maybe we'll get there by May.

Posted on Apr 14, 2010 7:39:37 PM PDT
Interesting article called "In Defense of Public School Teachers":

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 14, 2010 9:38:11 PM PDT
Thanks so much Suzanna, I'm putting this in my planning file for next year. You've opened my eyes to MANY realities I hadn't a clue about. I am your avid pupil! I appreciate it so very much! (What a great heads up on what I'm going to be dealing with.) I owe you!

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 15, 2010 4:40:36 PM PDT
Wow, thanks V. All I can say is that I am happy my first year teaching only took one year! Every year is better than the last. It is really hard for me to give up my students in June - I miss them when the new ones come in. Then I get to know the new ones, and I like them, too. You are braver than me for being willing to change!

In reply to an earlier post on May 28, 2010 10:52:57 PM PDT
'probabilist says:
Hi, V -

I hope things are going well.

All the best,


Posted on May 29, 2010 7:50:45 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 29, 2010 7:55:54 AM PDT
My wife, who is an accountant now, taught math to remedial students (6-8th graders) for one year when I had my first assignment as a professor. It was the worst year of her professional life. She did not understand why the students were so out of control and didn't realize that a major part of being a teacher is knowing how to manage your classroom.

As a professor, I know it is easier to focus on the material than it is for those who teach elementary, middle and even high schoolers, but there are still many challenges for some professors. I have had few challenges in dealing with students and I have taught in excellent places and some of the worst. It is probably due to my military upbringing, military experience and no-nonsense approach. I am polite, respectful, calm and engaging but if you can't follow the rules then you will have to find the nearest and closest exit. (I know many teachers don't have that option.) Yet, other colleagues in the past and present still seem to have some major issues with dealing with their students and I know a lot of it deals with not setting the tone from the very beginning. Also many do not have the stomach to keep enforcing their rules the entire time. This is very easy to sense at any age and if people see that they can do what they want then why wouldn't they?

Posted by Bakari Akil II, Ph.D., author of The Teaching Assistants' Bible: Guide for Graduate Students, Adjuncts and College Instructors
Speech Exercises for the Classroom: A Guide for Professors, Teachers and Speech Instructors
Pop Psychology: The psychology of pop culture and everyday life!

In reply to an earlier post on May 29, 2010 4:24:43 PM PDT
Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College

As a 47 year old career changing first year teacher at a title one middle school, I was just about ready to quit at the end of this year. Then I read the NYT article referenced below, and bought Lemov's book as soon as it was available. I have implemented just a few strategies and it has made a HUGE difference. I had to get the first year out of the way so I could go on to be successful at another school. Veteran teachers kept telling me it was the kids, not me, but if I had this book last summer, I would have been a much better classroom manager from the beginning!
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