Classroom Management Blues

My biggest flaw as a teacher is consistency in my classroom management. While I have improved greatly since last year, I attribute that more to my students than to my abilities. Last year I was very consistent about no put downs. For every put down, students have to say two nice things. I have super good hearing (unlike my eyesight) and so I usually catch every comment, murmur, or whisper. The two nice things are usually kinda dumb but I'm so consistent in making them do it that it really has helped them to catch themselves before they thoughtlessly call someone stupid, dumb, or retarded.

So, in addition to that, this year I've been working on consistently enforcing the no purse/bag rule, and the no bathroom rule. While these are both school policies, and not my own choice of classroom rules, I am proud of myself for sticking to them. I love how easy it is to look at the student and say, "You know the rule." They know the rule and the consequence and they choose accordingly. Makes classroom management easy peasy lemon squeezy.

The problem, or 'issue' I should call it, is that I don't enforce my own personal rules and consequences for the classroom. Honestly, a lot of stuff just doesn't bother me. I don't even notice if students get up to throw something away or sharpen their pencil while I'm talking. Especially since I've moved to so much group work, I'm rarely lecturing away for them to even be able to interrupt me. I don't care if they chew gum or eat in my room. I don't expect them to raise their hand and wait to be called on. For the most part, I don't care if they sit in another seat. Again, group work has pretty much eliminated that issue because I have chairs sectioned into teams of 4 and so everyone stays with their teams.

All this to say, I don't feel that there is a problem, but that was the only thing I was marked low on during my formal evaluation. I think I need to take a look through a different perspective and brainstorm how I could make my classroom a better learning environment for all. While certain things may not necessarily bother me, there is always a way to make things better. And I have had students complain at different times about the noise level and how other students are complaining instead of working. Sometimes my classroom can be a chaotic place.

One idea I read about over the weekend ( from Conscious Classroom Management by Rick  Smith) is when asking for answers, to not call on any student to answer until at least half of the hands in the classroom are raised. Then call on each one of them without acknowledging correctness or incorrectness but by saying 'thank you' to each student. I like this idea, but as I mentioned in a previous post, I've been using a timer to randomly select students to explain to the class so again, hand raising isn't really an issue.

I'm working on implementing roles for each team member to gain even more accountability but I need help. If you have any links to blogs, books, or articles on cooperative learning roles, could you please post them in the comments?

One of my classes is spent entirely online using ALEKS, an online math curriculum. A lot of my students hate it and spend time complaining and freezing up their computers so that they don't have to participate.  I sent the students  a message explaining that I would now be grading them on the time spent each day actively working (ALEKS provides that in a simple report for me.) I can't fairly grade them on how fast they are mastering material so this was the only thing I could think of. There are 20 points possible per week, 4 per day. Here is the scale:

  • 1-10 minutes- 1 point
  • 11-20 minutes- 2 points
  • 21-30 minutes- 3 points
  • 31-40 minutes- 4 points

We have 45 minute class periods so I think that is fair. If students work more than 40 minutes, they get 5 points for the day.

This has helped some because now the complainers are being held accountable and the diligent workers don't feel like they are working for nothing. I'm not sure how much student learning is really going on, but that's another post...

My previous post was about procedures and so I guess this one is asking for suggestions of more procedures. What my administrators mentioned to me, is that even though all students were participating within their groups, were they actively participating and am I aware of the quieter, more unnoticeable students level of understanding? I think this can be handled by assigning roles to each team member and eventually moving to team members assessing each other.

My real downfall is language in the classroom. I abhor cussing but I pretty much let it slide. I can't figure out why I am this way. I hate it. I never use it. But when I hear students say it, I give the evil eye and say "Language!" in my stern grown-up voice. And they apologize and we resume our normally scheduled programming. Also, even though I don't allow put downs, there are just a lot of negative vibes. I have a couple students who are rather outspoken. Let's call them bullies, just for analogy's sake. They are experts at subtle and not so subtle comments that are rude or cocky or degrading to others. I don't know how to deal with it really. How do I write someone up for saying something that implies someone else is stupid but without saying anyone's name or that they're stupid? Ugh, I wish I had an example. Or people that are just very sarcastic, or interrupt class to say something totally irrelevant, or just snap out on 'the air', etc. I feel weird about making up an new consequence or something because what I'm doing is basically targeting 4-5 people and trying to punish them. Does that make sense? What I really need to do is deal with these specific students but I don't really know how to do that. Also, I have phone phobia. Is it okay to send a letter home to parents instead of calling them? In my opinion, it is safer because nothing can be misconstrued and keeping copies can help cover my butt if anything ever comes up. Then students, parents, teacher, administrators are all on the same page. But then again, I am biased against phones...And I have to address the students before the parents right? I'm being a coward.

