George Lucas Educational Foundation

A thin line between soft or being firm in the classroom

A thin line between soft or being firm in the classroom

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Being a first year teacher, I face a challenge with my classroom management and might be able to get advice on here. I came into my current classroom at the end of September. School started in August, so therefore the student's were use to the other teacher’s rules. My question is when do I draw the line between coming off as too soft or too firm? I am having a hard time balancing the both. If I am too soft than my student's will run all over me. If I am too firm then I am coming across as mean. I am hoping I can find the balance soon as this is a current challenge in my classroom right now. If there are any insights or strategies that I can incorporate, I would greatly appreciate feedback. Thank you for taking the time to read my post.

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MShelow's picture
1st grade teacher Queens NY

It shouldn't be a matter of soft or hard, but of being consistent. If you have clear rules and routines, it's reasonable for them to follow them. If you don't enforce the rules, they have no way to know which are negotiable and which aren't. Not everything rule has to be rigid, but choose which are. If you have a rule like "no talking in line" that you think is important, don't let the line move till it's silent- don't just keep saying "no talking" and still let them do it. Choose which rules are most important to you or to classroom management and talk to the class about them. Explain why those rules are important and why you expect them to follow them. Explain what the consequences are for breaking them. (Example:"We are supposed to have free choice this afternoon, but if you keep talking, we won't get done our work and will have to do it in the afternoon instead. It's up to you.") Make them responsible for knowing and following the rules.

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Edcamper, Former @Edutopia, Founder of Social Media Marketing Consultancy aimed at helping educational orgs.

Hi Sangeeta -

We posted your question to our Facebook community and we got almost 60 responses! You can view them here:

Here's a couple that I enjoyed:

Misel Hortopoulos: Consistency is the key. But bottom line is, you are their teacher, not their friend. You're there to facilitate the learning of everyone. Don't over complicate the consequences. In my class, we use a system similar to the red/yellow cards in soccer, then the purple card... trust me... no one wants a purple card! But, I've not given many out either.
Over and above everything, don't doubt yourself. You've been employed for a reason... go get 'em!

Stephen Kenneth Braulick: Know your own boundaries. Know your students.

Tom King: Be strict at the start and loosen as needed later....

Holly Crutchfield Echols: Do NOT worry about coming off as mean. If you're fair and consistent then students respond. I tell my students at the start of every year that I don't give a rodent's behind if they like me...I'm too old to have 14 yr old friends...but I do expect them to respect me, as I will them. Start off harsh and lighten up as the year goes on. It's much easier to loosen the reins than to bring them back in.

I hope this helps you and good luck!

Ranelle Huber's picture
Ranelle Huber
5th Grade Math Teacher in Cleveland Heights, OH

Hi - I am new to this thread, and in a similar boat to Sangeeta. I was teaching 1st/2nd grade reading for the first 3 months of school, then abruptly switched to 5th grade math for the rest of the year. A teacher has taken medical leave, and I'm licensed for this area. I walked into a room that had been out of control since the beginning of the year, and is slowly coming under control again.

I can see my errors on a daily basis - not enough procedure, lessons not engaging enough, inconsistency - I work super hard to fix each of these, but sometimes it is overwhelming! The pressure to get their test scores up is also tremendous.

Any hints on how to get to know nearly 70 students, when I only had 15 before? And any tried and true methods to install solid procedures?


Kathryn's picture
2-4 Full-time learning support teacher

While I agree that some kids need more positive comments in their lives, this rule seems to be taking it too far. I would not consider redirecting a negative if done kindly. At my school, we use Responsive Classroom and with that there are three types of language - reinforcing (I like how you are sitting with your eyes on me.), reminding (Show me where your eyes should be.), and redirecting (Your eyes should be on me.) Maybe you can tell your principal that you are reminding, not redirecting.

Mr. Jun's picture
Mr. Jun
Elementary Teacher from Philippines

indeed, you have to be firm at the very start of class interaction. you've to show to them that you are firm/strict. through this, the learners will have a clear mindset on how you manage them. but your strictness should just be in moderation. you've to control your rules as well as your consistency.

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

Hi Sarah-

Do you know Why the student is off task? Can you ask them? Is the work too hard or too easy? do they not see the point or where you are going? Do they not understand? Is the kid a little ADHD?

Maybe if you can get to the why, you won't ne just throwing solutions at the problem without targeting the underlying cause for the behavior issues- and don;t forget- you can ask the kid! Sometimes you might get an "I don;t know" but if you probe or suggest things, I bet you can figure it out. Sometimes it might even be out of classroom stuff like the kid is hungry, or not sleeping well, or a multitude of things- but trying to understand helps get to the root of things.

Wendy's picture
Special Educator

I have recently become a teacher in a Level 5 school working with EBD students. Classroom management is key to making it work at my school. I am struggling due to the level of behaviors in my classroom. I taught in the public schools in general education for seven years and prided myself on my classroom management skills. Here, however, I feel like a first year teacher all over again. I'm glad I found this site in order to meet and share ideas with other teachers.

Corah's picture

I use a responsive classroom model in my class and I consistently get told by specialists that my class tends to behave better. I think it's important to keep students informed of what's happening for the day/week/month. I tell my students way ahead of time if something important will be happening, and continue to remind them of the event and my expectations for behavior. Team meeting every morning helps us to come together as a cohesive unit and I spend some time at the beginning of the year with group activities that help to build that team spirit.

I've found that it's also about the words that you chose to use with the students. If you want them to do something don't give them the choice, don't say 'do you want to' say 'you need to'. With bad behaviors they have made the 'choice to earn the consequences of their actions.' I haven't given it to them, they've chosen and earned it.

Mike Procyk's picture
Mike Procyk
Band teacher from Bowling Green, Ohio

I think the simple answer is being fair and consistent. Don't think of it as being too hard or too soft. Set your rules and stick with them.

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