Thursday, June 13, 2013

My Top 5 Tricks for Successful Classroom Management

We all manage our classrooms differently because we are all different. Even all of the teachers in my English department (and there are only 6 of us!) manage our classes very differently. There's nothing wrong with that, unless your solution is to ignore the problem until it gets right in your face. That might be a classroom management issue.

In college we had to create these extensive classroom management plans. Looking back on that thing, it was pretty unrealistic. My classroom management plans have morphed quite a bit over the last three years. What I have right now works pretty well, though honestly it can depend on the group of kids you have. What I'd like to share today are my Top 5 Tricks for Successful Classroom Management. These are five parts of my classroom management plan that haven't changed because they all contribute to a well-run classroom. I'm not saying these are perfect or that they work in all situations. I'm just saying they've worked for mine and maybe they'll work for you too. :)

5. No empty threats. Follow through on everything. If you tell Stanley that if he gets out of his seat one more time that he will no longer be allowed to have a seat for the rest of the day, then by God, you take his seat away if he does it again. You can very quickly undermine yourself in the classroom by making empty threats. This also means that you can't make ridiculous threats you cannot keep, for two reasons. Reason 1: if you tell Stanley that you will hang him from the ceiling by his toes and hit him with a salami, you really aren't going to be able to follow through with that. That's an empty (albeit hilarious) threat. Reason 2: kids love a challenge. If you make an outlandish threat, kids will often test the water to see what you will go through with and what you won't. Conclusion: Make realistic threats and follow through with them.

4. Prioritize. Is it really worth your time to send a kid to the office because he's been throwing paper wads? Personally, I don't think so, but that is something you need to decide. Before the first day of school, figure out where the lines in the sand are. What kinds of things would a student have to do to get sent to the office, versus sent out into the hall for a "time out" if you will, versus a quiet reprimand in class? We are all different, we all tolerate behavior differently, and we all work in different schools with different policies. What might be "major" to one teacher may very well be a very minor thing to another. I'm pretty relaxed in my classroom. For me, it depends on how the behavior is impacting my classroom.

  • If the behavior is really only impacting that particular student (they forget their materials, they stare at the ceiling instead of participating, they fall asleep...) then I reprimand them in class (I will talk about how I do this later in the post) and we move on with life. 
  • If the behavior is having a negative effect on a small portion of the class (distracting a small group of students by talking, silly behavior, arguing...), that usually leads to the student being asked to step into the hallway. I remove the distraction and we just keep on going. After a little time I excuse myself to the hallway to speak with the student without making a show for the rest of the class. 
  • If the behavior disrupts the entire classroom (disrespectfully arguing with the teacher or students, wandering around and pestering others...) that is when I decide to send a student to the office.
Conclusion: Figure out where different types of behavior lie. What can you deal with in class, in the hallway, or in the office? Keep in mind there is a lot of gray area here, but this is just a guideline for dealing out discipline.

3. Do not make rash decisions out of anger. This never works for anyone. For example, nothing makes me angrier at my class than when a substitute covers my class and my students are awful for that substitute. I have good, well-managed classes, so it drives me crazy when they misbehave as soon as I walk out of the door. I used to do really petty things out of anger, like give extra homework assignments that I didn't count for points or I wouldn't allow them to talk that next day. This was not successful. So now, step #1 is to cool off. Most of the time we get our bad sub reports first thing in the morning when we walk into the classroom. Don't let it mess up your whole day. Nowadays, I don't even address the bad substitute note the day I get back. We just continue with our day. Then, after I've had time to cool off, step #2 is what my students so fondly call my Come to Jesus Meetings. I explain the information the substitute left for me and I give students the opportunity to defend themselves (because, sometimes there are subs who have really bad days and lose their tempers, and sometimes the students will tattle on themselves). Then we talk about what went wrong and I express my disappointment, not my anger. Since I generally have a good relationship with my students that D-word stings. Then comes step #3: the letter. The students usually then have to write a letter of apology explaining what went wrong and how they will better manage themselves in the future. This letter works like a charm primarily because the students who didn't do anything wrong get really frustrated with their peers and the class begins to manage itself while I'm away. They keep each other from doing stupid things so they don't have to write that letter again. Conclusion: When you are angry with your class, you need to cool down, talk it out with your students, and have an appropriate negative consequence for those actions.

2. When possible, do not make a scene. My #1 Go-To Classroom Management Tool is my pad of Post-It notes. This works beautifully for reprimanding individual students without making a scene. You may remember back in your methods classes in college they often talked about the power of "the look" and non-verbal actions. This is so, so true. I've got a nasty frosty stare that I can turn on a kid and they know I mean business. I'm sure any veteran teacher could tell you the same. We use a lot of non-verbal cues too - a shake of the head, a finger pointing in one direction or the other (not the middle one... that doesn't end well). I also use my pad of Post-Its. When a student is not on task or if they are starting to become a distraction, I just write a little note and stick it to their desk. It is important to note that class does not come to a grinding halt when I do this. We keep going. But that Post-It note is a warning, an acknowledgment that the current behavior isn't acceptable. Almost always, the Post-It note stops the behavior and I've nipped a problem in the bud without wasting time. Discipline without a scene is much more effective. When you make a scene or "make an example" of a student, you are not only embarrassing them (a MAJOR no-no in my book) but you are also creating bad blood. That kid will never want to listen to you ever again. Conclusion: Disciplinary action does not have to be a show for the other 25 students in the room. Disciplinary action should be swift, firm, and should not alter the course of the class.

