10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My Students Quiet?

Five years ago, I wrote a series of seven articles called “Questions That Will Save Your Career” that still remain among the most visited articles on this site. When I wrote those, I had successfully completed my 5th year in education. This summer, after 10 years, I am revisiting some of these older concepts. Today, I revisit How Do I Keep My Students Quiet?

  1. How Do I Keep My Students Quiet?
  2. How Do I Keep My Students Engaged?
  3. How Do I Keep My Students Interested?
  4. How Do I Keep My Students Learning?
  5. How Do I Keep My Students Away From Me?
  6. How Do I Keep My School Administration Happy?
  7. How Do I Keep My Sanity?
  8. 10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My Students Quiet?
  9. 10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My Students Engaged?
  10. 10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My Students Interested?
  11. 10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My Students Learning?
  12. 10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My Students Away From Me?
  13. 10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My School Administration Happy?
  14. 10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My Sanity?

Why is it important to get students quiet?
As a professional educator, I know better what my students need to learn than they do. With that in mind, when I am sharing my expertise with them, they should be quiet and respectfully listen to what I am teaching.

Are we talking about complete silence?
I used to try to get students to remain silent for the entire duration of class so that they could hear everything that goes on and not miss out. Through the years, I have learned that while this was a great goal early on, after a certain level of skill is acquired, it becomes unnecessarily cumbersome to try to maintain. In some ways, my rehearsals (I am a band director, remember) have moved to a sort of “controlled chaos” state. If I need to work with an individual or a small group and some of the other students want to practice, I don’t get upset. But I make it very clear that when I am in front of the class or talking, they are to be silent. As I wrote five years ago, “poorly manager classrooms waste the time and the lives of everyone involved.”

So what are some tips for maintaining the flow of the rehearsal?
The tips I wrote before were:

  1. Accept responsibility
  2. Establish procedures
  3. Identify authority
  4. Avoid arguing at all costs
  5. Overexplain
  6. Overprepare
  7. Raise expectations
  8. CommunicateTo those, I would like to add:
  9. Practice silence
    I have found that most of the behavioral problems that occur in my classes are the direct result of one of two things.
    A) Too much unstructured dead time
    B) Me saying too muchI can control both of these. I can overprepare (tip #6 from above) to avoid the unstructured dead time. If I find that I am out of things to do even though I overprepared or at the very end of class, even something as simple as “The Quiet Game” can work from time to time.

    To avoid me saying too much, I just add more silence to my speaking. I once read of a band director who was having problems with his students talking as soon as they finished playing something. The advice that was given was to wait three seconds after they finished playing before saying anything. I tried that myself and it worked wonders. Identify when the noise happens and work backwards to see how you messed it up by saying something too soon. Ha.

  10. Slow down
    Often I will find myself so excited that I got the kids quiet that I will rush through whatever it is that I want them to say. Sometimes it is just a desperate attempt to get it all out before they realize they are being silent! What I find is that when I measure the pace of my speech and slow it down, I sound more authoritative. As a result, I get treated more authoritatively. BONUS: This will actually help you out in other areas of your life too.
  11. Respond, don’t react
    Once you get the rate of your speech controlled, you will find that a lot of other things in your body language are uncontrolled. Working hard to overcome reactionary body language will pay hugedividends in your teaching. A lot of times, students will say or do things because they expect to get a certain reaction. Maybe you turn red when you’re embarrassed or upset. Maybe after asking you the seventh time, you finally give in and say yes. Not long after they meet you, they will figure out how to push a button or two of yours. The more you premeditate how you will respond to a situation, the less likely you will be to simply react and lose control.When you lose control of yourself, you lose control of the class.

    There are times when I realize that whatever it is that I am doing now (telling a joke, getting upset over something, etc.) is about to cause me to lose control of the class. At those times when you can identify that you are about to lose control, you must completely refocus the class. Or else it’s gone for the rest of the day, or at least for a good length of time…

  12. Develop “the look”
    Video tape yourself, use a mirror, practice at the grocery store. Whatever it takes, get to where you can look at a kid and they automatically know they are wrong. Because of this skill, I haven’t verbally told a kid to throw their gum away in years, but it happens almost daily. They just know they are wrong when they see me gazing at them. Poor kids don’t stand a chance!
  13. Be friendly (without being friends)
    I like my students. I have dozens of former students who have already graduated (as per my personal policy) and gone on with their lives who add me as a Facebook friend. But there must be a line between being friendly with the students and being their friend. It goes back to tip #3, if you are friends, then you are equals and nobody is in control. But that’s not how my classroom works. I am the benevolent dictator of the Band Hall! I am courteous when I talk with the students and I clearly show that I care about them. Even so, they know that there is a line and if they cross it, I go from being their best friend to their worst nightmare. But I prefer to stay on the happy side! I find that things run the smoothest when students have a combination of respect, admiration, and a little bitty touch of fear.
  14. Be respectful
    I teach middle school, but even when I go to the elementary campuses, I refer to the students as “ladies and gentlemen” rather than “boys and girls.” Unless the whole class is acting in an extraordinarily immature fashion, and then I will use the “Kindergarten Teacher Voice” and say something like, “Okay boys and girls, I need you to sit up straight and listen. Can you listen, boys and girls?” At that point, they realize they have crossed the line and usually shape up. 

    Respect is a two-way street, and if you want them to respect you, you must respect them. All of them. Even the weirdo smelly ones. It’s not their fault.

  15. Always be on a mission
    Be prepared and know exactlywhere you are taking the class. Have one major goal for the class, and be sure you get it done. With band, if my major goal is to fix a certain passage of music and I have the students play it five times without fixing it, I will move on. That may mean we continue working on that passage but in a different style. If I find myself repeating the same exact concept five times in a row with minimal improvement, I am about to lose most of the students. When I lose them, classroom management chaos is quick to follow.When I have a mission that must be accomplished, I can better prioritize which battles are necessary to fight today and which ones can wait for another day. Students pick up on it too if you know where you’re going. They see the fire in your eyes and know that today is not the day to cross you.

    If they see that fire of passion burning in your eyes every day, then you are on your way to being amazing!

About Joel Wagner 522 Articles
Joel Wagner (@sywtt) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. So You Want To Teach? is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

2 Comments on 10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My Students Quiet?

  1. Interesting post. I believe that there are times when students need to be quiet in the classroom (when you are sharing important directions or information). Students should understand and take responsibility for their actions in the classroom, as you stated above. Even with all that being said, I do think that there are also times when students should be able to make noise. By noise, I mean the noise of collaborating, working on projects, offering input, etc. I wrote about this aspect of teaching at : http://educationalaspirations.wordpress.com/2012/05/11/1039/ I look forward to your next post.

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