I originally decided to take a break from blogging until September, but then I thought I can take a break from blogging and still share some of my most popular posts since August 2006 when I started writing Teachers at Risk.
This post is one of my most popular posts about classroom management. I first wrote it August 2007 and everyday since someone comes to my blog to read it. I read it from time to time to remind myself what works.
School is about to start again and of course I’m wondering what challenges I’ll be facing teaching the kids I do. I’m sure lots of other teachers are wondering what’s in store for them, too. I’ve been thinking about all that I have learned over the years about classroom management and teaching . Some of it I’ve learned the hard way believe me.
1. I’ve learned that students need me to be a teacher and not their friend.
Almost every year students complain to me about teachers trying to be their friend. They don’t want teachers to be their friends, but of course they do want teachers to be friendly and to treat them fairly and with respect. Kids want us to be the good adult role models they need in their lives. I work hard to make sure that they realize that although I’m friendly, I am not their friend. If kids think teachers are their friends, then when teachers have to do the tough things like call home because of something, the kids feel betrayed because they thought the teacher was a friend and friends don’t snitch on one another. Once a kid feels betrayed by their teacher , that’s it. Some kids will stop learning just to spite the teacher, and the teacher has lost the opportunity to be that positive adult influence kids need.
Over the years, I’ve had kids try to black mail me emotionally by saying that if I call home about some issue , they won’t be my friend. It’s that relational aggression thing. They are trying to bully me into not calling home or whatever I was going to do that they don’t like. That’s when I tell them that while I have a friendly teaching style, I’m not their friend. I’m their teacher. There’s a big difference. As their teacher, I have an obligation to let their parents know how things are going. I have an obligation to see that they learn as much as possible while in my class and out of respect for them , I have to call home. Kids understand that. They don’t like it, but they understand it.
2. I’ve learned that it’s better to catch students doing good rather than catching them misbehaving.
I’ve learned that students respond better when I catch them doing good and comment on it. I say things like oh, good, you’re on time for class, or you’re sitting in your seat with your work open or you’ve remembered your pencil etc. I make sure that my comments are authentic. Kids can detect it if I’m not.
I’ve also learned that I’m happier catching my students doing good instead of catching them misbehaving.
I ‘ve use different reward systems for kids who I catch being good. One I particularly like is giving kids Hartjes dollars. How does this work ? First, I designed a dollar bill using my name as part of the design and made lots of photocopies of it using green paper. Then whenever I catch my students doing good, I give them a Hartjes dollar and congratulated them for being on time, getting their work done or whatever and shake their hands. Students really liked getting their Hartjes dollars and put them in their wallets right next to their real dollars. What can kids buy with their Hartjes dollars? They can buy any of a number of things. I usually ask the class what they would like to buy. They make all kinds of suggestions, and we choose some appropriate ones like having free time to play dominoes, having free time to draw, not having to do a quiz , getting out of class three minutes early etc. We also set the price of these things. I’ve even been able to get some really cool things that kids like from local business like CDs, movie passes, movie rentals, etc . For these more valuable items, we’ll have an auction at the end of a month or a certain time period. The auction generates lots of excitement, as you can imagine.
I’ve shared the idea of Hartjes Dollars and catching kids being good with other teachers, and they’ve created their own dollars with their classes and have found that the idea worked with their students too . It seems to work with all ages from grades three to grade twelve.
I also really like using stickers to motivate kids. My students will be more likely to hand in their work if I put stickers on them. I go to my local dollar type store and stock up on stickers that appeal to my students- even my grade 12 students like stickers. I’ve noticed it’s a bit harder to find stickers that appeal to boys. I’ve used racing car stickers , motorcycle stickers , Halloween type stickers with skulls and guitar stickers for them but they are harder to find so my advice is if you see any of these stock up. I’ve even used heart stickers on their work, come to think of it. I put the bigger stickers on the level 3 and 4 work so that the kids will continue to do a good job. It’s amazing to see the great big 18 year old guys comparing the size of their car stickers or looking at my collection of car stickers to see which one they would like next. It adds an element of fun to the class and a bit of harmless competition. Sometimes if I forget to put a sticker on someone’s work, he or she will come and tell me that I forgot the sticker and present their work for me to put a sticker on. Sometimes , my students even want to renegotiate the size of sticker I put on their work. Stickers are fun.
I’ve also learned that no matter how good a strategy is, it doesn’t work all the time. That’s why it’s important to have an assortment of strategies so that when one goes stale you can quickly pull out another one. Usually though, I don’t need any special strategies the few weeks before report cards go home. Gee, I wonder why?
Since I first wrote this, I’ve been trying more and more to get my students to be more self-motivated and not dependent upon extrinsic rewards. Some students still love the extrinsic rewards though. It’s a struggle.