1. Choice. I tell my students from Day 1 that they have a choice. They can choose to do their homework or not, they can choose to attend class or not, they can choose to behave well or not. They also know that their choices will have consequences, both positive and negative. The first day of school we talk a lot about choices and consequences. Near my classroom rules (by the way, I only have five) are lists of positive consequences (homework passes, free periods, drawing items from the grab bag) and negative consequences (letters of apology, parent conferences, visits to the office). It's a goal of mine for the students to see their choices in the classroom, so that they will hopefully be able to more clearly see their life choices. When they ask, "Do I have to do that?" (this, by the way, is an inevitable question), I just always say, "You have a choice." I try to make my classroom management style less about mandatory things and more about free will. I think this contributes to a more relaxed environment. Conclusion: Aim for less "must do" and more "can do." Let students know that you support good choices, but it is their choice nonetheless. That way, students take full responsibility for their actions. When they complain about a grade, you can very easily say, "Didn't you choose this grade?" or when they are angry about a reprimand, you can say, "You chose to behave that way."

Don't forget that you have until midnight TONIGHT to sign-up for my blog giveaway! Woo hoo!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Blog Giveaway!

In celebration of the end of the school year and our little summertime break, I will be hosting a blog giveaway in the months of June, July, and August!

So, what do teachers do with all of that free time they have during the summer?

Some of us vacation.

Some of us read a whole lot of awesome books.

Some of us get caught up with friends and family.

Some of us sleep in really late.

Some of us take classes.

All of us prepare for the coming school year!

I want to help you do just that!

A 2013-2014 Sanity Saver
*completely printed*
*completely bound*
*completely personalized*
*completely ready-to-go!*
(Don't know what a Sanity Saver is? Go here.)

The winner of the giveaway will receive the 2013-2014 Sanity Saver, which will include:
- updated 2013-2014 Sanity Saver calendars for the school year
- Sanity Saver attendance sheets (enough for the whole year!)
- Sanity Saver lesson plan templates
- Sanity Saver ultimate grade book
- Absent work forms
- Activity Planner 6000 forms
- Parent Contact Log
- To-Do List
- Meeting Minutes forms
- From the Desk of... personalized stationery

All forms have been tweaked and updated for optimal use. In addition, the winner will get to choose one of four different color schemes and styles for their Sanity Saver. Check out the options below.

Option 1: Green Space Age

Option 2: Artsy Blues

Option 3: Bright and Cheery

Option 4: Funky Violets

**I want to reassure my readers that all of my 2013-2014 templates will be uploaded to my account sometime in July for your free-of-charge use, but they will just be the standard black-and-white templates.**

And, finally, the winner will have the opportunity to have their Sanity Saver customized with information like:
- winner's name
- name of winner's school
- classes or grade levels taught
- personalization for stationery

I love my Sanity Saver. It is so helpful to have a go-to spot for everything! This would be a great tool for a first-year teacher or a veteran and could be used for any grade level or subject matter.

Your name can be entered up to three times into this giveaway!
Ways to Enter:
1. Answer a Question (mandatory for entry)
2. Like the new (and still under construction!) EatWriteTeach Facebook page
3. Leave a blog post comment

Convinced yet? Join the giveaway fun!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck and happy summer!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Classroom Envy

We've been out of school two weeks (!) and I'm already toying with my classroom in my head. Actually, not just in my head. I went in today and threw away accumulated junk for two hours. I'm sure the custodians will be cussing me, but I felt a lot better. I had accumulated so much clutter over two years and it just. had. to. go.

Yeah... it was kind of like this without all that big city class... ;)
Oh, and I also had to make room for all of my new stuff that I swiped from Amber while she cleaned out her classroom. I'm a vulture like that.

Lest you think I'm a horrible person, Amber got a totally awesome principal's job. I'm not swooping in stealing her crap against her will. Miss you already, Amber!
In addition to purging my classroom of crap, I've also been thinking about my classroom set-up and, in particular, my classroom d├ęcor. Not gonna lie... there is an itty bitty part of me that kind of wishes I would have taught elementary school strictly because I love looking at the lower level classrooms! I stumbled upon The School Supply Addict's Amazing Rooms to Check Out. It gives me a serious case of classroom envy. How great do some of those rooms look, seriously?

This leaves me with a quandary... how much decoration is too much in a high school classroom?

I didn't decorate my classroom my first year of teaching because I was in way over my head. I didn't decorate my classroom my second year because when I was hired I was told that the job would only hold out for one school year. Happily, the job held out last year too, but I still didn't decorate. I'm finally feeling comfortable enough to try to make my classroom my own.

Obviously I don't think I'll be doing a jungle or under-the-sea theme soon. Would it be a total faux pas, though, to maybe cover my plain gray bulletin boards with fun fabric? Or to put a potted plant somewhere? Or figure out some kind of curtain to hide those really annoying windows into the library?

Something else I'm seriously considering... getting rid of my monstrous desk. Seriously, I kind of hate it. Not only is it a detestable, dented hunk of metal whose drawers do not open unless kicked, but it's a catch-all for all my crap... stuff that just needs to be immediately sorted and filed or thrown away. I would have to leave something in the back of my classroom for my computer/printer/etc. because of the way the room is set-up, but I spend almost the entirety of my day in front of the classroom. That's where I teach, where I assist, where I monitor. I'm thinking I would like to have a kidney table or something in the front of the room. Right now, I literally use a student desk throughout the majority of the day. Hummm... decisions, decisions.

What do you think? Is it okay to jazz up a secondary classroom? Teachers, are your classrooms decorated? Do you have desks? Do you have grody NYC trashcans overflowing with junk you've accumulated over the year? I want to hear about it!