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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

What's The Best Classroom Management Advice You've Gotten?

What's The Best Classroom Management Advice You've Gotten?

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I thought it might be useful/interesting if people shared the best piece of classroom management advice they've gotten/read/heard... Mine comes from Marvin Marshall, who is my favorite (by far) writer/thinker on positive classroom management. He’s written a question that we as teachers might want to consider asking ourselves regularly. He wrote: Will what I am about to do or say bring me closer or will it push me away farther from the person with whom I am communicating? Of course, we’re just human and all of this is far “easier said than done.” But it’s not a bad level to aspire towards…

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Roselink's picture
Public Secondary Shool EFL Teacher in in Madrid

There are times when I definitely hate not being an English native speaker, and this is one of them because I express my feelings and ideas much more accurately in Spanish, I really do.

I simply love (maybe "love" sounds a bit odd and exaggerated) all the pedagogical issues that come with our teaching practice. In short, I strongly, firmly believe that if teachers do not wear our students' shoes when necessary we are not doing our job well. This is especially true when dealing with teenagers, they are so fragile and irritating at the same time that we have to be extremely careful about what we say and how we say what we need to say.

As a teacher in public high schools I have to deal with students of all sorts: newcomers to the Spanish public system and those who simply hate schooling and teachers, to mention but a few. They are quite difficult to engage in learning activities.

Declines in achievement, decreased motivation, lowered self-esteem, and increased psychological distress are also, among others, very common in adolescents.

If we (adults in general, teachers in particular) don't try to help them overcome those feelings and difficult situations there will be almost certainly negative consequences for these students including achievement loss, dropping out or falling behind and failing to graduate.

Well, there is one book I want to share here by French writer Daniel Pennac.

I have been reading about him for a while but a few weeks ago I came across a really interesting article published in my favourite Spanish newspaper, El Pais. The article is about "bad students", poor achievers just like Pennac himself was during his early school years.

The self-analysis a posteriori of this experience helps Pennac as a teacher to find out the dunce-saver teaching method.

Pennac writes in his essay:

Everything starts from an initial misunderstanding, a problem of inhibition caused by shyness, chance, or any other cause. And it accumulates and becomes internalized. You say to yourself that you are an idiot, a moron, there's nothing to do with you. If you consider yourself an idiot, then you feel released from any effort. Your problem is irreparable. (...) However, the whole time I worked as a teacher of high school students I never ran into any idiot boy. Parents can be idiots, television, books and teachers as well, but the kids are not. They can be more or less vivid and bolder or faster, but none is idiotic."

Nonetheless, this is not the first piece of advice I've ever got. That one came from a colleague I met in my first year as an EFL teacher in a public secondary school. The school was in the city of Madrid, in a very poor area and the groups I taught were "bad students", poor achievers and newcomers from South America, China and Eastern Europe countries.

Pretty soon I realized that teaching English to this kind of students, some of them could barely write or read properly in Spanish, needed to be approached from a different perspective. By that time I had no idea of the diverse methological approaches that a foreign language teacher could use in the classroom. My colleague, who was working as a teacher assisstant at that time, told me that, in order to evaluate their previous knowledge, the tests' questions should be displayed in a childlike manner: very large letters and graphics. That simple! and that difficult too because the students were 15 year old and they didn't want to be treated neither as stupid nor as children, in their own right of course.

That piece of advice helped me find the right track to engage students in active learning, doing activities that were accessible and enjoyable at the same time.
That helpful colleague is still a good friend of mine.

Gary Latman's picture
Gary Latman
English Teacher / Technology Coordinator / Instructional Technologist

Early in my career, I would confront students in class and then get into an argument with the student over what he or she did or didn't do; you know how that goes. One day, I had an "aha" moment, realizing that whenever I had confrontations in front of their peers, it often escalated, until I would kick the student out or send for security to remove the student. I won the argument, but lost the goal, which was to regain control of the situation for the benefit of everyone, not everyone minus one. I began to ask a misbehaving student to step out of the classroom to talk to me. I usually remained calm and reasoned with the student, but remained firm in what behaviors I would and wouldn't accept. Ninety percent of the time, we'd return to the classroom, no one would lose face, and the situation would be resolved.