3. I’ve learned that class rules need to be developed by the class and the teacher and then posted on the wall for all to see
I tell my students on the first day that because they’ve been going to school for such a long time, they are experts at knowing what makes a classroom work or not work. So, I want them to help me come up with classroom rules so that our classroom can work. I get them to share their ideas ideas about what a classroom that works looks like and sounds like and what students need to be doing so that learning goes on. I make sure that school rules are included in the list. I try not to have too many rules , so we work at reducing the list to include only the really important rules. Also, I’ve learned that the classroom rules should be stated in a positive not negative way-, for example be on time, not don’t be late. Then, I get the kids to make posters listing the rules and then we put them up in the classroom in several spots. I usually ask for someone to volunteer to have his or her poster displayed. There are always volunteers.
Displaying the classroom rules in several places , usually on each wall somewhere, is really important. The posters are like signs along the highway that and tell drivers what to do while traveling on the road. The posters in the classroom remind kids what to do while in the classroom on their road to learning. If someone is having a problem behaving in class, I can catch their eye and just point to the poster and they get the message. We all need reminders.
4. I’ve learned that teachers are human beings first and teachers secondly.
I’ve learned not to take myself too seriously. I make mistakes like anyone else because like everyone else I’m human. I tell my students that teachers are human beings first and teachers second so once in a while they do make a mistake too, and it’s no big deal. Everyone makes mistakes. What’s important is that we learn form our mistakes.
5. I’ve learned to remember tomorrow is another day
Some days when nothing seems to go right, I try to remind myself tomorrow is another day, and I’ll have another chance to do it right.
6. I’ve learned to be prepared because my students might not be
I have a few containers with pencils, pens, markers, paper, erasers etc available for students to use when they forget their supplies. I refuse to get bent out of shape because they’ve come to class unprepared. That’s what at-risk students do. That’s why they are at-risk. I swear they arrive to class, not just my class by the way, like rock stars expecting their handlers to take care of every little detail. I used to get annoyed, but now I save my energy for more important things and simply ask them to return whatever they’ve borrowed to me at the end of class so I can lend it to someone else who needs it. This actually works most of the time. I do label things with masking tape. I put my name on everything. If my students think the school supplied it, they sometimes don’t care about returning things, but if they think it’s mine they will return it.
I’ve also learned to be prepared in yet another way. Sometimes the lesson I’ve planned for the day goes over like a lead balloon. Why? Who knows. It doesn’t take much to distract these kids . I keep emergency lesson plans on hand for just such a time. Usually my emergency lesson plans involve a review of skills that I have already taught. It can take the form of puzzles, word searchers, crossword puzzles for math as well as English. I have a nice thick file of activities that I have collected over the years. The internet is a wonderful source . Just google whatever you are looking for and you will have a good choice. I personally like edhelper.com. It’s just gotten better and better over the years and the activities from there have saved my sanity on many occasions.
7. I’ve learned to call home when things are going well
Calling home to talk to parents about their kids when their kids are doing well is very important. It just takes a few moments and makes all the difference in the world. You don’t have to do the entire class at once. Spread the calls out over a week. Of course my at-risk classes usually have less than 15 students in them so calling home doesn’t take forever. Parents who get these calls are usually delighted, and the kids are surprised that I’ve called home telling their parents that they did something good. They’re used to the opposite. Since I’m catching my students being good, it isn’t hard to find something good to share with their parents. Calling home with good news buys all kinds of goodwill because it tells parents that you care about their kid. Parents of at-risk kids need good news.
8. I’ve learned to ask for help when I need it
If I’m having serious problems with a student in my class, I’ll go and talk to his guidance counselor, his vice-principal and his other teachers to see if they know something that can help me reach this kid or if something happened at home that the kid is having problems dealing with. Then I’ll call home. I used to call home first, but then a few times something had happened and the parent told the school but the message hadn’t got to me yet. The parent was annoyed, and I felt stupid so now for serious problems I ask at school first and then call home.
9. I’ve learned that my students have different learning styles and different multiple intelligences and this is important to keep in mind when I’m planning my lessons.
If I take into account the fact that my students have different learning styles and different multiple intelligences and plan my lessons accordingly, I will have more success engaging the kids. It’s quite easy to determine what a student’s learning style and multiple intelligences are through different inventories. For example, last semester I determined that the kids in my math class were strong visual learners and very weak auditory learners so there was little point in me standing up at the front of the class telling them what they needed to learn and what I wanted them to do because they weren’t going to get it. So I used a lot of activities that involved graphic organizers and that worked. It pays off big time for a teacher to know what strategies work for each of the learning styles and each of the multiple intelligences. Kids learn better if a teachers teaching style and their learning style is the same. Kids who complain about teachers not teaching them are often really complaining about a clash between the teacher’s teaching style and the kids learning style. Teachers really need to teach to all the different learning styles using different multiple intelligences and allow students to demonstrate their learning using their strong multiple intelligences. That skill takes time to learn, but there lots of PD on learning styles, multiple intelligences and graphic organizers. There’s lots of information on line as well. I’m forever googling to see what’s new and works.
Now, I’ve shared nine things that I’ve learned about teaching. I invite you to share what you have learned. Please keep those comments and questions coming. I really appreciate them because they challenge me to think.