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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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5 Quick Classroom-Management Tips for Novice Teachers

Rebecca Alber

Edutopia Consulting Online Editor

I made a good number of blunders my first year teaching that still make me cringe. I learned though. And it's fair to say, when it comes to managing a classroom, most of what we learn as new teachers is trial by fire. It's also smart to heed the advice of those who have walked -- and stumbled -- before you. If you are struggling with discipline, here are five tips that you can start using right away:

#1 Use a normal, natural voice

Are you teaching in your normal voice? Every teacher can remember this from the first year in the classroom: spending those first months talking at an above-normal range until one day, you lose your voice.

Raising our voice to get students' attention is not the best approach, and the stress it causes and the vibe it puts in the room just isn't worth it. The students will mirror your voice level, so avoid using that semi-shouting voice. If we want kids to talk at a normal, pleasant volume, we must do the same.

You want to also differentiate your tone. If you are asking students to put away their notebooks and get into their groups, be sure to use a declarative, matter-of-fact tone. If you are asking a question about a character in a short story, or about contributions made by the Roman Empire, use an inviting, conversational tone.

#2 Speak only when students are quiet and ready

This golden nugget was given to me by a 20-year veteran my first year. She told me that I should just wait and then wait some more until all students were quiet.

So I tried it; I fought the temptation to talk. Sometimes I'd wait much longer than I thought I could hold out for. Slowly but surely, the students would cue each other: "sshh, she's trying to tell us something," "come on, stop talking," and "hey guys, be quiet." (They did all the work for me!)

My patience paid off. Yours will too. And you'll get to keep your voice.

#3 Use hand signals and other non-verbal communication

Holding one hand in the air, and making eye contact with students is a great way to quiet the class and get their attention on you. It takes awhile for students to get used to this as a routine, but it works wonderfully. Have them raise their hand along with you until all are up. Then lower yours and talk.

Flicking the lights off and on once to get the attention is an oldie but goodie. It could also be something you do routinely to let them know they have three minutes to finish an assignment or clean up, etc.

With younger students, try clapping your hands three times and teaching the children to quickly clap back twice. This is a fun and active way to get their attention and all eyes on you.

#4 Address behavior issues quickly and wisely

Be sure to address an issue between you and a student or between two students as quickly as possible. Bad feelings -- on your part or the students -- can so quickly grow from molehills into mountains.

Now, for handling those conflicts wisely, you and the student should step away from the other students, just in the doorway of the classroom perhaps. Wait until after instruction if possible, avoiding interruption of the lesson. Ask naive questions such as, "How might I help you?" Don't accuse the child of anything. Act as if you do care, even if you have the opposite feeling at that moment. The student will usually become disarmed because she might be expecting you to be angry and confrontational.

And, if you must address bad behavior during your instruction, always take a positive approach. Say, "It looks like you have a question" rather than, "Why are you off task and talking?"

When students have conflicts with each other, arrange for the students to meet with you at lunch, after or before school. Use neutral language as you act as a mediator, helping them resolve the problem peacefully, or at least reach an agreeable truce.

#5 Always have a well-designed, engaging lesson

This tip is most important of all. Perhaps you've heard the saying, if you don't have a plan for them, they'll have one for you. Always overplan. It's better to run out of time than to run short on a lesson.

From my own first-hand experience and after many classrooms observations, something that I know for sure: Bored students equal trouble! If the lesson is poorly planned, there is often way too much talking and telling from the teacher and not enough hands-on learning and discovery by the students. We all know engaging lessons take both serious mind and time to plan. And they are certainly worth it -- for many reasons.

Share with us your classroom management experiences: What specific challenges are you having? What strategies have worked well for you and your students? Please share in the comment section below.

