Ideas for Beginning Teachers.
What if you had a passion for teaching?
You are so excited about teaching you decide to enrol in a teacher preparation program. Then you go for classroom observation of carefully selected teachers, and your passion for teaching starts becoming stronger. You admire these teachers, and you think you could teach any class of students all day.
So, passionate teacher that you are, you make it through student teaching; remembering all the advice you’ve been given by your college advisor/mentor – love the children, dress properly and act accordingly, be patient and flexible.
You become certified, and find yourself where you are now – a beginning teacher with your own classroom; ready to unleash your passion for teaching; hoping to learn and gain a variety of new ideas to use now – as you read this article.
Managing Student Classroom Behavior
Most schools will have expectations for a range of things including: attendance/lateness, arrival and dismissal, dress code/uniforms, drugs and alcohol, test/examinations, and technology (use of cell phones, iPods, nooks etc). In addition to these, teachers are expected to establish clear behavior expectations for their classrooms. For example, students need to be taught how to be quiet while you are teaching, stay in their seats, and follow directions. In this article, you will find some practical ideas/tips for managing your classroom; specifically, these ideas will guide you in establishing classroom rules and consequences; classroom procedures or routines, modelling good behavior, and establishing positive relationships with your students.
IDEA # 1: On Setting Standards for behavior
It is important to make sure students understand from day one of the school year the kind of behavior standards you expect from them in your class. Consider the following ideas for setting behavior standards:
- Create classroom rules ahead of teaching subject matter. Today’s students are very open and willing to share their opinions, so provide opportunity for them to be involved in creating classroom rules. It gives them a sense of ownership, and they are more likely to follow the rules. Put them into groups to brainstorm ideas as a class and come up with rules. Listen to all the suggestions, and explain why you need to have rules – to maintain an orderly, positive and safe learning environment, and to help them succeed.
- Make sure rules are clear and straightforward. Use positive statements that are linked to learning outcomes, e.g. - “listen when someone else is talking,” is a simple and positive way of stating a rule.
- In order not to overwhelm the class with too many rules, limit them to the most important ones, and make sure you enforce them.
- Post the rules in a suitable area in the class where students can see them throughout the year. If you share the classroom with other teachers, you can write the rules on the board and have students copy them as a reminder. If you teach in the primary/elementary grades, using pictures in addition to written words can be very helpful in conveying your rules.
IDEA # 2: On Setting Consequences for keeping or breaking the rules
As you establish rules, make sure students understand that there are consequences for breaking or keeping to them. There are a variety of ways you can acknowledge appropriate behavior or address inappropriate ones:
- Avoid falling into the reward and punishment trap - make sure students value learning, and are not making the appropriate behavioral choices only because they are afraid to be punished or want to be rewarded. For example, if you use any form of corporal punishment (beating with a stick, slapping, pinching, and shaking) to correct students in your class, they will only stop misbehaving for a short time because they don’t want to be beaten. Instead, turn what students hate doing (e.g. missing transition time, staying after school to complete missing work or being told they cannot participate in a class project) into consequences for breaking rules. And for things they like – receiving passes for late homework (i.e. they get extra time for turning in homework), working with a friend on class assignments, positive phone call or note to parents; turn those to rewards.
- Avoid punishing the whole class for a single student’s behavior. It is a good idea to have a classroom behavior sheet/log for tracking students’ behavior. Tracking students’ behavior can help you see a particular pattern, and to determine or reflect on what works best in your classroom and what needs to be changed.
- Provide reinforcement opportunities. Try to focus on, and reward students for above and beyond behavior and for participation. Remember, rewarding positive behavior motivates students, and have a better impact on their behavior. Something that works very well for me is occasionally saying thank you or well done to students who are on task or following directions. It is interesting to see how many students will immediately start focusing on their work, and how many will soon ask “Am I doing well?” because they want that simple remark from you.
