Getting your certificate to teach middle school science requires two things: you have to know your science, and you have to know basic pedagogy. But there’s nothing in teacher preparation that helps new teachers learn how to manage a class. Classroom management is the number one aspect of the job that frustrates teachers the most, and it’s the part of the job that is the hardest to learn. We all know teachers who just “get it.” They can walk into a room and command it. What do these teachers have in common? What about them gives the air of respect? If this is your first year in the classroom or your twenty first, you always have to keep classroom management on the stove. Here are some 10 tips and tricks for better classroom management from the veteran teachers I know about how to manage your class without losing your mind.
Better classroom management tip #1 – Decide what your classroom expectations and procedures will be.
Every teacher has a noise level that they can tolerate. Every teacher has a different set of standards that they want to implement. For me, I like silence during independent work but I’m ok with students signing out to use the rest room without asking my permission. Decide what you’re comfortable with. Some things to think about:
- What is your procedure to distribute handouts or return graded assignments? I have a “pick up station” near the classroom door and establish with students on the first day of school that they should pick up anything that’s at that station every day.
- Do you want students to sit in assigned seats or choose them on their own? I assign seats until I learn their names, strengths and weaknesses, and then I let them choose with the understanding that I have final say in whether or not they can keep their seats.
- How do you want students to let you know they’re using the rest room, going to their lockers, or getting a drink of water? I let one student at a time sign out and sign back in again without asking permission. I also don’t allow signing out during the first and last 5 minutes of class because that’s usually important announcement times.
- Think about pencil sharpening, opening windows, etc. They often come to me from elementary schools where they needed to ask permission for these things but I encourage students to take ownership of their own materials. If you need to sharpen your pencil, then sharpen your pencil. You don’t need my permission.
- How do students hand in work? I have a bin in the back of the room for each class to hand in papers.
- How will lab materials be distributed and collected?
- What behavior modifications do you need to make during labs? Everything is looser during labs – kids walk around more and talk more and that can lead to management issues. I have a “no speaking when I’m speaking” rule, as well as a “stay at your own lab station” rule – no walking around unless you’re picking up or returning materials.
Knowing what rules you need in place to function effectively is an important first step before you even meet your students so that you can establish criteria for success from day 1.
Better classroom management tip #2 – Decide how you will handle infractions.
Often, school districts have a policy that establishes the levels of discipline. In my district, the levels are:
- Call home.
- Teacher detention.
- School detention.
For behavior issues that are localized to my classroom – calling out, late to class – I’ve never had to go past a phone call home. Parents don’t want their kids to be unsuccessful, and, if you’ve established that you’re on the same team when you met the parents, they’re primed to support you. For bigger issues – inappropriate physical contact, cheating – I go straight to the administration.
Better classroom management tip #3 – Teach your students the rules.
Students don’t inherently know how to behave in class. Standard practice in most classrooms is to allow students to come up with their own set of rules – but they rarely deviate from some version of “respect yourself and others, and do your best.” After students have decided on what the norms will be in your classroom, you have to model correct procedures over and over. “Thank you for remembering to pick up your materials,” and “Do you need my permission to use the rest room?” serve as reminders without harshness. Many schools have a policy that the classroom rules should be displayed, but I never do that in middle school.
Better classroom management tip #4 -Reinforce positive classroom behavior.
When classroom management is challenging, I have been successful using a lottery program. I bought a large roll of raffle tickets and handed them to students who were either on task or answered a question correctly or in some way demonstrated good classroom behavior. The trick is to make this random. Not every kid gets a ticket every time they’re sitting in their seats. I might walk around the room giving out tickets twice in a class period if behavior had been bad. At the end of the period, students write their names on their tickets and drop them in a container – I have a large beaker for each class. Then, on Fridays, I pull a few tickets out of the beaker and give a prize to whoever’s tickets were chosen. Prizes might depend on your school, but they could be as simple as a lollipop or Jolly Rancher, a homework pass, a “choose your own seat next week” pass, or even some vinyl stickers.
Better classroom management tip #5 – Respect them.
Kids respect teachers that respect them. Form relationships with your students. They’re less likely to act out, and more likely to respond to corrections, when they believe that you respect them and value them as human beings.
Better classroom management tip #6 – Be consistent.
By always maintaining the same predictable rules, students learn what to expect. Let students know what to expect – tell them in advance what they’re going to be doing today. Knowing that there’s an activity in 5 minutes reducing the need to got to the bathroom right now. Classroom management problems arise when students aren’t too sure where the line is and they want to shimmy up next to it a bit too often. Avoid that by making the expectations very clear and enforcing them always.
Better classroom management tip #7 – Add brain breaks.
We started using brain breaks when we were remote in 2020, but the need for them, and the benefit from them, still exist. A 2 minute victory lap around the classroom helps students focus afterward. A quick game of rock, paper, scissors gives them (and you) a break so that you’re ready to come back re-energized. My 30 second dance party last year was a big hit – whenever I needed a break, I played 30 seconds of a dance song and we showed off our best moves. Try Give Me Everything by Pitbull, Shake it Off by Taylor Swift, or Low by Flo Rida.
Better classroom management tip #8 – Redirect and Re-engage.
When my daughter was little, she loved to drag my pocketbook around the house, scratching it and dumping the contents out for the dog to destroy. It drove me nuts. My mother, the genius, mastered the art of redirection. “Here,” she’d say. “I have a new book I want you to read to me,” or “Can you help me find the wooden spoon?” This works even with the older-than-a-toddler crowd. If kids are acting out in your class, they’re bored. They need something else to occupy their minds. Hand them a puzzle. Challenge them to figure something out.
Better classroom management tip #9 – Avoid problems in the first place.
Engaged kids don’t act out. If your lesson has been planned to maximize engagement, curiosity, and participation, then you’ll avoid classroom management problems from the start. This sounds simplistic, but it’s number 9 on our list because it is the hardest thing to master. Be sure you’re including the components of a lesson that build engagement – greet them at the doorto send the message that they’re coming in to a collective experience where their presence is important. Grab their attention from the start, , use phenomena, ask questions. Gamify your classroom. Have a plan for what students should do when they’re done. Differentiate and provide choice.
Better classroom management tip #10 – Be confident.
If you don’t think you can do this, your kids will smell that on you and you’re as good as dead. Fake it till you make it if you have to, but walk in their with your best game face on and show them that this is a great learning environment, you’re excited to be there, and they should be excited also. You’ve got this, Teacher.