By KellyAnn Bonnell, MA
The first two years in the classroom are what I call the “life preserver” years. You’ve got a bright orange life preserver strapped around your neck. In that first year, its all you can do to keep your head above water. For some of you the feeling that your classroom is completely out of control just keeps building. There’s good news. School has some magic “reset” buttons and one of them is Winter Break. By becoming aware of a few of the common classroom management mistakes new teachers makes you can make a few subtle adjustments before break and establish new expectations when the kids return in January. So what are the most common classroom management mistakes new teachers make?
One common mistake that new teachers make is what I call the Me Mistake. The Me Mistake happens when you shift your focus away from student learning moving it toward your teaching. The main symptom of the Me Mistake is impatience. An example would be getting frustrated when a student interrupts you to ask a pertinent question and you find yourself getting annoyed. You think to yourself, “why couldn’t he have waited until I was finished?”. Or perhaps you’ve fallen completely into the Me Mistake and turned into a Sage on the Stage-the talking head at the front of the classroom giving boring lectures that students just tune out.
Digging out of the Me Mistake isn’t as hard as it seems. After all, you were taught best practices in school not that long ago. The key is to help you relax and enjoy your students. It’s a shift in your own mindset and allows you to stop teaching and become a partner in their learning. First, introduce a little sign language into your classroom. The kids will see it as a game and you’ll get a little heads up as to what’s on their minds before you call on them. So how does it work?
If students have a question, when they raise their hand they hold up their pinkie finger. “I” is for inquiry. Hey a new vocabulary word! Perhaps they don’t have a question but want to make a comment. Have them cup their hand into the letter “c” if they have a comment. Now you’ve moved into the difference between a question and comment. Depending on your age group this could be new content as well. Lastly, you will always have students who need to answer the call of nature. Hold up four fingers without gaps. This is the sign for the letter “B” so you’ll know they need to go to the bathroom.
Next, introduce your students to the parking lot. Let’s say you call on a student with a question and its not relevant to the current lesson. Let them know its important anyway by allowing them to write it down on a post it and putting it in a parking lot and you’ll answer it after the lesson.
The second most common mistake new teachers make in the classroom management area is what I call the Management Mistake. Management Mistakes happen when you focus on what will stop the problem today or stop the behavior instead of doing the necessary work to change the behavior for the long term. This leads to inconsistency, the use of extrinsic rewards, the use of punishments and other quick fixes.
Management Mistakes can be addressed by using natural and logical consequences. Natural and logical consequences teach lessons as opposed to punishment which gives discomfort. Natural and logical consequences for undesired behaviors are consistent, are related to the behavior and are proactive rather than reactive.
The third most common classroom management mistake new teachers make is what I call the Manumission Mistake. Manumission is the act of freeing one from servitude. The Manumission Mistake is when a new teacher imposes herself and her rules on a classroom without first obtaining buy in. No one likes to follow arbitrary rules, including our students. If you don’t take the time to explain why specific rules exist and then remind of them of the rules in each transition, students will think they exist to make their lives more difficult. The key to addressing the Manumission Mistake is to implement classroom citizenship from the very basic concept of classroom community. The children need to help you create the rules. They need to understand that rules are the natural consequence of rights and responsibilities and that rights and responsibilities are the foundation of a community. We call the process writing the Classroom Constitution; and I know from personal experience that it works in classrooms beginning as early as PreK.
Pretty soon you won’t need that life preserver. You’ll have an amazing bag of tricks instead; and we’re here to help. Pop Goes the Classroom offerings help you engage your students with meaningful engaging instructional content that challenges them and meets common core standards. Our upcoming workshop Building a Classroom Community in a Connected World can help you with common classroom management mistakes; and once you’ve mastered that you can move on to other worthwhile workshops that help you building strong relationships with your students.
For more information on Building a Classroom Community in a Connected World please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.