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5 Quick Classroom-Management Tips for Novice Teachers

Rebecca Alber

Edutopia Consulting Online Editor
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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.
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Constance Richardson's picture

These are great tips! Patience and respect are the keys. Beginning the year running a tight ship has worked well for me; once we have established a climate of comfort and respect, I
can always ease up a bit. Students notice and appreciate that. Being consistent in your expectations gives students a sense of well-being.

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Yorke4's picture

I agree completely with this blog and your post. Keeping students busy and engaged in their learning is key. Transition times are definitely a time where I sometimes lose my students and the volume of their voices gets out of control. I've found that sticking to a routine of a 5 minute warning, then 2 minutes, and then giving enough time for clean up. I then use strategies such as lining up by birthday or color shirt, since I teach 3rd grade! Anytime that we are rushing to get to the next activity or period, that's when I see trouble the most.

Arylee's picture

As a future bilingual teacher, I've found these tips very helpful. Poor classroom management affects both, teaching and learning. Establishing the rules since day one is also very helpful so things can run smoothly in the classroom. I also think the teacher's attitude is especially important; teachers should show firmness when directing students without raising their voice of course. I've tried it when covering PK classes and it works. Thanks for the tips. I will put them into practice when having my own class :)

Teacher Dan Deslaurier's picture
Teacher Dan Deslaurier
Lower School Art Teacher (PK-4)

Rebecca, thank you so much for this column, one I am sure to keep and share with my student teachers. I can share that, when modeling these and similar approaches with my classes for young practitioners, they marvel at how effectively these seem to work, as if by magic! I also work as a voiceover talent, and can attest to the importance of knowing and understanding the power of your voice--it is not how loud or how well you sound, rather, it is the art of how you use your voice to engage and influence others that can really make a difference both in and outside of the classroom!

Nancy Pival Jones's picture
Nancy Pival Jones
6th grade L.Arts inclusion

I use a bell. The students know that when we are working in groups and I ring the bell once that means they need to start whispering because the noise level has risen too much. If I ring the bell 3 times it means they have to freeze and listen for directions. This can get us moving on to the next activity too. The kids always ask, "What about 2 rings?" I always tell them there is no 2. I want no confusion between just one ring and the three rings. It works for me.

Denise's picture

These are great. I also explicitly teach my students the different cues that I use to get their attention. Tilden we practice. Although they are in middle school, I never assume they will just know what to do and when. It is totally worth the time it takes in the first days of the year.

Patricia B's picture

Great column and advice! Being a "veteran"myself and a teacher trainer, I've picked up a few tricks over the years too and one that works quite well, especially when your lessons are short and time is vital, is to greet the class, and write the instructions on the board together with the time you are giving students to get started and any possible consequences if they don't . As they are curious about what you are writing, there are always some students who start reading what you are writing aloud and the rest quiet down to listen so you manage to convey instructions and get the class to listen fairly quickly. I use this in secondary but I have used it occasionally in primary and it seems to work there too.

Amy Holderness's picture
Amy Holderness
PreK-5th grade music teacher from Coney Island, NY

The only suggestion would be to put number 5 at #1. I have found that an engaging lesson cuts out students misbehaving.

CD's picture

I just completed my first year teaching. I laughed a little as I read about losing your voice. After about a week of school this past year I lost my voice, with many veteran teachers joking that I had "new teacher voice". I was certainly talking too loud at the beginning of the year and learned that the students could hear me at a normal voice level. A suggestion for #3 would be to incorporate hand signals in other activities. My kindergarteners hold up 1 finger to use the bathroom and 2 fingers to get a drink. This helps with interruptions during lessons. I can easily shake my head yes or no, even while reading or speaking. This is also very helpful during guided reading while I am busy with a small group listening to them read without any interruption.

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Constance Richardson's picture

These are great tips! Patience and respect are the keys. Beginning the year running a tight ship has worked well for me; once we have established a climate of comfort and respect, I
can always ease up a bit. Students notice and appreciate that. Being consistent in your expectations gives students a sense of well-being.