During some PD last year, a guy told us about just stopping the class and having a discussion with them about a behavior that you want to change. Make a t-chart of good and bad examples, what it should look like and what it shouldn't. Bring students attention to the problem and a variety of solutions. And so forth. But just like the above paragraph, I have a hard time explaining what the problem is. They have to have a concrete understanding of what is upsetting me before they can quit doing it. Right?

This is the biggest setback and interruption to student's learning environment that I can think of.

How can I bring peace?


  1. Sometimes I think we are forced to handle things that are outside our jurisdiction. Cussing, for example. I pretty much handle it the way you do, and I do it because so many of these kids believe it is a part of normal speech. While I've really been trying to curb it, I even cuss from time to time. So rather than being punitive about the issue, I call their attention to it and move on--unless it becomes and obvious habit (or the f-bomb...inexcusable).

    Sarcastic comments can be a little more difficult to tame. In the past, I have held those four or five students and talked to them about the unacceptable behavior. It never hurts to let them know you know what's going on and it will not be tolerated. Then, treat that statement the same way you treat your put-downs. It is, after all, the same behavior.

    For personal rules: Just remember most of your students will do whatever you require from them. If you require attention and respect you will get it from the majority of them. If you let them walk all over you and do what they want, that's how they'll act. Really assess your rules. Are they things you value and want for your students? If not, you're probably trying to create some sort of ideal that may not be necessary.

    My general rule is to avoid being punitive. The rules are the same for everyone, but I'm not going to seek out ways to punish you. I'm going to make every effort to get to the root of the behavior without tolerating the inexcusable behaviors. Where the rules are silent, that often requires being fair instead of being equal. But I've found that my relationships with those students have grown when they see that I am willing to get to the root of the issue.

  2. My problem is that when I say this behavior will not be tolerated, the next time they do it, I tolerate it. That's what I mean by consistency. I don't know how to make myself enforce the rules.

    My administrators advise me to write them up. The consequences for referrals are scaffolded so that each time the punishment gets progressively worse. Their mentality is that eventually, they will change their behavior. But to me, I want to handle as much as I can in the classroom. Except that I'm not really handling anything, I'm just acknowledging it but not doing anything to stop or prevent it.

    Basically I'm a softy. I don't think they walk all over me and my class is not total chaos, but there are two periods where people know they have the freedom to tell random stories, get the class off topic, be sarcastic, etc because I'm not going to do anything about it. But what am I supposed to do?

  3. For starters, you should pick a few things that you think are unacceptable and you want to address. Cursing, for example. I think even if a teacher is lax, they should never allow a kid to curse, because it's a sign that they let things slide, and kids pick up on that and take major advantage.

    The second thing I recommend is to realize that you DO have options, and to make a list of them. Sometimes the most obvious tactics are the things that we skip over.

    * Have you called home?
    * Have you made them serve after-school detention where they can do nothing but sit very still for 45 minutes?
    * Have you kept them after class (into lunch / past 3pm) until the work is ABSOLUTELY done/perfected?
    * Have you moved their seat to the corner of the room? Facing the wall?
    * Have you kept a behavior log and made them sign it / write in it every time they screw up and have to talk to you after class?
    * Have you taken them outside during class and talked to them outside about their behavior?
    * Have you met their parents in person? Have you met them with an administrator?
    * Have you taken away their gym/lunch?
    * Have you taken off points EVERY time they forget to bring their book or are caught not listening in class?
    * Have you said, "I will count to three ..." and written them up for not moving away their seat after your counting expired?

    If you have a policy for each must-fix behavior and you have consistently (I know, it's really hard!) enforced those consequences every single day for a full month, you'll start to see visible differences. The nice thing about having a list is that you can switch it up; if it's not working for one kid, change it up. Let the kid stay on their toes about what you might do to them next time, until they just stop doing it.

  4. I agree with Mimi-- I also struggled mightily with classroom management my first year, and I had to pick one thing at a time so I didn't bite off more than I could chew.
    * It helped to observe veteran teachers to see how they responded to minor misbehavior, and then videotape myself to try and see what I didn't see in the moment.
    * Setting super clear expectations out loud was also helpful, because just thinking "oh, I don't want it to get above a certain volume" made it easy for me to think "well, maybe it's not that bad," but if I had told the class that they needed to whisper, that helped hold me accountable too.
    * I also had to get over the fear that students might not listen-- as hard as it was to ignore that "what if they don't get quiet when I start counting down?" I was pleasantly surprised by how often students responded when they could tell from my voice that I was serious and how rarely I actually needed to step up the consequences (although I totally didn't believe veteran teachers when they told me it would work).
    * Also, my management was the best on days when I was really fired up about the content I was teaching-- when I was so excited about my plans that I really could not afford for a single student to be off topic for a second.

