So far on this blog my posts have had mainly to do with curriculum support. I completely enjoy immersing myself in the world of ideas and I love thinking about the most enlivening and exciting ways to present these ideas to my students. Curriculum building is truly one of my favorite things to do.
I have not, however, written too much about the subject of classroom management. The task of teaching today’s children is not a simple one. Children and parents are pushed to live fast-paced lives. Parents feel conflicted — they want to protect their children but they also want to prepare them for the challenges they’ll face in the world. As a result, parents think carefully about their children’s bests interests and they are not willing to blindly hand over their authority to teachers. Parents want to know that teachers understand their children and are watching out for their safety. Today’s parents don’t engage in blind trust when it comes to their children – they ask questions and get involved.
This means that often a teacher’s authority is questioned by parents (as well as by those older students). Without a good working relationship with the parents, a teacher can feel nervous about every decision he or she must make. Will parents understand my motivations? Will they know why this is the best thing for their children? These concerns can weigh so heavily that what is already a difficult task becomes even more challenging. Without strong parent support and a lot of confidence, teachers struggle and, when it is worst, they can feel completely paralyzed.
What is worse is that the child cannot be comfortable and successful in the classroom without feeling secure in having a strong authority at the head of the class. Above all, for the child’s sake, the teacher must be clear in her convictions and confident that she knows best.
What can the teacher do to confirm for herself and reassure parents (and students) that she is a loving authority? Of course, doing the work required to know and understand the children in her care is first and foremost. Learning about the curriculum and learning styles will help us know how best to meet them.
But there are also small things we can do to build authority in the classroom. Sometimes it is the small things that reassure parents and students the most.
- Be a stickler for the details. A little story — every Friday my students take everything out of their desks and set their things on top of their chairs on top of their desks. This is my system for making sure their desks are cleaned out regularly. The first time we did this I listed the things that should be on their chairs — in order, largest things on the bottom, smallest things on top. Ever since, they have been expected to order their materials largest to smallest. Now, does it really matter if their composition book is under their main lesson book? Not really. But since I did this (and went around making sure everyone had followed my instructions) the children know I am paying attention. Now we’ve taken this even further in that all of the chairs on the desks are facing the same direction. The empty desks and chairs look like ranks in a well-ordered military.
- Give instructions one time only. When you need to tell your students to do something first make sure they have your attention. I often do this by saying, “Listen closely,” or “Oh, this is so important.” You can also get their attention in more direct ways. Many teachers use, “1-2-3, eyes on me.” To which students reply, “1-2, eyes on you.” Once you have their attention, give your instruction one time and sit back and watch that they comply. Do not, however tempted you may be, repeat your instruction. If your students do not immediately comply this probably means you’ve been repeating yourself too much.
- Make sure everyone does what you ask. Early in my teaching career I was mortified one day when a student pointed out to me before the class that other students in the room were doing exactly what I had asked him to stop doing. If you tell one child to stop fiddling with his gummy eraser, you better do a quick look to make sure nobody else is either. This kind of consistency is essential, especially in the upper grades when the students are all too aware of each other’s actions.
- Follow through on everything. If you give an assignment, collect it, correct it and return it. Regularly collect and give feedback on main lesson books. Make sure this feedback goes to the parents as well as to the students.
- Be organized and prepared. If it seems like you are creating due dates and lesson plans on the fly, the students will respect your authority less. They need to know that you have a plan — you know where you’ve been and where you’re going.