I was so scared I was going to be a bad teacher.
I have loved art since I was a kid. I grew up in a creative household that put art, music and creative expression before anything else. We painted and drew around the kitchen table daily, made homemade movies on the weekends and I got my first ukulele when I was a toddler. Art is and always has been my passion. Art class in high school was my favorite place and eventually I thought that I could make a career out of it.
As much as I loved art as a teenager and college student, I didn’t really like kids. GASP! I know teachers shouldn’t say that, but I have never been a “kid person”. I hated babysitting, never EVER wanted to be a camp counselor and I didn’t know how to talk to or interact with kids naturally. My relatives still make fun of me because I get really nervous holding babies and try to avoid it at all cost. (That soft spot on their skull…I do not want to be responsible for that!)
So I was nervous about this teaching career I got myself into. What if my students hated me? What if I hated them?
I was always told in college that classroom management would be everyone’s biggest challenge as a teacher. So, I obsessively read about it, took notes when observing veteran teachers and swore I would kick classroom managements butt when it was my turn.
Ten years of successful teaching later, it turns out I really, really REALLY like my students. I care about each of them and my passion for art is now competing against my passion for education. I feel like teaching is my craft just as much, if not more, than creating art.
Art teachers have a really nuanced job, and we get a true sample of a schools population. Because of the diverse nature of my students and large class sizes, I have learned so much about how to treat and interact with young people. It turns out that my personality traits of being obsessive and need for routine are really great compliments for teaching.
Here are my golden rules of classroom management that have helped me teach a diverse range of students from ten year olds to second chance nineteen year olds.
- Talk LESS
- Speak SOFTLY
- Contact parents MORE
- Contact parents for POSITIVE Things
- Practice POSITIVE Body Language
Student’s can tune teachers out soooo easily. As an adult I know I can! Students have fatigue from all of the voices they hear telling them over and over again what to do and what not to do. I have learned that saying less can be very effective. Chunk information into small manageable pieces. I will start class by saying something like “It will take me about 5 minutes to review the technique, then we will discuss questions and then you will have a solid 30 minutes of interrupted work time.” Or, “Today we are learning a brand new technique and it will be a “bossy teacher” day and I will be talking and stopping you throughout the entire class period. Tomorrow this will be a review so you have more than double the time to work uninterrupted.”
Giving students insight as to how and why you are teaching concepts a certain way help them engage with the chunks of information you are presenting to them. I know some classes and subject matters tend to be more lecture style, but there are plenty of activities and methods to get your content across without reading it like it’s the pledge of allegiance each day. Students learn by experiencing and we live in the technology age. Students don’t need an adult reading facts to them anymore. Right, Alexa?
One of the quickest ways to burn out is to be the constantly yelling teacher. You can be a strong authority figure without losing your voice daily. Silence and quiet discipline is so effective. If a student is doing something they shouldn’t be doing, my physical presence alone can be enough to deter them. If a kid is turned around in their seat talking and not working, I will slowly and silently walk towards them. Sometimes they won’t notice me for thirty seconds and I’ll just stand there.
Eventually they will look up and see me, and the most common reaction is a mumbled “sorry!” as they turn back to their work. If this is an ongoing problem I’ll lean in and quietly remind them of their expectation and what will happen if it continues. A quiet and respectful conversation is much more effective than yelling at or calling out a student.
Consequences should be set up on the first day and reinforced throughout the semester. Verbal warnings, parent phone calls, detention slips, missing ten minutes of recess, whatever the consequences may be, students should know what will happen if their behavior continues.
This method also works well in large group situations. During lunch duty this week I saw a boy from across the cafeteria put another kid in a playful headlock. This is a daily occurrence with 11-12 year olds and it is so frustrating. My first reaction was to yell “HEY! WHAT HAVE I TOLD YOU ABOUT KEEPING YOUR HANDS TO YOURSELF!!!” across the cafeteria. (I am 100% guilty of doing this from time to time…)
Instead I walked over and stood next to him for a solid minute while he continued to “play around”. He eventually looked up at me and I handed him his cafeteria ticket. He slumped a little, filled it out and I walked away without saying a word. When expectations are established you don’t need to yell.