    In terms of resources, I've heard the best reviews of Lee Canter's Assertive Discipline, Fred Jones, and Doug Lemov's "Teach Like a Champion." I used all three at various points in my teaching, and liked Lemov the best because it aligned most closely with what I saw working in veteran teachers' classrooms in my school-- reading his management techniques was like "duh, why didn't I think of that?" and "oh! I already do that, but here's how I could do it better!"

  5. I'm a beginner teacher (and beginner blogger!), so struggle with a lot of the same stuff in terms of classroom management. But wanted to say I came across some good ideas on Riley Lark's blog here about roles for cooperative learning (from the Virtual Conference on Soft Skills). Hope that's helpful :-)

  6. Mimi,
    That list is a totally sensible list of things to do. But even just reading them, I'm thinking "Yeahh...I'm not going to do any of those." With one student in particular, I could probably give you a reason why every one of those things wouldn't work. And in terms of classroom management, he's the one student I'm always worried about. It's like no one can help me because I can't make myself do it! Arghhh

    I definitely have the same fear that students won't listen, actually, that's probably the main problem. Every time someone tells me a strategy to try, I automatically say "Well what if they...?" I started reading Lemov's book but didn't make it all the way through. But I just started Fred Jones's Tools for Teaching last night so hopefully I will find something helpful.

    Thanks for the link, it was pretty much perfect. And I'm checking out your blog. Congratulations on doing and welcome to the blogosphere. I also highly recommend joining the twitterverse. =)

  7. January is always a time where I do a mid-course correction. Student (or I) get a bit lax and comfortable, certain behaviors change for the worse. So I take the opportunity to remind them of the classroom policies from Sept, and that they should be BETTER students than they were in Sept., not worse. Then, I tell them any changes I'm making, and why. For example, my 9th graders in Dec/Jan have slacked on HW and studying. So, I said that if they don't have HW, they will have a lunch detention with me, and they will have to do the work, plus anything I might assign (total of 15 min). First day, I gave out 20 lunch detentions, next day, 5, after that, few or none.

    One thing I agree with Dr. Phil about -- kids must understand the rules, and know with 100% certainty that the consequence will occur.

  8. Nancy,
    That would be all well and good if I actually went through with consequences. Therein lies the problem!

  9. What is your rapport with your students like (particularly the tough ones that you already know nothing will work with)? If you do have a good rapport, it won't take much on your part to let them know that you don't appreciate an action or attitude. Even a short private(ish) conversation about something you don't appreciate will resonate with students who respect you, even if you don't know they respect you.

  10. Mrs. R,
    I have a good rapport for the most part but my classroom management strategy is really just to ignore them. They kind of float around to the back of the classroom and so I teach to the front and basically ignore them.

    I'm at the point now where I feel that if they don't care that they're failing, why should I?

  11. I completely think the same thing most days. Then I look at the faces of the kids trying to do their work while being distracted by the ones who don't care/gave up/like to goof off, and I feel really badly for not doing anything to quell the distractions at the back of the room. Those are the kids that I draw my motivation from. I would love to ignore some kids (I'm hardcore non-confrontational), but unfortunately, it doesn't just hurt them, it hurts the other kids. I don't know if thinking of it that way will help, but it's worth a shot.

  12. Well it could help if I thought that was true, but I just don't think that's the case in my room. I think it hurts kids more for me to waste time yelling at the disruptive students and trying to engage them rather than just focusing my whole attention on the ones who want to learn. It's a bad situation but I'm not sure what to do. The kids are so far behind that there is no way I could catch them up in one or two sittings and I just don't know what to do. So I do nothing...

  13. reading this post four years after the last comment ... I am a first year teacher and my biggest classroom management challenge is very similar. Have you found a successful way to tackle this problem? Thank you!

    1. Could you be more specific on which problem you're facing? Overall, I have to say that consistency has been my best classroo management strategy. I thought they would hate me and be rude to me and not listen but the opposite is true. When you are consistent (and you have to just make yourself do it) students see that you are treating everyone fairly. That builds their respect and trust with you. It also sets the expectation of the classroom. You really just have to decide one day that you're going to start being a butthole about the rules. And you keep telling yourself to be a butthole about the rules every day until one day you don't have to anymore.

      Here are some of my key phrases that help the most:

      "I need all eyes up here please."

      "I need less talking and more working please."

      "You are about to get yourself a referral. Please stop."

      "Are you working?" "No." "Can you?"

      "Is there a situation that I need to handle?"

      Please comment if there is something I can answer more specifically!