Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Stayin' Alive: My Classroom Management Survival Strategy

I am not a disciplinarian. I am not super strict or super scary. And I think I've come to accept that. I'm young and relatively inexperienced - and occasionally I find their naughtinesses funny (anathema!). But I can still manage a classroom well. I can still make sure I am the boss when it comes to the important things. Even in a class filled to overflowing with rowdy, hormonious (sic) teenagers. Linking up (for the first time ever, go me!) with Megan at M* are my top survival strategies for chaos (I mean, classroom) management.

1) Insist.

Decide which battles you want to fight and be willing to stop the class and spend however long it takes winning. Once you've thrown down the gauntlet you MUST win. Unless a child presents a sensible argument as to why the gauntlet shouldn't have been thrown down in the first place (oops!) in which case apologies and move on. Everyone else in the classroom is willing to waste learning time to misbehave, so you sometimes HAVE to call their collective bluff and be willing to 'waste' learning time to insist on good behaviour. And break time too, if necessary. On a related note, if you say you'll do something as a punishment (give detention, call parents, whatever) you MUST do it. Not following through = discipline suicide. On another related, and perhaps obvious note...

2) Pick your battles

Don't throw the gauntlet on the floor for every little thing. It's too exhausting and time consuming otherwise. Ask yourself whether it is really worth it. Johnny putting a sweet in his mouth? Not so much. Johnny swearing at Billy? Definitely. Johnny and Billy having a quiet conversation about something unrelated? Your call. These are the things I will go to battle for, more or less in order of importance:
  •   anything that threatens the safety and well being of themselves or the other people in the classroom (hitting, nasty remarks, setting things on fire...)
  •  anything that severely impairs the ability of anyone in the class to learn (talking loudly, not taking books out, coming late...)
  •  anything that impairs my ability to teach (or irritates the living $&#% out of me - whistling continuously, throwing pens and papers, eating something that rustles or stinks...)

I try to think about a potential infraction VERY carefully before putting on my helmet and elbow guards and wading into the fray. If it doesn't fit one of those categories, I often let it slide. And if it does fit one of those categories...

3) Explain

I've always had a better response, and less repetition of bad behaviour if I have addressed the WHY and not just the what. If the class understands the underlying reason behind why I'm going all in on an issue, they are less likely to brush it off as the teacher being petty or just 'in a bad mood', and more likely to change the problematic behaviour. Okay, SLIGHTLY more likely.

4) Correct rather than punish

This one isn't always possible, but it's one of my favourites. If the behaviour isn't all that heinous, or hasn't been repeated all that often, or simply isn't that big a deal... as if often isn't (because let's face it, most issues we deal with are stupid petty little things), then there isn't always a need to provide a punishment. This saves time, whining and emotional energy. It also means that when I do punish, it is a lot more of a big deal. In my classroom a detention is a BIG DEAL. It doesn't mean that the other behaviours, the ones I correct without punishment, are acceptable. They still have to stop. They still provoke a discussion, and sometimes even a consequence. It just might not warrant a punishment. Starting with correction also leaves you with somewhere to go if the behaviour doesn't change.

5) Quality Time

That's all very well, but we all know those kids who are perennial offenders. The constant chirper. The lazy lout. The latecomer. The attention seeker. I honestly don't know how to deal with those kids, but the strategy that has come closest to working is... quality time. Call the kid over privately, after class, or when you see them wandering around after school. Find out their 'why'. Take an interest in their circumstances. Can you make any small changes which will help them correct their own behaviour. Most kids don't like being in trouble. Let them know you don't like their being in trouble either. Call the parent for a friendly, concerned chat. It helps more often than I would have thought. Surprise! Apparently that naughty kid ISN'T actually evil...

For that kid who doesn't respond to that, to ANYTHING... my last resort is:

6) Get help

I have been lucky enough to find myself in a very supportive school, with many helpful bosses at different levels. I have battled and LOST battles with various learners through the years, and have gone knocking on doors with a frantic SOS. People, you will get to the point where you're just not coping. In which case... Don't be a hero. Ask for advice. Ask for help. Your boss/colleague/SOMEONE might need to come to the rescue.


That's it from me. I haven't got all the answers, and goodness knows I'm still learning. I've certainly enjoyed working out how much I've learned about this whole aspect of teaching over the past few years, and I'm longing to read what everyone else says in the linky party "Better Together" at M*Print. Hope this contribution helps you too!

Good luck with the chaos management...

Yours in solidarity


  1. Thank you for linking up! It's always nice to find secondary ed bloggers-- you have a new follower! :)

    1. Hi Megan

      What a coincidence, you have a new follower too! I'm enjoying your blog a lot - it's so helpful meeting cyber-friends who are grappling with similar issues to me. Thanks for the linky - super excited, because its my first one :)

      Thanks again

    2. My biggest issue at tertiary level is a wall of passive aggression. Non-disruptive on a class level, but disastrous on a personal level. Closed students learn least. ANy thoughts?

    3. Hi samart!

      Yes, I know those kids... In my class they either fail and realize they need to change their attitude, or fail and have their parents change their attitude for them, or, well, just fail and change subjects.

      My question is, do you really have to worry about them? If they really need to pass your course, they will figure out what they need to do and come back next year. If they don't need the course, then... Well, you've got more energy to spare for the guys who do want to learn.

      It sounds awfully harsh, but it seems that the only way some people learn is by experience. And in the cases you're describing perhaps the experience needs to be failure.

      What do you think?