Class Discipline: Some Tips
So you don’t kill people, maybe even enjoy them.
With school and work back in full swing, I thought I would write a couple of tips to help you keep control of a class. Working with a group of students, whether primary, high school or even adults can be tricky. As a teacher it may be the bane of your existence to try and just get everyone’s attention. And when that fails, most of your lessons may end with you losing your cool and having to raise your voice to atomic bomb levels or standing on a table to try and scare them into listening to you. Not a fun way to spend your life! Although some groups are easier and others harder, here a couple of practical things that might help.
Luck favours the prepared and there is no easier target for students who want to derail a lesson (and yes, there are those students! You probably have a face in mind right now) than a teacher who walks into the class and doesn’t really know what they are going to do for the next 30-45 minutes. If you don’t know where you’re going for a lesson, they will happily take the lead. In all likeliness you’re sick of hearing about doing lesson planning from your grade head and other people, but truth be told, it helps you the most. You can even tell the students early on in the lesson what is planned so that they know what will be expected of them. This actually helps the students relax and engage more. The ironic thing is that the more prepared you are, the more flexible you can be when things don’t go according to plan.
Set boundaries, consequences and a class culture
On the first day of class, resist the urge to launch into the crazy amount of work that you have to cover for the year (Maths teachers, I’m talking to YOU) and take at least a portion of your first lesson with every class to talk about what is acceptable and celebrated and what is not in your classroom, and what the consequences will be for certain behaviour. There are loads of ways to do this and depending on the age of the students you can involve them more or less in the process. Make sure that everyone knows and understands what has been decided and put it up visibly in your class. A few simple things to have a great culture are the hand rules, in one of my previous posts. Having these things laid out is MASSIVE because then everyone knows what is expected of them and what will happen if they don’t stick to those things. If no one knows what these things are, you’ll spend your year scrambling every time one of your students thinks of a new creative way to cause chaos in your classroom.
Once you have set boundaries and consequences, stick to what you’ve said you will do and do it EVERY TIME. It may be exhausting at times, but it is worth it and over time you will reap the rewards of being consistent even when you didn’t feel like it. People all test boundaries, they’re not being brats, they’re being human. Even in the heat of the moment, don’t make threats that you can’t or won’t follow through on. This will hugely undermine your authority and will tell them that the boundaries aren’t really set, they’re flexible. Which means that they will push the boundaries even more, making your job even harder. So things like, “If I come back and you’re not all working, you will all sit detention for the rest of the year!” and you say that in January. Seriously. Do you want to never drink coffee at break for the rest of the year. Noooo, don’t do it. Have a real consequence that you are committed to following through on, and then say that. When you do one thing one day and something else the next, it means that the stronger students will continually push the boundaries and the gentler students will be stressed because they don’t know what you expect of them and they don’t know how you will react. One day its fine if they make a noise, the next day you flip out. Your job as a teacher is to bring out the best in the students and not being consistent will bring out the worst. Angry rebellion from the strong students and fearful timidity from the quieter ones.
When some ball of hormones teenage boy is causing a ruckus at the back of the class, it’s not very effective shouting, “Hey you!” But when you know their name, it makes it much easier. In this way you can kill those little fires right from the beginning but just saying a student’s name and giving them THAT LOOK when they start getting out of line. If you have a lot of students, you could draw a map of your class, with the layout of the desks and in the first lesson have them all write their names. Then with every lesson, you can take out that map and have it close enough to glance at during the lesson. It has helped me loads! On another point, when you know someone’s name, it shows them that you value them. Learn their names and then don’t only use them as a weapon, call them out by name when you see something in them that you want to honour. As a teacher, your voice can be powerful, build your students up.
Have an organised feeling class
I didn’t say boring, I said organised. And I didn’t say chaos that you know where everything is, but everyone else feels like they’ve walked into the aftermath of a hurricane. The class should FEEL and BE organised. Even though you wouldn’t naturally think this has anything to do with keeping control of a group, when students walk into a shamble of a class, the impression they get is, “This teacher is not in control of her class, I can do whatever I want.” Which means that even if you are doing the other things right, you start on the back foot. Whereas when a student walks into a well organised, structured environment, they know that you are the one who is in control of this space. It also helps them feel safe.
I hope that these tips help you, please feel free to send me any additional tips you might have. I’m sure we could write a book on class discipline! Happy teaching!