Classroom Management for Beginners

21 year old me

I remember the first time I stood in front of a class. I was so young, and so woefully unprepared. I didn’t know what to do, and the 24 twelve year olds could see right through me. I felt like the odd kid in middle school – I felt that I didn’t measure up, that I wasn’t good enough, and I was terrified that they were going to make fun of me. I wanted them to like me. I wanted my supervisor to think I was doing a good job.  Classroom management is easily the hardest part for beginners. But that wasn’t an option. There were so many layers of insecurity that I wanted to run and hide. So I dug in.

I made so many mistakes my first year. I had to learn every single thing by trial and error, it seemed. Baptism by fire. One step forward and two steps back. Nothing was easy – I didn’t know how to talk to my coworkers. I didn’t know how to talk to parents. I didn’t know how to build relationships with my students. I had thought, foolishly, that knowing my content was all I needed to be a teacher. Instead, my head was barely above water in the deep end with no sign of rescue. I made a few less mistakes the next year. One or two less the year after. And now, in my 35th year, I’m still making mistakes but, hopefully, even fewer.

The hardest part of being a teacher

The hardest lesson for me to learn was classroom management – that intimate tight rope walk between building relationships and getting work done. I tried yelling. That doesn’t work. I tried being their friend. That’s not right either. I tried threats, cajoling, bribery. I was good cop and bad cap alternately. For me, classroom management remains elusive. I may have perfected my “teacher voice” and the cold stare, but I still feel like I’m climbing uphill every day to get their attention and keep them on task. Here are a few tricks I’ve learned.

Why classroom management is important, not only for beginners

Classroom management is an essential aspect of effective teaching for beginners and all teachers as it helps to establish a safe and orderly learning environment. A well-managed classroom not only enhances student engagement and academic achievement but also promotes positive behavior and social interaction. Without proper management, classrooms can become chaotic and unproductive, making it challenging for both students and teachers to achieve their educational goals.

My top 8 tips for managing middle schoolersidealistic optimistic first year teacher

  1. Set clear expectations: Clearly communicate expectations for behavior, academic performance, and classroom procedures to your students from the very beginning of the school year.  I don’t do a “class rules” activity on the first day of school, but I do let it be known that I expect students to respect me, each other, and themselves. I let students dance near the line. But when they cross the line, they know it. Classroom management is hard for beginners, but it gets easier when you establish expectations and provide consistency.
  2. Don’t yell. Seriously. Not only does it make you look unhinged, but it also contributes to the general chaos in the classroom. Lowering your voice will catch their attention more easily and is far more intimidating.
  3.  Develop positive relationships with your students. Easier said than done. But be sure to build in time for casual conversation. Go to their football games. Ask them about their weekend. Get to know your students as individuals and make an effort to connect with each of them personally. This helps to create a positive and respectful classroom culture. Classroom management for beginners often looks like a new teacher wanting to be friends – that’s not what I’m saying here. You’ll be more successful if you aim for friendly, but not friends.
  4.  Establish routines: Create predictable routines for daily tasks, such as transitioning between activities, passing out materials, and beginning and ending class. Confusion creates chaos so you want to avoid it at all costs. Tell them what you want. Write on the board: “1. Finish the Bellringer. 2. Pick up lab materials from the front desk. 3. Read the first paragraph of the lab introduction and highlight the sentence that tells you the purpose of the lab.” When a student is off task, catch his or her eye and point to the board.
  5. Use positive reinforcement: Use positive reinforcement such as praise, recognition, and rewards to reinforce desired behaviors and encourage student success.
  6. Discipline fairly and consistently. Let the punishment fit the crime. If you’re late for class, you don’t get to choose your seat. If you fool around during lab, you can’t participate. If you have a side conversation while I’m instructing, you finish the classwork for homework.
  7. Address disruptive behavior quickly: Address disruptive behavior quickly and consistently to prevent it from escalating and disrupting the learning environment.
  8. Foster a sense of community: Encourage a sense of community and teamwork among students to create a positive and supportive learning environment. We all want to do this activity so we have to listen to instructions. No one wants homework so we have to finish the classwork.

The secret sauce

There have been 2 times in my career when I was ready to give up. Nothing I did would make the kids pay attention or even pretend to pay attention. I felt like a zookeeper playing a nonstop game of whack-a-mole trying to manage a spectrum of behaviors I couldn’t get my hands on. Both times, I hauled out this little gem and both times it worked like a charm.
Buy a roll of carnival tickets – the kind you might get for a 50/50 or a sleeve’s length of tickets for the rides. Then, casually, break them off one at a time and hand them to kids you catch doing the right thing. Don’t ‘say anything, just hand them a ticket. Do it all period. Janie’s working quietly – hand her a ticket. Pete raised his hand instead of calling out – give him a ticket. Give out as many as you can – 5 or 6 dozen. Kids will quickly figure out which behaviors get them tickets and which don’t, even if you don’t say a word. Then, at the end of the period, ask everyone to put their names on the backs of whatever tickets they had earned and drop them in a bucket as they leave the room.  Once a week, pull 3 (or 2 or 6 or whatever) tickets out of the bucket and give those students a prize – lollipops, stickers, homework passes, a pack of gum – whatever your kids want.
For the price of 3 lollipops, you’ve solved your behavior problems, simply by making your students aware of what behaviors are considered acceptable and which are not acceptable. By the second week, hand out fewer tickets – maybe 10-15 per class period.
I can’t guarantee this will work for you, but I’ve never seen it not work 🙂  Drop a comment below and let me know if you’ve tried this secret sauce for classroom management!

Further Reading

Experienced teachers want to share their best advice with first year teachers. Read more here!

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Published by JustAddH2OTeacher

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