George Lucas Educational Foundation
New Teachers

4 Common Classroom Management Mistakes New Teachers Make—and How to Avoid Them

New elementary teachers, take heart: Classroom management is hard, but not impossible. Keep these ideas in mind as you get started.

July 13, 2021
FatCamera / iStock

I’ll never forget the moment my parent volunteer said to me, “Your students never listen to you, do they?” I was a new second-grade teacher, and in my heart, I knew she was right. I felt the color drain from my face. I was horrified. I can’t tell you how many times it felt like none of my students listened whenever I asked for their attention.

And here’s the thing—I’ve worked with thousands of new elementary teachers for more than 20 years, and whenever I share that story, I’m met with relief. Relief that it’s happened to someone else and relief that they aren’t alone.

If you’re struggling with classroom management as a new teacher, you are in good company. In fact, classroom management tops the list of challenges of teachers entering the profession. However, you might be surprised to learn that some of the most common challenges we experience as new teachers can be prevented. Let’s talk about four common (and preventable) mistakes many new teachers make.

1. Not Thinking Things Through Carefully Enough

Maybe you can relate. When I started teaching, I felt consumed by what I needed to learn and do. As a result, I made the mistake of not paying careful attention to what my students needed to do. I hadn’t thought through or taught my students how they were going to do what I needed and wanted them to do (like what to do when I needed their attention).

Here’s a simple trick so that this doesn’t happen to you: Ask yourself about the “how” for each thing you want your students to do throughout the day. For example, if you have a class meeting every morning on the carpet, what are your expectations for how the students should move to the carpet and back to their desks? How will students let you know that they need to use the restroom? How will students line up for recess and lunch?

2. Trying to Do Too Much

We want to be our students’ favorite teacher, so it’s tempting to implement every cool classroom management strategy we find on Pinterest. However, when we try to implement too many classroom management strategies at once (think ClassDojo, a Caught You Being Good Jar, desk pets, individual sticker charts, and a reward board), students can become overstimulated.

Instead, focus on implementing one strategy at a time, and keep these four elements in mind when choosing a strategy. It needs to be:

  • Easy for you to maintain,
  • Simple for your students to understand,
  • Highly visual (so that you and your students are reminded to use it), and
  • Something that your students actually want to work for and is achievable. (Hold a class meeting to find out.)

This is why I love Caught You Being Good Jars to start the school year. They meet all four requirements and set the tone for a positive beginning to the year. Then, we can introduce other management strategies as the year goes on.

3. Not Being Consistent Enough

We might think it’s easier to just let things go when Josh runs to the carpet (even though he nearly knocked Matt over). We want our students to like us, so we are hesitant to assign Jessica work as homework when it wasn’t done in class because she was chatting (and she’ll be mad). And we hesitate to model and practice what our class rule “Listen to the speaker” looks and feels like because we think it will take too much time away from teaching standards.

But when we aren’t consistent because it’s easier not to be, when we make decisions based on wanting our students to like us or because we give in to external time pressures, we cannot develop a safe and respectful space for our students. Instead, taking the time to model and practice clear routines and expectations in the first weeks of school is essential. When we give ourselves the grace and space to go slowly at the beginning of the school year to teach our students what kindness and respect looks like in our classroom, we will find it much easier to maintain consistency in our expectations throughout the year.

4. Assuming the Same Strategy Will Work All Year Long

Have you ever implemented a fabulous classroom management strategy that your students responded to positively, only to find that it stopped working a month later? That’s because we need to remain flexible and responsive, and change things up whenever a strategy is not working.

For example, consider mixing things up by giving your students a weekly challenge. Display a photo of a secret class reward, covered by nine sticky notes. Each time you catch your students displaying kindness, doing their best work, or respectfully following class procedures, invite a student to remove a sticky note until the reward is revealed and the class earns the reward! Or, consider having students compete in groups for a seasonal class reward. One of my favorites in the winter is to display five gorgeous (paper) mugs of cocoa, one for each group. The first group to earn 10 marshmallows earns hot chocolate with the teacher during silent reading time on Friday!

I hope that these ideas are helpful as you consider classroom management strategies to use in your classroom this school year.

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  • New Teachers
  • Classroom Management
  • K-2 Primary
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary

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