Sometimes being a teacher is far too stressful. Mounting workloads, lack of resources and even staff shortages cause all manner of issues within a school, but the biggest disruption is one that has always existed – keeping control of the classroom. The best laid plans can go awry when one student decides that today is the day they’re going to impress everyone by refusing to behave. Well, don’t lose your head – here’s a few tips for keeping control of the classroom.
The rules in your classroom will define the way it runs. The advice often given is to have 5 very clear, very firm rules. You need to make them short and easy to remember, and you need to teach them in a positive light. Remind students that behaving isn’t just going to avoid reprimanding, but can also lead to rewards. It’s also a good idea to get students to agree to the rules, through show of hands or even a written agreement. But don’t forget that you too will have to obey them. It has to be a fair system, one rule for them is just as much a rule for you.
Sometimes misbehaviour is simply a misunderstanding of the boundaries. If someone is acting up, let them know why it’s not acceptable and explain what the rules are. Don’t let the student feel like a victim of ignorance – first offenses can slip, but repeat behaviour requires a firmer hand. Lay down the law and you’ll find that most, if not all students will be more than happy to obey. The point is to not assume malice – when you have someone actually causing active disruption you need to have no ambiguity that that’s what’s going on.
Is it better to be loved, or feared? Machiavelli is said to have fallen on the side of feared, but in truth he agreed the ideal was both. When disciplining students it’s always best to deal with the student in a way that they will be able to understand and accept, but if you need to put your foot down make sure not to hold back on the agreed consequences of breaking the rules. Authority is derived from respect, and to earn respect you must be consistent, both in mercy and in justice.
Arguing is a guaranteed root to misery, it inflames a pupil’s need to “win” and will lead to further disruption. Instead make sure you discipline students separately, as this gets them in an environment where they don’t have to defend their ego. Tell them they’ve broken the rules and then instigate punishment, don’t instigate a shouting match. Do hear your students out, let them make their case, but only once. Think of it as a 3 stage conversation.
Explain what rule they have broken.
Allow them to respond
If their input doesn’t change your mind enforce the punishment.
Don’t mistake not arguing for not listening – often the scuffles in the playground are rarely one student acting up, so make sure that all those involved are dealt with appropriately, and don’t punish the innocent, as nothing will erode your authority faster than being unfair.
As we’ve established, consistency is everything, so even when you aren’t in you’ve got to keep your classroom in order. Create a printed pack for substitute teachers explaining what the rules are and the expectation of the pupils. It might even be a good idea to have the substitute teacher explain to pupils that they’re aware of the rules and that they too agree with them. If you’ve done your job well, kids will respect the authority you laid down for the rules, even when you aren’t there.
Don’t hold grudges – there’s no such thing as a “troublemaker”. Once a student has served the consequence of their misbehaviour they should be treated like all the others regardless of past behaviour. If you help cultivate the reputation of a troublemaker it’ll become a self fulfilling prophecy, so try to encourage pupils to refresh their attitudes.
Keeping control of the classroom is tricky, but create a proper culture of discipline and you’ll soon see the need to monitor behaviour fade into the background of everyday teaching. It’s worth bearing in mind that although discipline is worth maintaining, rewards are what backup good behaviour.
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