George Lucas Educational Foundation
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

"I feel like I'm playing Whac-A-Mole every day," said the beginning teacher as she wiped the sweat from her brow.

I nodded and had flashbacks of my own first months teaching middle school. The class is settled, focused, and calm for two seconds, and then pop! On the other side of the room, a kid shouts, throws, reaches, jumps, and I dart over to "smash" him down. And then pop! I'm dashing to a distant corner, and smash, and pop! Pop! POP!

Some of us are good at Whac-A-Mole. In the early 1980s, I logged weeks in the arcade, smashing down the stuffed animals with the big padded mallet; oh, the adrenaline rush and the triumph of victory!

But be warned: If you are playing Whac-A-Mole in the classroom, it's unsustainable. You can't handle that kind of adrenaline day after day. And you're not teaching.

I promised practical tips in this blog, so let's review some classroom-management strategies. This is always the biggest issue of the fall -- more so for novice teachers, but also for veterans (although we're reluctant to admit it).

By now, you are probably figuring out that student behavior (or misbehavior) is going to stump all your brilliant plans and instructional fantasies. The good news is that in some ways, classroom management is the easy piece. You can learn to manage any group of kids.

My suggestions here, which I'll call the Four-Piece Plan to Peace (think a jigsaw puzzle), are by no means original. Hopefully, they're a refresher course in what you've already heard and learned. I believe that if you implement each piece, you won't have management problems.

But before I review them, I invite you to take a minute to reflect on why you think you are having classroom-management challenges. Why are your students misbehaving? When are they not doing what they're supposed to do? What do you do when they are misbehaving? What do you do when they're following the rules?

Bringing to the surface your assumptions about why your students are behaving the way they are is critical to making any changes in your classroom. Most likely, you are carrying around some powerful beliefs about your students' feelings, behaviors, and attitudes. Check out your assumptions; they're often quite revealing.

Please share your assumptions and your thoughts, and check back for the next part of this entry, in which I present the first piece of the peace plan.

Was this useful?

Comments (32) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Carol Gaughran's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm a part time 5th grade school librarian. All of the books, websites and articles I've found focus on full time 5 day a week teachers. I see my students once a week for 40 minutes, and I have 210 of them spread out through 8 classes. Some classes are awesome and some are a nightmare. I am really struggling with classroom management, because when one student needs redirection the others tend to feed off of that.

I would appreciate hearing from others who are in the same boat and what they do

kara's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

You both are spot on for the trickiness of high school students. All of Elena's wonderings are important questions to ask yourself, Susan.

I teach HS Sped English/History and have many low performers/disengaged from school. Over the past few years, surprisingly, The BEST rewards I have found are things that show that you value their achievement and existence/role in your class AND are behaviors that you want to see happening in your class. In my class, top honors are "student of the week," most "effort," "team player" and "competent citizen." After typing them, they look totally cheesy, but my 10-12th graders eat them up!

I give out certificates signed by myself and, at times, my principle--in both random and predictable patterns (student of the week being expected and more random patterns are things that you notice students being good for). I try to give a certificate out after a major assignment or group project and I focus more on behaviors that I want them to exude -- team player, competent citizen & effort being the key in my classroom - but, I also have a academic and achievement award -- especially for students who think that they are not good students/smart.

You can find all sorts of certificates online and print them for free, or you can buy them at education stores or office depot - so, maybe an artist of the week or most ingenious idea or something else would work in your class. I always say, something like, "Well, I was walking around the room yesterday and I noticed how great all of the groups were working. Group A did this, Group B did this.. and you all were amazing, but I especially want to point out an instance of group workmanship when group C's tower toppled and they just started to rebuild their tower, no blame, just straight "let's get it done..." etc.

*The disclaimer is, is that I had a 10th grader who was a very low performer think that the certificates were "babyish" and he really didn't like it. When that happens, just blow it off -- with, a "well, I just wanted you to know i was impressed and you can do with it what you want.." It sort of lets him save face and vent if he didn't like it.. but, after the first couple of rounds of awards, the kids really look forward to them.

ALSO, I have my most rambunctious students model the "correct and incorrect" behavior/procedure that I want focused on for that day. I usually do it the day following a day in which there was "chaos." It seems to serve as a reminder and helps everyone stay on track for the day. And yes, I have done it multiple days in a row.. Usually by day 4, they get the picture. Be sure to pick ONE procedure to focus on before moving on to the next. Over emphasis annoys the students, but they get the point.

FYI - I think ninth graders are the most difficult -- and seven periods! Oh my gosh!! They still need recess. I still need a recess!!

Reggi's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Kelsey, when I begin the school year, I introduce my students to the Yacker-Tracker. If you haven't seen it, it is in the shape of a traffic signal. You can set the decibel level so that you can adjust it according to the activity. There is a green light that stays on, if the noise level gets close to the level i set, the yellow light starts flashing and gets the students attention. If the noise level of my students surpasses the level I set, the red light flashes and a siren goes off (can be shut off so just the light flashes). The first day of school, I set it a bit low (more quiet) at first to emphasize my expectation level. If the students set it off when they enter our room, they go out, line up, and try again. If they are exiting, they sit back down and try again. The absolute BEST part of this routine is I am not the one asking them to be quiet. There is no misplaced anger or resentment. Students take responsibility and learn to monitor themselves. Within a week or two, it is no longer necessary to use it. If the problem comes back, I bring back out the YT. I do use it throughout the year for group work. Again, I set the level and every time the siren goes off, I have a preassigned student(very important so that you don't have to stop what you're doing) put a tally on the board. Each tally represents 1 minute of lost recess time. You could adjust the consequences, both for positive and negative, according to your style. I have not found a better way to monitor small groups without demanding something from me so that I have to stop what I'm doing. I have used it for three years now and love the results!

