As educators, we often come into the field with the perfect grade level in mind. I thought it would be ideal to teach second grade. Not too young, where students are still gaining independence and learning basic skills. Not too old, where they’re bigger than me (an ongoing short joke for myself, as I’m only 5’3”).
When I actually began to teach second grade, I quickly realized that this was going to be tougher than I expected. My second grade students were great. I enjoyed my interactions with them. I enjoyed planning engaging lessons around stories such as Stone Soup, and teaching how to tell time. My students were independent enough to complete tasks given to them, but still wanted input and help with their work.
You’ve set up your classroom. You know your kids and curriculum. You have the basics down.
Everything is running smoothly, except…
There’s one student who disrupts your class on a regular basis. One student who doesn’t respond to the expectations of the classroom.
The whole situation may have you feeling frustrated and discouraged.
Stop right there.
The first thing you need to realize is that this is not about you.
As personal as some students can seem to make it, your first task is to change your own perspective. Children who misbehave or adolescents who act out are almost always expressing an emotion or a problem that’s just beneath the surface. The key to improving their behavior is to figure out what function that action serves and then address the root of the problem.
So, where do you start?
October and November are often characterized by teachers as a period of survival mode or a time when feelings of disillusionment come to the forefront — the work is hard, the hours are long, and no one has had a break in quite a while. Come on, Thanksgiving break!
Now seems like a great time to talk about teacher wellness and retention. Specifically, about how teachers, new and veteran alike, can take care of themselves in order to remain the fabulous teachers they are for years to come.
Read on, weary teacher. You can do this.
As an educator, you’ll be expected to collaborate with your colleagues. In fact, research shows that when teachers collaborate, the rate of teacher turnover decreases. But while new teachers may be eager to collaborate, the process is sometimes intimidating.
Collaborating with new colleagues will be different than working with your college peers. Teachers will come to the table with different teaching practices and philosophies and a vast amount of experience that may overwhelm a new teacher, making it difficult to decide when to stand firm in your convictions and when to try something new.
You stand in front of your class, ready to dive into the lesson for the day. Before you speak your first complete sentence, two students start an audible conversation in the back of the room. And from the corner of your eye, you notice a boy in the front taking things out of his desk. Before you can deal with those two issues, you’re interrupted by a fourth student, who yells out a question from the periphery.
It’s not even 9 AM and you’re already feeling a little overwhelmed.
If this sounds like a typical morning, you’re not alone! No matter where you teach, classroom management is paramount to learning. Fair or not, part of your performance evaluation will depend upon how well you manage your classroom so that student behavior doesn’t create a barrier to learning. So, let’s look at some key ingredients for a well-managed classroom.
Before I ever set foot in a classroom, I knew what kind of teacher I wanted to be. I created a composite in my head of all my favorite teachers. You know them, those teachers who were exactly the person you needed at exactly the moment you needed them. I wanted to be warm, funny, and to encourage creativity. I wanted to protect my students and to advocate for them. I wanted to make them write both silly and serious things and understand just how clever Shakespeare really was.
I never anticipated how difficult it would be to keep that ideal version of myself alive. There were activities I had to fight for, actions I had to justify, and ideas I had to let go. It was exhausting to maintain my ideal teacher persona. There were nights when I was packing up to head home at 9 p.m., furiously apologizing to the maintenance staff for not leaving sooner. It wasn’t until my second year that I realized all of those traits I’d envisioned weren’t about the type of teacher I wanted to be. Actually, those traits embodied the classroom culture I wanted to create for my students.
Does anyone not want to get better at classroom management? Even the most experienced teachers can find ways to make their classrooms more welcoming and productive places. But for new teachers, classroom management can feel make it or break it.
If you’ve had a rough year, congratulations on getting through it!
This summer, let’s settle in and learn how to get better at classroom management.
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three-part series by Tch Laureate Emeritus Sarah Brown Wessling for new teachers wrapping up the school year.
“Every fear hides a wish.” — David Mamet
My first year of teaching was equal parts fear and wishing. In fact, they each pulled me from opposite directions, sometimes so tautly, everything seemed to bounce right off me, into the distance, uncatchable. That was my first year of teaching: lots of wishing for magical teaching moments and lots of hiding from my fears. I wished the kids would like me, but my fear meant I had some classroom management issues early on. I wished my colleagues would think I was doing a good job, but my fear meant I wouldn’t reach out to them with my own insecurities. I wished my lessons would all be inspired, but my fear meant that too often I would think about a “cool lesson” instead of a scope of learning.
My first year taught me that the rest of my years would be about shrinking the fictions of wishing and fear in order to opt for the beautiful and real mess of a teaching life. In case you’re finding yourself, at the end of this first year, needing a little less fiction and a little more beautiful mess, here are some common end-of-first-year struggles and how to use them to launch yourself into an even stronger year two. Read more
Sara Kadjer, professor of English Education at the University of Georgia, discusses her distinguished career, from middle school teacher to higher ed faculty. A pioneer in digital literacies and new media education, Sara talks about the greater complexities of the world today and the important role teachers play in helping young people navigate those complexities. Through it all, Sara is inspired by the joy of working with children and witnessing their learning. “Real innovation is not in response to anyone’s edict.”@skadjer
Meenoo Rami has taught high school English in Philadelphia, written the book Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching, and is now the Education Manager for Minecraft, the wildly popular virtual building game. Sarah Brown Wessling talks with Meenoo about her work in education over the years, with a special emphasis on being new to the profession.