All across the country, school bells are ringing and students are returning to the classroom. Teachers, both seasoned and new, are meeting students and building relationships that will have tremendous impact on everyone for the months and years to come. For teachers and students alike, this time of the year is full of uncertainty and nervousness. A teacher’s commitment to classroom management and high expectations are, in my opinion, is more important than engaging lesson plans or interesting content. Beginning the school year with a plan will help to ensure a smooth transition for all from the summer to classroom.
I am by no means an expert teacher, but after fourteen years in the classroom at various grade levels, I have stumbled onto some consistent themes. These management and discipline tips can serve both as a survival guide for new teachers and as a gentle coaching reminder for seasoned veterans. And while they will not help you with content-specific concerns, they will help you with a strong foundation for your classroom and an avenue to improve the chances for growth and success for both you and your students.
Back to School Tips for Teachers:
1. Begin the school year with firm, consistent, and clear expectations. The cliche “do not smile until Thanksgiving,” has a ring of truth to it. Regardless of the age, students wandering into your classroom after months of being home are going to be testing and exploring. They want to see what you are made of and what they are capable of getting away with. For some, summer break has meant a season of anarchy where the kids have had to fend for themselves, while others have had an experience not unlike a three month sentence at a low-security prison. Without making your expectations resoundingly clear immediately, students will be left to guess which will lead to frustration and confusion on every one’s part. Your expectations should also be firm; during the beginning of the year, your expectations must be firm and high enough so that when students fail to meet them, they are still acting within your acceptable limits.
2. Do what you said you would do. Your expectations probably take the shape of procedures. Your classroom procedures must be intentionally developed, explicitly taught, and masterfully modeled. Avoid having “teacher rules” and “student rules.” Try to develop procedures that all individuals (students, parents, teachers, and visiting administrators) must follow in your classroom. Your procedures and expectations should only include things that are important enough that they matter to everyone. For example, if it is important that students do not negatively criticize each other in your classroom, then it is important that you do not negatively criticize or employ cynicism as well. Everything you do is teaching and modeling and everything a student does is practice. Even in non-instructional times, are you teaching what you want your students to learn?
3. Keep classroom rules clear and simple. Personally, I employ the concept of “Love and Logic” in my classroom, and it dramatically simplifies discipline. Neither you or your students can remember a list of twenty expectations. If you have many rules, you are setting your students up for failure. The more simple your classroom rules are, the more success you will have with them. For example, here are my classroom rules (borrowed from the Love and Logic Philosophy):
1. I allow students to remain in my classroom as long as they do not cause a problem for anyone else.
2. If they cause a problem, I will ask them to fix it.
3. If they can’t or will not fix it, I will do something.
4. What I do will depend on the unique situation.
4.Put relationships first. A positive student/teacher relationship is the most important tool that a teacher has. If a student trusts a teacher, knows that a teacher is safe, and believes that a teacher understands the difference between the student and his/her behavior, then the student will accomplish great things. Unfortunately, too many teachers mess up student relationships. Teachers either try to be “friends” with students which leads to confusion and a conflict in the student’s mind, or the teacher cannot separate a student’s behavior from the student him/herself which cements the idea that teachers or hypocritical and lacking grace. Either way, a negative relationship is formed. Our students come to us from one of two environments: they are either safe at home or not safe. A teacher’s only response to those two conditions is to remind the safe student of home and to provide a daily sanctuary for the unsafe child.
5. Make time for the important things. Schools are a draining place, and classrooms are exhausting for all involved. Both teaching and learning are difficult, and both the students and the teachers need opportunities to recharge, refill, and to find joy. As a teacher, make sure to carve out time from your day to enjoy the company of friends, a hobby, or an indulgence (my wife prefers dark chocolate). Share your challenges and successes with others, and humbly accept their coaching and congratulations. Be there for others, and remember that they feel the same way you do. Ask your students about their successes and challenges, gently coach and authentically congratulate them, and encourage them to find and chase joy as well.