- Use progressive discipline consequences for negative/disruptive behaviors. Progress gradually from less severe to more severe - give a warning or two, set up a behavior plan for a specific student if the need arises, and explain why the infraction is not allowed. Send defiant students to administration/principal only if you are unable to resolve the issue on your own. Remember, sending students out of class as a punishment deprives them of learning, and takes control/authority out of your hands. So, try as much as possible to deal with negative/and or disruptive behaviors in class.
- Be consistent and firm. One of the most challenging things is following through on consequences. Most teachers struggle with that. As much as possible, avoid empty threats or promises, and strive to apply consequences fairly regardless of gender, tribe, religion or social status of students.
IDEA # 3: On Teaching Procedures
Procedures (an established way of doing things) are very helpful for organizing the classroom environment, as well as students’ work.
Never assume students know the right way to do things in your classroom just because they are of a particular age or are at a certain grade level. You need to create procedures to guide class activities during: whole class, small group, testing/exam, transition, and individual work. Teach and practice your procedures until they become routines. The following are examples of procedures you could teach and practice to make your classroom run smoothly:
What are students supposed to do to begin the day or before class officially starts?
- Greet Mrs. Jones at the door as they enter the class (this will vary from school to school. In Nigeria for instance,students stand and greet the teacher as s/he enters the class),and quietly go to their seats.
- Quietly get out their pencil/pen and paper or notebook, and complete a warm-up activity. - This could be a 5-10 minutes math problem, sustained silent reading, or journal prompt.
- Wait for further directions from teacher.
What are students supposed to do if they have to go to the toilet?
- Sign the restroom book; take the rest room pass; leave the room quietly, and return to class in two minutes.
The list of procedures to teach will depend on what you need to do in your class to bring about order. Unlike rules, procedures require instruction and practice; over and over until they are internalized by students and become routine – they automatically know what to do at the beginning of each day, during group work etc.
IDEA # 4: On Using Effective Communication Tool
Teacher language - what you say and how you say it is very important in managing students’ behavior. Students can tell from the tone of your voice when your expressions are genuine and sincere. Your teacher language can also be a valuable tool for communicating with parents about the progress of each student in your class. Consider these ideas:
- Remember, your most valuable teaching tool is your voice. So, protect it, and instead of yelling or shouting, use a calm but stern voice. This may appear very daunting for teachers who teach large classes as they need to speak loud enough for every student to hear. In a large class, you can use a jingle bell or other instruments to get students attention. You can even purchase a simple and affordable microphone to use.
- Use non-vocal signals. Non-vocal signals are great because they can be done quietly and discreetly. When students are being disruptive by talking or playing, go and stand by them, make eye contact, show your ‘teacher face,’ and say nothing. I do this a lot, and it works most of the time. This sends them a direct message to stop talking and focus on their work. Non-verbal signals can also be facial expressions, body posture and hand signals. Make sure you explain what you want the students to do when you use signals.
- "Don’t smile until Christmas?" – This old teacher adage doesn’t necessarily mean putting away your smiles. It is rather a reminder to be firm with the discipline structure in your classroom. For instance, there are other ways of enforcing your rules without frowning too often and creating fear and anxiety in students - you can use some humour to address certain issues. On one occasion when middle school students were throwing things (typically paper airplanes) around/and at each other, I simply said “missiles, take cover”. It made them laugh, but it also made them stop. Depending on the age of students, there are lots of funny jokes you can tell to improve communication/interaction, and sustain their attention in class. However, when telling jokes, avoid using offensive words and too much of class time.
- Avoid turning the spotlight on a misbehaving student. Spend very little time in correcting them or ignore them if possible. You can also give a disruptive student a leadership role. This will prevent the student from trying to argue/defend his/her action, and take up your class time.
- When communicating with parents, be respectful, polite, and focus on the reason why you are calling – concern for their child (the student).
