I remember preparing for my first year as a high school English teacher. It seemed as if I was one thousand emotions rolled into one tiny ball. While I was not at all concerned about how I would teach the material or my content knowledge, I was overcome with stress regarding how my students would behave in class. Would they be disruptive? Would they listen to directions? Would they argue with each other? Would I be able to keep them engaged in the lesson? Rather than flood myself with “what ifs”, I knew that I had to be proactive with my classroom management and remember what I learned during student teaching.
I knew proactive classroom management was the way to go. It’s so much easier to set up a positive classroom environment from the get-go, with a culture of learning, where students feel respected and are clear about rules and procedures, than dealing with problems that pop up as a result of not doing these things.
Proactive classroom management actually starts before a teacher even meets his/her students (more on this later). What I have learned by experience is that by being positive, firm, and consistent, especially at the beginning of the year, a teacher can much more easily focus on content, teaching, and assessments rather than continuously dealing with disruptive and disrespectful behavior. Yes, there will most likely still be a few issues throughout the year where reactive classroom management techniques are needed, these instances will be lessened because of the teacher’s proactive approach to creating a positive, respectful culture of learning. So don’t wait until you encounter a problem, dig deep into proactive classroom management now.
In order to make your life a little easier, just like we have created teacher hacks before, we have created a list of these tools for you too.
11 Classroom Management Musts for Teachers
- Know Student Names-
Some schools provide you with pictures that go along with each student’s name before the beginning of the year. If they do, it is beneficial to become familiar with the faces of your students so you can learn their names quicker. If your school doesn’t have this technology, take your class rosters to the school library and flip through last year’s yearbook. Knowing the names on the first day of school not only shows your students that you are super prepared and care about them, but it also helps to let them know you mean business. For a student, there is nothing like hearing, “Hey, Gavin. Welcome to class”, or “Hey, Kevin. I’d really appreciate it if you’d stop talking to your neighbors.” One year, I actually had a student stay after class, and with tears in her eyes, she told me that her name is always the last that teachers memorize. She told me how much it meant to her that I knew her name, and now she was so much more excited about taking my class. Talk about a serious return on investment of my time!
- Discover Their Interests-
By understanding what makes your students tick, you will be able to tweak your lessons to help them stay engaged. I was amazed at what going to a student’s swim meet or soccer game (and then mentioning it the next day in class) did for my relationships with students. Even just writing a student’s name and something they are interested in into a word problem can make students’ so happy. For example, “If Malique runs a 4.6 40 meter dash and wants to improve by 20%…” Suddenly a teacher can have everyone’s eyes and ears on the word problem.
- Call Home-
Whether your student is struggling or doing well, you should call home for each student within the first month. By doing this, you can have a conversation, or multiple, about the student’s progress. However, when you have students in your class that you think could potentially be management issues, make sure they get a call home the first week of class. Call to compliment the student on something they did during the first few days of class; this can be as simple as a student holding the door for other students, or the student’s demeanor. Do not say a single negative thing about that student during the call home. Not only does this let the student know that you are not afraid to call home, but it puts them on “your team” before they have a chance to choose otherwise. One of my favorite things about those calls (other than making the day of the parent who oftentimes answered the phone with an apprehensive “yikes, what-did-they-do-already” tone) was the look on my student’s face the next day as they came into class. “Mrs., I heard you called my mom” with an accompanied grateful and prideful smile is the best thing in the world. Those students who were “problem kids” in others’ classrooms frequently became my biggest allies because of this one small initial gesture at the beginning of the year. Once again, short time commitment, incredible ROI.
Never engage in a power struggle, the students will keep pushing your buttons knowing that they can waste time with you by going back and forth.
- Door Greeting-
Meet students at the door before they enter your classroom. You will be able to sense when things are “off” and avoid a problem before it happens.
- Assigned Seats–
Allowing students to pick their own seat can open a big can of worms, it is easier to assign seats. You can change them regularly to promote students working with others or to continue to find arrangements that work best for your class.
- Short List of Rules-
Having at least a small list of rules on the first day can help set expectations for your students. You do not have to have a laundry list of rules, but having a solid five can go a long way.
- Keep a Routine–
By having procedures, the students will naturally settle into the process. For example, have a designated area to turn in homework, a way to turn in papers, how they should start their day and/or when they are able to pack up to leave.
- Specific Directions-
Be specific about directions when things could get crazy, and let’s face it, with unpredictable students, just about anything can go wild. By being specific, students will have less interpretation for what they thought you meant and will be able to follow your instructions. For example, you could say “When I say go…Turn and talk to a shoulder partner about how you’d solve this problem for thirty seconds.” Then you could give them reminders at twenty seconds, ten seconds, five seconds, and end with “two seconds… and we’re done talking.”
- Choose Battles Wisely-
Choose what battles you want to fight before the year even begins. For me, it was no cell phones and no leaving the room (students received one emergency bathroom pass per quarter). Having cell phones can be super distracting and even lead to bullying through social media or cheating on tests. The battle I chose not to pick was with food and drinks in the room, as long as the food/ drink did not smell, and was not disruptive.
- No Two Students are the Same-
Realize that every student is different, this motto can even be said for each class. We are taught to differentiate instruction and know that many students learn differently. Therefore, just like we differentiate instruction, differentiating rules can be okay, too. Life is not black and white, in fact, it is very grey. Sometimes, allowing a student with issues to excuse herself from lessons to go take a walk when she is having a rough day is the best option.
Classroom management can be very tricky; however, we hope this proactive list can help your classroom start off on the right foot. Remember it can take time to find out the ins and outs of your students so you can discover what works best for your classroom; however, your hard work and dedication will pay off. If these proactive steps are not covering all your needs, check out our reactive classroom management page.
Are there specific challenges you have in your classroom? Do you have a favorite technique? What is one classroom management tip you wish you had when you started teaching? Comment below, I would love to hear from you!
Some of the most powerful learning happens when teachers learn from other teachers. That was part of the inspiration behind our book Outliers in Education. This book serves as a guide, designed to subdue fears, answer your burning career questions, and act as a six segment mentorship session with seasoned educators of various backgrounds ranging from elementary to Ivy League. The practical tips and tricks found in this book are sure to help any teacher out there.
Thank you for pouring yourself into your profession. Here at Outliers Publishing, we recognize that teachers have some of the most difficult jobs in the world. We thank you, and applaud you on your efforts to continually grow.