The Tiny Mistake That Could Ruin Your Whole Year (And How to Avoid It)
As I prepared for my first year of teaching, I was extremely excited. In fact, excited barely does my feelings justice. I just couldn’t wait. I’d be dying to teach for as long as I could remember. So I got my room ready, prepared my lesson plans, and couldn’t wait for the kiddos to show up.
The first day went well, at least I thought so. And the second as well. But it wasn’t too long before I was having some fairly large disturbances in my class.
You see, I had made a crucial error. I had failed to address those very first discipline problems.
Why I Let the Little Things Go
They were just little things – a head down on a desk, a few students whispering, Jackson running into the classroom 10 seconds late. Not huge deals, I thought.
You see, I really didn’t want to get on these kids for such small things. I didn’t want to whack them on the head with detentions and punishments the first week of school.
So I did nothing.
And in doing nothing I created a nightmare for myself.
Why You Can’t Let the Little Things Go
When I let the little things go, pretty soon the little problems turned into medium problems. Then the medium problems quickly morphed into big problems.
By this time I hadn’t addressed any of the little problems and very few of the medium problems, so how was I supposed to single out students to deal with the big problems now that the entire class was getting out of control?
If you don’t deal with the little problems, they won’t stay little.
And that’s the issue. If you don’t deal with the little problems, they won’t stay little. The kids will assume you’re not going to deal with problems and they’ll take more and more advantage. Pretty soon, your classroom will be a chaotic mess and you’ll be stuck.
Okay, not completely stuck. There is always hope. (Check out my article “If Your Class is Out of Control” for some tips if you’re in the middle of the school year.) But it’s definitely going to be an uphill battle for the rest of the year.
At the start of my second year, I knew I couldn’t make the same mistake again. I wasn’t going to let the small things go. I was going to catch and address those very first discipline issues, even if they didn’t seem like a big deal.
And how was I going to deal with them? I’m glad you asked, because this concept transformed my classroom management:
I wasn’t going to hand out consequences. I was simply going to address each issue.
I most likely wasn’t going to hand out any consequences. I was simply going to address each issue.
For example, if Molly had her head down, I would simply say, “Molly, please sit up. Thanks!” If Jackson ran into the classroom, I would ask him to please go back to the door and reenter the classroom correctly. If Candice was late to class, I’d give her a break since it was the first week but I would remind her that she needs to figure out how to get here on time because next week we’d start keeping track of tardies.
What About Talking and Blurting Out?
I had a similar strategy for talking, but it was slightly more structured. When a student would talk, I would give him a formal warning. In my class, that meant I put their name on the board. But the key is just that they got a warning without my interrupting my flow of teaching.
The first time it happened I would say something to the student such as, “Andrea, remember that you cannot be talking without permission. You’re not in trouble; I’m just putting your name here as a waning to remind you not to disrupt class. If you were to get two more warnings, you would receive [insert appropriate consequence here.]” After that, every time a student talked out of turn, they received a warning as well.
This method was incredibly helpful because it allowed me to address the problem while it was small but kept me from having to actually give out any real consequences unless the student ignored the warnings and persisted in talking. You can find out more about how I used this warning system in my post, “How to Calm a Disruptive Class: The Quick & Easy Method that Saved My Sanity.”
I Thought We Weren’t Supposed to Sweat the Small Stuff
This advice can serve us well come February when we’re working with a challenging student and choose to give grace rather than nag them constantly. But, it is NOT good advice for the first week of school (unless you enjoy mayhem and screaming to get attention).
During the first week of school, you are creating your classroom culture, and your students are watching to see how you’re going to handle things – and what they can get away with.
When you “don’t sweat the small stuff” during the first week of school, your students (unfortunately) interpret that as, “Hey, these things don’t really matter. We can basically do what we want.”
But when you instead address minor issues and insist procedures are followed correctly, you show your students that your classroom environment DOES matter, that you should all take it seriously, and that you will hold them accountable.
In doing so, you’ll prevent a whole host of problems and be well on your way to creating a conducive learning environment you & your students can enjoy all year long.
Have you had a year where you failed to deal with the small issues early on? What have you learned about classroom management and discipline during the first week of school?
- 30+ Powerful Classroom Management Strategies
- 4 Reasons Classrooms Need Consequences
- Why We Need to Deal with Problems Before They’re Problems
- How to Calm a Disruptive Class: The Quick & Easy Method that Saved My Sanity
Want more helpful advice? I wrote Create Your Dream Classroom specifically to help teachers revamp their classrooms and prepare to have the best start of school ever. And don’t worry about finishing an entire book before school starts. The Back-to-School Power Pack will guide you straight to information you need to start the school year right. Click here to read reviews or order it now.
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- Avoid 5 common mistakes during the first week of school
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