Comments (31)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Peripatetic's picture

I am career transition from life sciences. I wish I had known these things before I was thrown into classes of 7th and 8th graders to teach them "comprehensive sciences." I had "co-teachers" in the classroom a few times (Florida's constitution specifies multiple teachers in the classroom based on size, but that was routinely violated). Each co-teacher took a different tack: one was constantly yelling (raised voice) at students. Another advised me not to get worked up and stressed at losing pace with the district curriculum plan, and to find a lesson plan pleasing to the students, which meant not to challenge them. I was so confused about whether to go north, south, east, and west in the classroom. I tried convincing the students that slacking off was a shame (apparently my first mistake--trying to find a sense of shame in them). The principal fired me after 13 weeks of teaching because several parents had complained about me. He offered me to sit and observe the other teachers on classroom management (I had already spent time watching a few, but apparently I had not learned from them). The principal suggested to me that I was perhaps out of touch both by age and culture with the kids (I had lived outside the US for 20 years, from about age 30 to age 50). My coteachers thought high school would be better for me, since I had been teaching at universities. Call me disillusioned at this career transition now.

Unitarian School's picture

After going through some writing of the site, I would like to register myself with edutopia.org. Thankyou. Very helpful

(1)
Terry's picture

I use a talking piece which students must have in order to speak.

Rusul's picture
Rusul
Professor of English composition and literature

@Unitarian School I agree the posts on Edutopia are invaluable for educators. I come here regularly to get a dose of inspiration, or if I have questions about a specific teaching strategy/approach. They also have great twitter and facebook accounts to follow for recent posts.

Rusul's picture
Rusul
Professor of English composition and literature

Rebecca these are great tips that every teacher can use. I teach college students and sometimes find that my voice is louder than my average voice, so I have to step back, be patient until I have their full attention. This takes some time for the teacher to become an expert in, but once mastered, a very helpful tool!

Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.
Facilitator 2014

Bathroom Signals:

Students

Thumb up: #1

Thumb Sideways: #2 (Gross, but I'll know why they need a little more time in the bathroom)

Truck Driver Pulling Down the chain for the Horn: Emergency

Three Fingers Up: W == May I get a drink?

Teacher

Thumb up: Yes, you can go.

Thumb Down: Not now, try again in a little bit.

Peace Sign: You can go next.

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

I have told many student teachers what you say in #1 and #2. I'm always surprised to see a teacher try to talk over a class or chatty kids. Of course they won't hear, and of course you'll have to repeat yourself. And rather than yell for quiet or let the kids "SHHHH" one another, I find it most effective to simply stop in the middle of a sentence and wait. Most catch on fairly quickly and stop talking.

And #4 is so critical at the start of the year. Another teacher and I were just commiserating about how tired we are (3 weeks into the school year). He said, "At some point I have to put them in the boats, push them off, and they will need to be able to paddle." In other words, if we work extra hard at the start of the year to teach them appropriate behavior, address disruptions, establish routines and make consequences clear, we will be rewarded very soon when we won't have to spend so much time on those details. Our students will be able to work independently in our classrooms, and we will be able to focus on their learning.

Great suggestions, Rebecca!

Jennifer Gonzalez's picture
Jennifer Gonzalez
Blogger at Cult of Pedagogy
Blogger 2014

Hi Judith! (from 2/19) I saw your question about consistently disruptive students and have a short video showing a technique that might help with them. It's called "Distract the Distractor," and it really helps keep those off-task students from derailing your class, with no drama: http://www.cultofpedagogy.com/distract-the-distractor/

Kate Topley's picture

These steps and good steps to remember. They are simple and yet cover large amounts of management techniques. Thanks for sharing these!

Aaron Olmanson's picture

I also use hand signals for students to communicate with me during a lesson.
Bathroom: cross fingers and raise hand.
Move to get something: circle pointer finger 3 or more times while hand is raised.
Need kleenex: pinch nose and raise hand.
At recess or hallway we use some of the Navy Seal hand signals, some students really like that.

Unitarian School's picture

After going through some writing of the site, I would like to register myself with edutopia.org. Thankyou. Very helpful

(1)

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