I’m not saying I’ve never yelled at school. (I do recess duty daily soooooo…) Just this week I told a coworker that I felt like all I did today was be mean and yell at kids. But I have found that I can not raise my voice all day, have really smooth classroom management and go home without a headache.
Contact Parents More
One of the most effective forms of classroom management is making students realize their actions affect them outside of your classroom. The realization that their school world and home world can collide is very meaningful. If you give a student a warning and later say I will call home to discuss this, call home to discuss it.
I worked at a gym in college and one of my jobs was to call members who had not shown up in thirty days. How awkward is that? I had to call, say we miss you, and then basically ask why they haven’t come to the gym. Let’s just say I got good at forced small talk and embarrassing discussions quickly.
I firmly believe in the compliment sandwich when talking to parents. My script goes something like “Hi, I’m Ms. Machado, Sierra’s art teacher here at ____! I am calling to touch base about her progress in art class. Is this a good time to talk?” I make sure to speak with a cheerful authority. “Sierra is doing a great job with her painting, I can really see her progress as an artist. However, today she was tardy for the third time and our school policy is detention after the third tardy. I wanted to call you first to make sure you were aware of this issue so we can be on the same page.” After we talk, I always end with “my main goal is Sierra’s success in my class. Please don’t hesitate to call or email me!”
I have had only two phone calls in ten years NOT end with a positive thank you and pledge for support from home. And I’ve made hundreds of calls! Even if that support doesn’t realllly happen, the student knows you are a teacher who sticks to their word and if they act up in your class it will cause them some discomfort at home. And you can assign that detention next time and fill out the date of your prior parent contact proudly, confident they can’t say they “didn’t see it coming”.
Contact Parents for Positive Things More Often
One of my most effective rituals is my Friday positive email routine. I pick three students from each class I teach and send home a positive email. This takes less than ten minutes (I copy and paste a paragraph that I then tailor for each kid) and it is so powerful.
I start with picking middle of the road kids that I think are overlooked, kids I know that have behavior problems elsewhere but are making real effort in my class, and kids that have documented disabilities. Parents are always so touched that a teacher has taken the effort to let them know they’re doing a great job. One of the most common responses is “this is the first time a teacher has contacted me for something positive!”
One of my proudest moments my first year teaching was an IEP meeting with a kid with some real troubling behavior problems. My coaching mentor (shout out to Kathy O’Quinn!) had guided me through parent contact right away my first year.
Each teacher took a turn sharing the issues they were having with the student and you could see the mom continue to shrink as she heard the learning and behavior issues pile up. When it got to be my turn, she looked at me and smiled “Oh, I know how he’s doing in art class. Ms. Machado and I talk almost every day.”
I could not believe how powerful that was for the student, his mom and my own personal confidence as a brand new teacher.
Practice Positive Body Language
Body language is so important as a teacher. Many times I’ve had my arms crossed and a frown on my face because I was in deep thought about something. Kids will comment “are you in a bad mood?” or “oh no, what’s wrong?”. And I realize oops, my body language is putting off strong vibes.
Teachers are one of the worlds greatest performers. We are bombarded with so many adolescents emotional needs and we have to present as calm and positive even if our own worlds are falling apart.
I have to remind myself to smile, stand up straight and interact with kids in a way that makes them feel safe and comfortable. I try to walk around a lot, speak with my arms out and open, and try to address kids side to side instead of directly head on. An angry adult looming over a kid can be triggering and intimidating. I try to speak quietly and softly when I have a kid one-on-one.
Another way I practice positive body language is praise the kids who are doing things right instead of harping on the kids making bad choices. “I love how Sierra is in her seat and already has her sketchbook out and open!” Focusing on the positive behaviors let students know you notice them when they’re doing the right thing and doesn’t put the focus on the frequent offenders.
I have to remind myself that many kids come to me from really unbalanced home lives and that part of my responsibility is to be a safe place for all students. We do require students by law to attend school, so it is major part of our educational role in a wider societal scope.
After years of teacher fails, self reflection and “well, that didn’t go well” moments, I have found these five golden rule classroom management strategies. It may seem like a lot of work at first, but sticking to these basic guidelines cuts out so much of the stress and frustration of teaching. Try implementing just one of these at a time and I guarantee you will leave school with less stress! They will be second nature in no time and you will wonder how you ever survived before.
What are your classroom management golden rules?