During my first year of teaching I had the brilliant idea to have my 7th graders paper mache – in the classroom. And then paint. Wow. As I stood picking paper mache goo off of my overhead, I thought “Well, that could have gone better.” I don’t really remember classroom management being discussed in my teacher preparation courses. Maybe it’s one of those things like parenting – you can read about it or hear others talk about it, but until you are on the front line making decisions on the spot, you really don’t have a feel for what works and what doesn’t. I’ve done a lot of crazy things in the classroom since then (although no paper mache!) and still have some of those, “Huh” moments, but here are a few things that work for me:
Classroom Rules & Procedures: I just have one classroom rule: Respect. Students need to respect themselves, each other, classroom materials and the teacher (and other adults they interact with). I find the Respect rule covers a whole lot of real estate without having to have a list of rules on the wall that rival the Geneva Convention in length. What I do have are procedures – kids have to know what you expect. I don’t think you can be surprised when an absent student fails to make up a quiz or missed homework if you haven’t clearly communicated what students need to do when they return from an absence.
Switch things up: Idleness and boredom are definitely two big contributors to behavior problems. Our blocks are almost 90 minutes long, and even I can’t sit still that long. You can minimize behavior problems by never giving them a chance to develop by keeping kids engaged and changing things up. We do a lot of whole class activities, but also a lot of partner work and group work. Middle school students are inherently social I think – I find that if they know the expectation is to get the work done, they are able to work collaboratively, discuss math (and occasionally a little non-math) while still getting their work done. My administrator is used to things being a little chaotic in the room because we are doing “the Hustle” while reviewing integers or dancing in a circle to recall prior knowledge about functions. The kids like their interactive notebooks because they are cutting, gluing and embellishing notes, and not just mindlessly copying what I write.
Seating: Even though we do work with partners and in groups, there are also times for independent, quiet work. Occasionally I’ll have two students who just can’t seem to quit talking. I’ve found putting them in the same row with a few kids in between them really works. It’s just too hard to turn all the way around and lean over far enough to talk to your buddy when he’s four seats behind you.
Communication: This one is fairly common sense, but 8th graders are in that transitional period from childhood to adult. They have bouts of maturity, followed by a fit of the giggles. I do find that sometimes it just takes a one-to-one chat with them to let them know what’s appropriate and what’s not. Open communication with parents is also important. Rare is the occasion where you regret having communicated with the parent early.
Connecting: We’ve all heard, “Students won’t care until you let them know you care.” With three kids myself, it’s hard to make it to a lot of outside activities that my students are involved in, but boy does it pay off. I try to make it to a few Saturday morning rec league football games as many of my students either play football or cheer. I usually attend the evening Band/Orchestra/Chorus performance at Christmas, and I think the kids (and their parents) appreciate the effort. A child who really struggles in Algebra is often pleased to show you how talented they are in other areas :-).
I think many of these are common sense – hope it doesn’t sound preachy. I’m still trying to find better ways to connect, and mostly for me it’s about time management. My son once told me his Art teacher was his favorite teacher. I was surprised as he is a really strong math/science student but has never been all that interested in art. He said he really liked the way she always listened to him, and made him feel like she really cared about him. Every year one of my goals is to be better prepared for class so I can be the kind of teacher that is focused on what a student is trying to tell me instead of trying to pull together an activity as the class is walking in. Still working on it, but making some progress 🙂