(1)
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

These are great tips, Sharon C -- they seem so simple, yet they make a big difference in a classroom. Kids need our respect, our calm demeanor, our patient and kind methods for establishing relationships and environment.

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

I hear you, MarieG2000! But I think it's less about excitement and more about thinking how to make our lessons relevant to our kids' lives. If we view education as a path to understanding the world around us, then we can find ways to connect our lessons to making sense of the world. We may not be able to do that with every lesson, but I have found that if I try to make those connections clear some of the time, then my students are more willing to work through the tougher lessons.

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Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Some great advice here. My first supervising teacher (a while ago now) told me that he didn't mind what I did in my first 4 weeks as a teacher, as long as I got my behaviour strategy sorted out. Good advice. I also have a couple of tips that I pass on now:
1) Take up time - allow students time to become silent - not immediate silence.
2) Tactical ignore - sometimes, it causes less disruption to ignore one student doing the wrong thing than disrupting the whole lesson.

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Unitarian School's picture

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

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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.

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Rebecca Alber's picture
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia Consulting Online Editor

Hi mattkoko101,

You are right in that one tactic may work with one group and not with another. I also agree with you that as teachers, we have to keep trying and varying our approaches to classroom management until we find what works.

As an instructor of new teachers, the tips I chose are gleaned from many, many hours of observing student teachers or novice teachers and seeing what I believe are most effective (i.e. best practices) for new teachers when it comes to classroom management.

Lastly, thank you for taking the time to respond to the query at the end of my blog post and sharing what works best for you when it comes to classroom management.

Best,
Rebecca Alber

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mattkoko101's picture

Although I find these are really good tips, I do have to say that some of them are situational and do not work for every class. For example, staying quiet and waiting for the students to quiet down on their own and letting the kids to the work for you. I find that works very well with some of my classes. With other classes, the students would never quiet down if i do that. In this case, I would suggest using attention getters like the echo clap or call and response techniques. You say "bumpita bump bump" and they respond with "bump bump." Also, If you hear my voice clap 3 times." And you can get creative with that one. Or you say "reeeeeeed robin" and they say, "yummmm." These are all ways you can get students attention. One call and respond the younger ones love is "Who lives in a pineapple under the sea" and they say, "sponge bob square pants!"

The only real tip I have a problem with is number 4. and it is not the tip in general. It is the example you gave. you said if they are talking, rather than saying, "why are you talking off task" say, "It looks like you have a question." That may work with kids that slip up every now and than by accident. However, if that is something you are saying to a "class clown" or a poorly behaved child in general, it may not work as planned. Instead of them making up an excuse for talking off task, you are making an excuse for that student. And that student may go along with it and start asking random questions that have nothing to do with the subject. This will waste a tone of time. I have seen it happen before so just wanted to throw that out there so you are not caught off guard if it backfires on you.

Note: I am not saying all this to knock on the post. It is a great post. But every teacher needs to keep in mind that different tactics will work for different classes. Keep an open mind and do not be afraid to try something else if one tactic does not work.

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Mike Anderson's picture
Mike Anderson
Educator, Consultant, Author

Thanks so much for the great post and the fantastic advice.

Another idea for new teachers to consider is to know some common developmental characteristics of the ages of their students and then work with those characteristics. For example, fifth graders need to socialize and talk a lot, so teachers can build partner chats and group projects into their teaching plans instead of forcing fifth graders to do solo seat-work. Fifth grade teachers can also teach their fifth graders how to walk and talk respectfully in the halls and how to chat as they transition instead of requiring that they move about the school without talking. A great series of books designed for new teachers (and teachers new to a grade level) has just come out that people might be interested in: http://www.responsiveclassroom.org/what-every-teacher-needs-to-know.

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Rusul Alrubail's picture
Rusul Alrubail
Editor & writer on teaching, learning, & education

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!

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