I believe classroom management is one of my greatest strengths as a teacher. In my last six years at JMHS, I have rarely needed administration to step in and assist with a problem. My effective management of students has kept me from needing to use my assertive discipline plan (verbal warning, call home, write up) as often as many teachers I know. My management typically allows my needed intervention in student behavior to stop after a look and at the very most a verbal redirection. Because my first teaching experience was with convicted juvenile delinquents, I was forced to figure out how to keep problem behaviors out of my classroom. I had to stop misbehavior before it happened, or a full blown brawl may have broken out in my room. I got very good at spotting triggers that may set students off. I became skilled at deescalating a student who was quickly getting frustrated or coming into class frustrated. Before I knew it, I was being praised for my classroom management by my administration at Abraxas. Then, I was just trying to keep a riot from starting in my room. Now, I would say my classroom management plan can be considered proactive or preventative. I focus greatly on preventing negative behaviors from occurring before they have the chance to manifest.
My classroom management strategy begins at the beginning of the school year. I begin by clearly establishing the rules and guidelines of the class and sticking to them. Some veteran teachers may say, “Don’t smile until November.” This doesn’t work for me. I love teaching. I love interacting with students. It’s impossible for me to go through a day without smiling. I do, however, see some validity in the message behind the anti-smiling motto. I firmly believe that you should start the year as strictly as you can. I start the year being very firm on my expectations and guidelines. I explain my rules and classroom policies and procedures on day one of school. And from the moment the students know my expectations, they follow them. Setting Limits in the Classroom by Robert Makenzie and Lisa Stanzione covers my discipline plan perfectly. I set a limit of the behavior I will accept. If the limit is pushed or passed, students receive consequences. I believe accepted behavior is acceptable behavior, so I make sure that I address all issues as soon as they develop. I do not accept negative behavior, under any circumstance.
There’s an old biblical saying about idle hands being the playground of the devil. Although I would never call my students little devils, they can certainly be mischievous when left idle. I prevent students from getting into trouble mainly by keeping them engaged. We don’t have free days. I don’t allow unassigned time. My students work with intent and purpose from the start of each class period to the end. Sure, there are students who make a bad decision and get distracted here and there. But for the most part, when you enter my classroom students are working from bell-to-bell on meaningful activities; There are no worksheets and busy-work here! This greatly helps eliminate problem behaviors. When you build a rapport and you get students to “buy in” to the foundation of the class, they will understand that the work they are doing is important. Students will understand that each day may look small in the scope of a year, but the work we do each day matters and will make a difference in the big picture. I talk openly to students about preparing them for “Life After McNally” and how our English work will get them ready for the next step they are taking in life. For my 10th graders, that is immediately 11th grade and college down the road. For most of my seniors, the next step in life is community college, tech school, or a career specific job. When students can connect and invest, they see the class as important and meaningful and there are not negative behaviors because they feel their time spent in class is important.
When problems do occur, I use several strategies to redirect the negative behaviors depending on their severity. I work to build a positive rapport with each and every student from the start of the year, so most of the time a verbal redirection works for me. I have a tool belt full of tricks for a tough student though. At JMHS I have taught all levels of classes and have worked for three years with the misfits and behavior problems that have been cast out of other classes. At Abraxas I worked with students who were incarcerated because of their behaviors inside and outside of school. Each student is different and as I get to know each student as an individual, I learn what techniques work and don’t work. I believe wholeheartedly in catching these kids doing something “good” and using praise to reinforce the behaviors you want to see. I am strict and firm, but I am always kind. I have found that above all else, most of the time students will respond to kindness with more kindness. After testing the waters and limits, my students thrive in the structured environment of my classroom.