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15 Tricks To Transform Yourself From Classroom Bully Into A Favorite Teacher

722729_bad_guyRamona writes:

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.

Any thoughts?

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:

  1. Stay personally engaged in the class the entire time (be on top of your game)
  2. Nurture a culture of encouragement
  3. Compliment, compliment, compliment
  4. Be prepared (students, especially middle school students, smell fear)
  5. Have a backup plan
  6. Have a backup plan for the backup plan
  7. Choose your words mindfully
  8. 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”
  9. Keep the students engaged for as much of the class time as possible
  10. Be aware of what’s going on in the classroom; often misbehaviors will have early warning signs
  11. Don’t take yourself too seriously
  12. Have fun
  13. Avoid stress
  14. Avoid burnout
  15. Read the comments below
See also  5 Keys To Educating People

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.

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.

Joel Wagner
Joel Wagner (<strong><a href="">@sywtt</a></strong>) 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. <strong><a href="">So You Want To Teach?</a></strong> is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

8 thoughts on “15 Tricks To Transform Yourself From Classroom Bully Into A Favorite Teacher

  1. I agree keeping students engaged and being prepared for all possibilities are too of the best way to avoid negative behaviors in the classroom. I also think routines and clear expectations are important in the classroom. Known expectations and consistency are vital. Students should also be aware of what will happen if rules and expectations are not being met. The students need to be aware that when learning is being disrupted it will be dealt with fairly and quickly so that learning can continue.
    I also think that students benefit from logical consequences. Life is full of them. For example, if you write a bad check you may have fees and it could even damage your credit. I think as authority figures in students' lives it is part of our duty to teach them to be responsible and hold them accountable for their actions. They will be unable to hold a job in the future if they are not responsible. In the classroom if someone is doing something that is not in line with classroom expectations and disrupting the learning going on in the classroom, it needs to be addressed. Usually, the behavior is evident to the test of the class, as well. They are watching to see what you are going to do. Giving a consequence may be a little embarrassing to the student, yet in the long run it will benefit the whole class and the teacher. If possible I try to talk to the student privately about her behavior but sometimes it has to be dealt with in front of the class. Of course, it needs to be done in a respectful manner. The student needs to know that you are addressing the behavior. It has nothing to do with what you think of the student. This will help all students feel safe in your classroom and take your class seriously.

  2. I agree with the previous respondent. Adress the behaviour separately from the person. Talk about the choices that he/she is making. I always find it useful to say something along the lines of "I like you (expand on this by identifying something positive if you wish) but I don't like what you have chosen to do (be specific if appropriate). I know that you can do the right thing (again if appropriate, suggest the right thing for him/her to do)". Furthermore – and I know this is hard sometimes – remain calm and don't raise your voice – shouting can mean that you've lost! Thats not to say never shout – shouting is one tool in our toolbag but like other tools, should not be the first one that we turn to to get attention! Hope this helps – good luck!

  3. Another great post!

    I like the compliment part of it. I like making the student a star for a moment also. When I'm asking for responses or answers to a particularly tough questions (even if it's not a tough questions), if a student gets an answer correct, I'll make a big deal to stop the class and have him/her repeat the correct answers. "Wait! Did you all hear what he said? Say it again." For that one small moment, he/she is the star of the class. This especially works well with students who normally don't get the best grades.
    Thanks again Joel!


  4. I too am a new teacher (urban high school) – teaching music/ choir. One thing I have found that works well for me is using the same phrase to get their attention all the time. I use "Ladies and Gentlemen" (last year, when I taught elementary, I used "boys and girls.") I didn't ever announce that "Ladies and Gentlemen" means pay attention. However, I used it ALL the time, multiple times per class when I wanted it to catch their attention. Now, they respond almost immediately. I think on some unconscious level they connect "Ladies and Gentlemen" with "stop talking and pay attention."

    Last year when teaching elementary school, I would compliment individual behavior until everyone at a given moment was behaving appropriately. Even if I wanted to scream, I experimented with calmly saying "I like the way David is sitting. I like the way Amanda is listening." Sometimes, I had to name 10-15 or even 20 students before the few that were not on task caught on, but eventually, they always got it. This process took up a lot more time at first, but after a while, they listened for it and as soon as I started to compliment someone, most of the kids would switch to good behavior and try to get a compliment. (Side note – great way to learn their names!)

    Finally, I agree with the comment on routines. I start every class with a rhythm exercise. They have a sequence of papers and we will work on the same paper for several days, so they know that's what we'll start with. Because it's a large group activity done in unison aloud (reading rhythm patterns with ta, ti-ti, etc… syllables), enough people are on task immediately that eventually, everyone catches on. I've found that having a simple, group activity that needs no explanation is a good way to start class (well, for me anyway) because it's hands on immediately versus "listen to these directions…" It gets them sitting and learning and practicing right away and then I move on with the rest of the class.

  5. I am a new teacher as well. Though I am struggling with many things (manly the paperwork), classroom management seems to be where I shine. This is a new career for me and because of that I have a few more tricks up my sleeve which the students are interested in. I owned a fitness company for 14 years previous to this career change and I use it a lot. I used some kick boxing in a boring maths lesson starter the other day (2-punch time 2-punch is four- kick)

    I also use some "power teach" techniques. Check out the Youtube videos. I tell them funny stories once a week which they LOVE if they are good.

    I have a point system which seems to work as well, but at the end of the day, I think it is my personal relationship with them that is the strongest motivator. Watch Sir Ken Robinson's 2006 TED talk on Schools killing Creativity and his second TED talk from 2010. Very motivating.

  6. Thank you for all of the advice on classroom management techniques. I am doing my student teaching this year and one of my biggest concerns is regarding classroom management. I have been told that if you have classroom management, everything else will fall smoothly in place. Like Ramona, I would never want to resort to humiliating a child so that they behave appropriately. I love all of the suggestions from seasoned teachers. Thanks!

  7. Bond with the class clown/trouble maker. It is usually clear upon entering the classroom who this particular "leader" is. I try to jump right in with that student before class even begins to learn his/her name and something about them. This is the easiest way to start off on the right foot with a student who you will likely deal with very quickly upon the start of the lesson. Then once the distracting behaviour makes it's appearance, you have a name and connection with this student to say; "um Jimmy, could you please stop that". You have now acknowledged the behaviour and named the offender in a polite, respectful way. Follow this up by calling on "Jimmy" to help you with something, whether its to answer a question or to set up the TV. I have used this tactic many times, and I often find that the "class clown" turns into the "teacher's pet".

  8. I don't believe it's necessary to humiliate children to have good classroom management. I believe the key is setting up expectations with them from the beginning. Never talk over students. The tendency is to start the lesson……..always wait for your students to stop talking before you begin. Also, it's so important to get to know your students. Asking a student, by name, gets their attention and doesn't humiliate them. It lets them know their behavior is unacceptable. You can ask a student to stop talking in a repectful way.

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