I’ve been getting some awesome questions for our upcoming classroom management online training event (which you can sign up for here). A question from “Brad” brought me right back to my own first year of teaching when he said his administrator wants him to be tougher, but he doesn’t know quite how to do that without being a jerk.
So here’s what I want to say to Brad & to all the rest of you out there who have been in this same situation as I was….
First I want to say that I’ve been there. I was two, maybe three, months into my first year of teaching when my principal called me into his office. I don’t remember all of what he said, but I remember the gist. You’re not being tough enough. There’s been some things going on in your room behind your back. You need to muster all the authority that is in you and start using it.
I held back the tears as best I could until I got to my car….then they flowed freely.
I knew I was struggling. I knew I had a few classes that were bordering on out-of-control. But fixing the problem seemed (almost) like mission impossible.
I had let some things go at the beginning of the year precisely because I did not want to be a jerk, because I did not want to come across as a tyrant. But now what? How was I supposed to fix it?
Looking back, I’m actually incredibly thankful that my admin took me aside and had that talk with me. That he helped me realize how important it was that I change and improve.
There are no easy answers, and there is no simple cure-all solution. But over the next few months (and years) I learned quite a few things that helped me not only get my classroom back on track but also develop a classroom environment that was both pleasant and productive.
Here’s some things I would recommend, based on what I’ve learned:
- Be kind AND firm. Often we’re tempted to think we can either be kind or strict, but it’s not the case. You can be kind and firm at the same time. Have high expectations. Don’t put up with shenanigans. But be compassionate while you do so, and you’ll quickly earn your students’ respect.
- Find a system that works for you. Experiment and find a classroom management system with which you are comfortable and which works for you. I explain the system I used in my post “How to calm a disruptive class.” Another great system is Whole Brain Teaching, which I write about here.
- Deal with problems while they’re small. You probably made the same mistake I did my first year – I let the little things go because I didn’t think they were that big of a deal and I definitely didn’t think they were worth bugging the students about. But the problem with that is that when we don’t deal with the little problems the kids get the impression that we either don’t notice or don’t care, so they start taking more liberties and soon we’re dealing with big problems. I quickly learned I needed to deal with problems while they’re small, but that didn’t mean I had to give out a detention every time. Simply saying something like, “Brad, please sit up and focus” is often all that’s needed.
- Don’t give too many chances – they just turn out to be empty threats. I can remember saying the same thing to the same kid over and over. And over. When we keep saying we’re going to give such-and-such consequence but we don’t follow through, the kids quickly realize we’re really just throwing around empty threats. Instead, say what you mean and then follow through. If you don’t want to paint yourself into a corner, don’t threaten anything. Just say, “Victor, you will stop ____ right now.” But realize that if a student keeps repeating the behavior you’ve warned them about, you’ve gotta’ do something about it.
- Find a balance you are comfortable with. Managing a classroom efficiently without being a tyrant is a study in balance, but exactly where that balance falls is different for each teacher. If your admin is telling you that you need to be tougher, it sounds like you need to move more to that end of the spectrum, but it doesn’t mean you have to turn into a drill sergeant that hands out detentions like candy. Just start moving in that direction and see where it takes you.
- Ask a veteran teacher for help. I remember trying to start teaching and having 2/3 of the class totally ignore me…..Not sure what to do about this dilemma, I asked a fellow teacher for advice. She gave me a great idea (which I share in my post “How to calm a disruptive class“) that made such a huge difference for me! So I challenge you to do the same thing – find a teacher in your school that seems to have a well-run classroom and ask him or her for some advice. Maybe they could even sit in on your class for a bit so they can see exactly what you’re struggling with.
- Realize next year will be better. Those first weeks of school really do set the tone for the whole year, which means next year you’ll have the opportunity to start the year right. And if you do, wow, you won’t believe the difference. So don’t be discouraged. Use this year to hone your skills, find your groove, and figure out what works for you. Then be ready next year to start out right on day one.
Finally, realize you are a good teacher – or at least you will be if you keep working. Just the fact that you care enough to ask a question or read this post shows that you care enough to want to improve. And that’s 90% of the battle right there. So keep trying, keep working, keep learning. It’ll all be worth it.
Do you need help figuring out how to manage your classroom? Click here to get my FREE Classroom Management minicourse.
What other advice would you give Brad?