I am a first year teacher struggling with classroom management at the elementary school level. I have some logistical challenges because I don’t have my own classroom and travel between classes and schools with a cart. I also have almost 300 different students I see every week. But mostly my problem is that I don’t like to humiliate children and make them feel bad, which seems to be what most classroom management looks like. Of course a child feels embarrassed if you administer some kind of punishment to him or her in front of the whole class. But it seems like if I don’t do that, the kids will walk all over me and I will quit (sooner rather than later) out of frustration and exhaustion. But is my own survival in the profession more important than kids’ feelings? This is the kind of thing I am struggling with.
I have learned that one of the best punishments is to withhold compliments. I attended a clinic about beginning band at the Texas Music Educators Association clinic a few years ago taught by Charles Menghini. Since I can’t seem to find the clinic handout anywhere at my house or anything, I’ll paraphrase to the best of my ability.
He described how he listens to beginner band students play one at a time:
Student 1 plays: “Oh wow, that’s an excellent sound! Fantastic job, Johnny!”
Student 2 plays: “Amazing! I can really tell you practiced this week. I really enjoyed that.”
Student 3 plays (not so well): “Oh, that’s good.”
Students 4 plays: “Wonderful…”
The point being that the worst complaint the student has is, “My teacher said I did a good job!”
I used to be really mean and make the students call home during the middle of class and try to embarrass them or whatever, but then it struck me:
Fear motivates people to do enough to get by. Encouragement motivates people to do their best.
How do I manage my classroom without humiliating the students?
So how then do I do it? For me, it’s a combination of a number of factors:
- Stay personally engaged in the class the entire time (be on top of your game)
- Nurture a culture of encouragement
- Compliment, compliment, compliment
- Be prepared (students, especially middle school students, smell fear)
- Have a backup plan
- Have a backup plan for the backup plan
- Choose your words mindfully
- Create a sense of urgency — I have created the habit of beginning every class by telling my students, “Get set up quickly, we have a lot of work to do today”
- Keep the students engaged for as much of the class time as possible
- Be aware of what’s going on in the classroom; often misbehaviors will have early warning signs
- Don’t take yourself too seriously
- Have fun
- Avoid stress
- Avoid burnout
- Read the comments below
There are surely tons of other nuanced things that I do from day-to-day, but hopefully this list will help get those of you struggling with this issue started. Did I miss something? Add it in the comments below.