Carol's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

One of the things our elementary classes did that reminds me of Tracy's suggestion is to honor the memory of Martin Luther King by taking what used to called the "Do Something Kindness & Justice Challenge" as described on the website. I don't know if this national challenge still exists, but we especially honored it between Jan.15th (MLK Day) and February 14th (Valentine's Day) to see how many acts of kindness we could "catch." We would then write it on a strip of pink, red, or white paper which we would add to a paper chain. We would try in each class to collect at least 100 strips by Feb. 14th to add to our chain with the added incentive of a Valentine surprise (a party in the elementary grades) if we reached our goal. We would then shape the chain into a huge heart which we put up either on classroom bulletin board, or in a hallway. We shaped it around sayings of famous people that addressed the issues of kindness and justice. Thought I would share this since it seemed to go along so well with what Tracy is doing.
Best wishes to all

Tamarine Henslee's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach art and found the same problem of students going off task like dominoes. This past year some one described how to use sponge projects. These are short, easy to do independently assignments. I have them on the board or in the online grade book where students can access them. It can be practice of whatever skill the current unit is addressing or online research of a particular artist or art media. Any teacher can adapt the idea to fit their content area. These are required to fill free time but I do not grade them.

Paula Tseunis's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I see that your post is from last year, but maybe you are still checking? :) I was wondering if you have tried using the power of video tape? Some times it might be difficult for teachers to see the reality of the classroom. A video tape can send a powerful message- especially if it is followed up with a video of the suggested strategy. Just a thought.

Tralee Johnson, LMFT's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I burst out laughing at your description of classroom management being akin to "Whack a Mole." As a young teacher, that's what I often felt like at times. Now that I am a school counselor, I'm looking forward to reading more about your tips for teachers. My staff can always use support. Keep up the good work!

Tracey Sittig's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I don't want to make assumptions . . . it's hard to tell how much experience someone has or what their style is on the internet, but one of the things that has made my teaching life so much easier that is customizable to any setting with children is what I call my "boot camp." Twenty years ago I attended a training on classroom meetings with Frank Meder, and he changed my life. We were all bitchin' and kvetchin' and he said, "How do you expect them to do any of those 'things' well if they don't get trained?" So I now have a ten-page, comprehensive training checklist of student behaviors (from as simple as how to use the pencil sharpener to as complex as how to fill out our homework assignment form) that I weave in through the first three weeks of school. Everything I need to get done (like intake assessments, going to the cafeteria for lunch, the "intro" segments of curricula) becomes an opportunity to introduce, demo, provide rationale for, and practice how to be a student in my room throughout the day. I know a library setting is somewhat different, but a training regimen might be even more essential for you, since you see students from so many rooms. Meeting one with you is some training. When they return, revisit what you covered in the first session and layer on a little more. Etc. Also, do the teachers stay with you or take off?
If they are with you, they should be helping. If you're their prep time relief, God bless ya. I also remembered that a former school librarian friend of mine often approached her lessons like they were scavenger hunts for the kids. With a target "treasure" in mind, most students stayed on task through the steps because they wanted to get to the goal. Hang in there. Your kids don't know how lucky they are to have a school librarian working with them!

Jessica Saiya's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I loved the three-week regimine of training skills! Could you send me your checklist?!!! Thank you!

Cathy Fahey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

There maybe something about the "open space" in a library or just that it's not a typical classroom that allows kids to unravel a bit. Having been a school librarian for a few years now has taught me that:

1) I needed to make my classes relevent to the class I'm seeing. For instance; in middle school I'd use a current pop song blaring from a laptop to help them understand how sound waves can move matter (raw rice on top of a plastic wrapped jar openning)and then direct students to where they can find other science experiment books - which started to fly off the shelves. In intermediate grades Readers Theater worked well. In lower grades having the kids reenact stories that they had listened to was well received. In short have the students beome ACTIVE participants in the school library. At the end of each year I always do an informal survey with the kids - What did you like? What didn't you like? This does 2 things: (a) it reminds them of everything they've covered with you that year and (b) gives you some feedback of what they personally responded to. Every year will be different.

(2) This is a bit more political and difficult to control - win over the other faculty members. You are NOT there to simply provide them with a prep period. You ARE and should be considered a valuable resource for the entire school community. Help teachers by giving them more bang for their lesson plan buck. If the class is working on folk tales in the classroom, do folk tales in the library. Cooperative teaching is a wonderful thing but only when your worth as a valued member of the faculty is recognized.

(3) Advocate the need for REAL grades in Library & Information classes at you school. If the students perception of your class is a "free" period with no consequence for correct or poor behavior, then your classes will look like recess. Most students value grades. If the library were treated like Language Arts or Math and had an impact on the student's overall report card there will be a difference in how they perceive and behave in your classes. Hope this helps.

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.