Tamara Benjamin's picture
Tamara Benjamin
4th/5th Special Ed Teacher

This is my 9th year as a special education teacher of students with behavior and learning disorders and the best advice I received from my first year of teaching was from a co-worker who was also a first year teacher.... he said, "What you focus on will increase." It sounds so simple and basic but it is sooooo true. I used this not only with my students but also as my own personal mantra since days with these students can often be very trying and difficult to say the least. As I've continued on in my teaching career, I've learned that making a connection with each student has helped to build and maintain a positive relationship with them and their families. Hope this helps. :)

Renee / TeachMoore's picture
Renee / TeachMoore
English teacher, Mississippi

One of the great veteran teachers who mentored me early in my career told me to "pick my battles" when it came to student behavior issues in class. Her argument was that we waste precious energy and create more distraction (see Gary's comment above) when we jump on every single thing students do that we may not like or that deviates from some preconceived norm. Her advice was decide what your bottom line issues are, the lines that cannot be crossed, put those in the form of positively stated classroom standards (not rules), discuss them and the consequences with students (better yet develop them jointly), then be prepared to enforce them consistently every day of the year. I have thanked her so many times over the years as I watched co-workers run up their blood pressure and send kids to the office for not having a pen.

Erika Saunders's picture
Erika Saunders
6th-8th Special Ed, LS & Mentally Gifted teacher

Along with what Renee said (and others), I learned from Fred Jones that what students do or say to you is not personal. No matter what - even if they're calling your the biggest *&$#@!# in the world, don't take it personally. It can be one of the hardest things to remember and hold onto, but it's absolutely true.

When I'm able to stand there and not take things personally, I can be calm enough to deal with whatever the situation is.

Carrie's picture
5th Grade Teacher

Indeed it isn't personal! The best advice I have ever gotten is "It's not about you!" When I quit taking things personally I was able to step outside of the problem and see it for what it was. Such a simple phrase, but sooo true!

Cynthia Weaver's picture
Cynthia Weaver
Eighth grade English Arts teacher from West Monroe, Louisiana

I have been teaching for 13 years and I use a reward system. My school has a Panther Store which is operated by the students.The store is full of items for the children to purchase such as; toys, paper, pencil, uniforms etc. The students earn Panther bucks for following the PRIDE rules and are able to purchase items with their bucks. It really has turned our school discipline problems around.

Natalie Steel's picture

Students want to be in control of their lives, much like adults. I value the chance to offer and give plenty of student choice. When a student challenges a rule, I give them a choice to redirect. I try to make both options open so that I do not mind which one is chosen. For instance, you can work at your desk or at the back desk. It allows the students to rethink what they are doing and take actions into their own hands. If students do not move or choose, then I offer a more structured set of choices. My goal is to always give the students the chance to make every move their own in some regards.

Bonnie Bracey Sutton's picture
Bonnie Bracey Sutton
Teacher Agent of Change, Power of US Foundation

I used to spend a month or more learning, learning about who these students were. I did teach, but i also
paid attention to what they said about themselves, problems, and challenges and concerns. I found that it was easy to connect in this way, even if they did not like to learn on an initial basis. Something about respect for who they were and their ideas. I had experience with project based learning and so partnerships made it easy for me to demonstrate that sometimes I was in learning mode too.
Bonnie Bracey Sutton

James W.'s picture
James W.
Eighth Grade English and Fencing Teacher from Maryland

Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with.
-"The Prince", by Nicolo Machiavelli

Many a teacher has been cautioned by their mentors to "never smile before Christmas." I think this goes hand in hand with the advice given to me from Jim Smith (Master Teacher and god-of-all-unit-leaders) about how it is easier to start out tough and then lighten up, than the other way around. Classroom management and discipline is one of the hardest things to master as a teacher and it took me almost twenty years to develop my own style. In fact, it took me over twenty years of trial and error, hundreds of miserable teenagers, and quite a few irate parents to get to what Jim Fay describes in one short book. So the Machiavellian teacher is usually the new teacher and they will find that it is easier to be feared. But there is more to Nicolo's particular chapter and style that many have overlooked.

Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred; because he can endure very well being feared whilst he is not hated...

This is where I think a teacher can go very very wrong if they don't pay attention to the rest of what Nicolo has to say. Having students fear you is one thing, but you have to ask yourself if they hate you. Hate is a two way street: if they despise you, then it is very likely you feel the same way about them. And let's be honest about why we teach and what brought us to teaching. On some level we love kids and want to open the world for them. I think that at first it is easier to "come down hard" and "be feared than loved," but, even by Machiavelli's own account, it takes greater strength to inspire both.
(Excerpted from atraceofrabbits.blogspot.com)

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