IDEA # 5: On Building Positive Relationships with Your Students
Building positive relationships with your students is very important for successful teaching. No matter how knowledgeable you are, students don’t care except they know you care about them. They want a teacher they can relate to; who they are not afraid of; can go to with their problems both during and outside class time and they know is friendly and cares about them. Here are some ideas on how to show students you are not just in class to teach content, but really care about them:
- Learn and call them by their names. I hate to hear students say “hey teacher” when they want my attention, so I try not to say "you in the red shirt." The question then is do you have to learn over 100 names in some cases? Yes. I am an advocate of learning names, because it helps improve the relationship between your students and you. Regardless of the age or grade, students are delighted when you remember and call them by their names, so try to memorize as many names as possible from the first day of class. You can use a seating chart or class list/register to call out names when taking attendance. Some schools have students wear name tags, so this makes it easy to call out names. Whatever works for you, use it until you get to know all students by name.
- Have a one-on-one meeting with your students when they are failing or have a problem; show them you have faith in them, and encourage them to strive to do better.
- Show them the human side of you: say something nice to your students, but not in the same way as their peer – e.g. saying “dude or old boy, what’s up” and then expecting to be the teacher the very next minute doesn’t work so well. Make faces when something is disgusting, and laugh when something is funny. Students will behave appropriately, knowing they have a friendly, but firm and knowledgeable professional as their teacher.
IDEA # 6: On Monitoring Students during Class work
Poor monitoring can result in students misbehaving in class, so:
- Move around the room during quiet periods when students are working individually to see what they are doing, and check on their progress. For example, 2-3 minutes after an assignment/task has been given to students, move around the classroom to check that each student has started, and are on the correct page and so on. Provide individualized instruction as needed, and avoid making too many general announcements unless you notice that a lot of students are off-task. Students will appreciate your personal and individualized attention.
- If you work in a large classroom of say 40+ students, monitoring can be very daunting and exhausting. In such a situation, appoint group leaders or class monitors and allow students to monitor each other’s behavior while working in groups. Another good strategy of keeping students on task is to use a timer for class assignments – example, 10 minutes for exercise 10 #1-10 etc.
- If possible, use music to calm students especially when they are working in groups or individually.
IDEA # 7: On Practicing What You Preach
Strive to make your classroom a place where students can ‘catch’ positive behavior and practices, by modelling what you expect of them. First and foremost, to remain in control, try to control your own behavior. This means you will:
- Show students respect. Avoid talking down at them; using derogatory words or mimicking them in the presence of other students.
- As students welcome you to class or as you meet them at the door, model the kind of courteous behavior you expect. If you want students to be polite and courteous, greet them with a smile as you enter the classroom or as they come in.
- Avoid using any form of corporal punishment to correct inappropriate behavior in your class, because students may learn violence as a means of resolving conflicts.
- Apologize when you make a mistake just as you expect students to do when they make a mistake. Yes. It is a powerful tool and a great feeling, particularly for young children when they hear an adult apologize. It makes solving whatever problem it is easier.
- Use teachable moments, and encourage students to read stories about people who have made a difference. If possible, show videos that will help them learn and practice good values.
Closing Remarks - On Becoming A Reflective Practitioner
Take time to reflect on your classroom management plan, how you connect with your students, and resolve to strengthen your area of weakness. Link up with/seek support from a veteran teacher as your mentor. The benefits you get from mentoring are huge. Follow your mentor’s advice and tips. Listen to feed back, relax, find your own teaching style, and be ready to adapt to students learning style. Most importantly, be firm, but willing to be flexible. And remember that central to your job is continuous learning. You need to continue updating your knowledge and skills – read books, journals, take courses, and attend professional development workshops frequently.
Here is a teacher poem i like reading from time to time:
I Am The Teacher!
I will not yell in class.
I will not throw things in class.
I will not get mad and hit anyone in my class.
I will not have a temper tantrum.
I will always be good
Because I am the Teacher...
I am the Teacher...
I am the Teacher...
I like this poem because it reminds me to: make a conscious effort to calm down before issuing any consequences for inappropriate behavior, model the kind of behavior I expect from students, see myself as the teacher (the adult in the room) rather than the dictator. Finally, it reminds me I am the only one who can make my teaching successful by giving my students an enjoyable learning experience. It is my wish that you write a poem about yourself, and that it helps you make your teaching career an enjoyable experience.