A Few Tips From an Old Timer

As we start in on the new school year, the moretprs forum and Ben Slavic’s blog are discussing the issue that never fails to come up at this time of the year (and in November when students and teachers start getting weary, and in March when it seems like spring will never come): the issue of classroom management.

Some teachers believe that maintaining discipline is more difficult with TPRS because we require so much participation and group responses from students. My own experience was the opposite. When I began personalizing my classes, getting my students involved by talking with them about themselves, they were easier to manage because they were more engaged. Also I believe that they felt respected and the main reason that students act up is to gain someone’s respect, not necessarily the teacher’s.

So here are a few tips that may help younger teachers who are trying to get their “sealegs”.

Number One: Smile! It’s scientifically proven that we feel happy when we smile, and that happy feeling will communicate itself to your students, who will have to struggle not to smile back at you. Anything you do to get your students to smile will help with your classroom management. If they are always greeted with a smile, they will look forward to coming to your class.

Number Two: Keep smiling! When a student is acting up, trying to push your buttons, give him a fond smile, thinking “buddy, I’ve seen hundreds like you, and you’ve never met anyone like me before.” It’s Fred Jones’ Queen Victoria expression, but with a little smile added. Don’t say it, just think it, and believe me, he’ll get the message. By not reacting with anger, you will destablilize him and give yourself time to consider how you are going to deal with his behavior.

Number Three: Don’t allow students to insult each other, even if they say they’re just joking. From day one, I tell my students that there is only one rule in my classroom and it is Respect. I expect them to respect me, just as I show respect for them, and I expect them to respect each other. If some quiet teasing between buddies starts up, I immediately stop and ask them if that sounds like respect. When they see you are serious about this one thing, you’ll have the entire class in the palm of your hand. I think most people crave respect even more than love. A class where mutual respect is the rule is a safe haven for them.

Number Four: Always be honest with your students. If you make a mistake, admit it and apologize. This is how you earn their respect and let them know that you truly respect them.

Number Five: When you are asking a student to change his behavior, or to do something they don’t particularly want to do, say please. Say it firmly, and make it clear that they don’t really have a choice, but say it as politely as you would to any adult. When they comply, say thank you. I think the one big advantage that experienced teachers have over new teachers is confidence that students will comply with your requests. If you ask for something, but don’t really believe they’re going to give in, they can read it written all over you. If you assume that they are going to accept your leadership, they will.

Number Six: If you do encounter a really tough customer, a teacher’s nightmare, be assured that they have more problems than you would even want to imagine. Try to see past the tough shell that they’re displaying to the inner frightened child that doesn’t dare take off their armor. And chalk the worst ones, the ones you never get through to, up to a learning experience. If nothing else, it will help you realize how inoffensive all the others are. And you’ll be a better teacher. I had a nightmare class my second year in the lycée. Even experienced shop teachers admitted that some of the boys in the class frightened them. The teachers were able to force the headmaster to convoke a disciplinary commission, whereas he proudly boasted that in nine years he had never had to hold one. I survived but none of the problem cases returned to our school the following year. Some of them were in prison. After that, I could tell the difference between a student who was testing my limits and a true delinquent.

Number Seven: Don’t panic. You prepared a wonderful lesson and realize when you get to class that you left something indispensable at home. You prepared a wonderful lesson and the class is brooding about a horrible math test and just not playing the game. You prepared a wonderful lesson about the boy who has a pink jet, and he’s absent. Or you were up all night with a sick baby and didn’t have time to prepare a wonderful lesson. Whatever. You speak the language and they don’t. Talk to them, chat them up, find out more about them and little by little you’ll see a path through the woods. Some of my best lessons have come from those “Oh, dear! What can I do now?” moments. Don’t be afraid to improvise. If it falls flat, well, your wonderful lesson might very well have fallen flat too. Kids don’t expect every day to be fantastic. They’ll remember you kindly if there were a few fantastic classes.

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