Friday, May 3, 2013

How to Tame the Tigers

This year is my "tenure" year.  That means, that it is the end of my third year and that I have some job stability after this point.  Through this year, if there are cuts in my department, I am at risk.  Of course, the people who have joined the faculty more recently go first, but it happens.  As part of my tenure, I have to create this "justify my existence" binder that includes documentation in categories such as professional development, instructional delivery, and learning environment.  One thing that is to be included is my "classroom management philosophy."  It is ever-evolving, but as I end my third year, I feel like I have a decent handle on it.  So, for what it's worth--here it is:

Fred Jones, classroom management guru, says that you are either consistent or inconsistent.  There is no in between.  They key to successful management is a combination of clear and consistent expectations, and building strong student relationships.  The first day of school, I let my students know what the expectations are.  We review them daily for the first 2 weeks.  They never change.  I post my expectations in visible places around the room, as well as outside the classroom. 
Building strong relationships helps to reinforce those rules because a student will not behave for a teacher he does not respect.  If a student believes a teacher truly cares about him, he is more likely to follow classroom expectations.  I greet my students at the door each day, as if seeing them is the best thing that has happened to me all day.  I always say hello to them in the halls.  I compliment their clothes, nails, hair, and shoes.  I make an effort to know them—who their friends are, what their interests are, what their challenges are.  I attend as many school events as I can.  Many behaviors are attention seeking.  Especially with this population, students can be so desperate for attention that they do not care if it is positive or negative.  I reward positive behaviors (students are very motivated by candy) on a daily basis.  By giving positive attention, the negative attention-seeking behavior typically diminishes. 
I make a point to develop interesting lesson plans that my students will enjoy.  If I am bored teaching it, they most certainly are bored learning it.  I select literature and writing topics that are relatable and meaningful.  I change up activities every 15 minutes.  I do collaborative work often because not only does it give them a chance to engage and talk in an appropriate way, they really do learn from each other.  I use technology regularly –they love using the computers.  I have fully integrated Edmodo into my lesson planning.  I post handouts and power points, and use it for quizzes and tests.   An engaged student has far fewer opportunities to misbehave.
I believe that about 50% of behaviors can be ignored.  This is where good student relationships come in handy.  Typically, the class self-manages so other students will tell the offending student to be quiet or cut it out.  If there is an issue in class, I typically redirect or give a warning.  An ongoing or severe issue results in a student being asked to step outside.  Students will dig their own grave just to prove a point and not back down in front of their peers, so removing them gives them an opportunity to change the behavior without losing face.  Outside the classroom talks always come from a position of loving concern, never anger.  Our students see anger and hear yelling all the time and it has little impact.  I usually start with, “What’s going on?  You know better than that…”  I refer to the classroom expectations I have posted outside my classroom as a reminder that they do indeed know that is not acceptable behavior in my class.  I also throw in a “You know I care about you and your behavior really hurts my feelings…” That usually garners an apology.  High school is a difficult time and often their behavior is a direct reflection of some sort of stress unrelated to my class.  The outside conferences are always very quick and then we return to class.  If they need more time outside to calm down, I allow them that.  Then they can slip back in unnoticed while the rest of the class is working.
I develop parent relationships from Week 1.  I typically call every parent the first week of school to introduce myself.  One of my first teaching mentors told me, “There are few parent conversations that can’t be turned around by presenting your concern from the position that you want their student to be successful.”   I get emails and phone numbers and address any concerns I have upfront and document them.  MIRs* are also an excellent way to document a history of unacceptable behaviors.  This way, if there is a major issue that I have to turn over to administration, I have documentation of trying to address the behavior.
Finally, there are incidents of unacceptable behaviors that require immediate administrative action.  It is important to show the rest of the class that certain behaviors will not be tolerated, but with a minimal amount of disruption.  I try to stay calm and react from a place of stability rather than emotion.  There is nothing more satisfying to a student than to see that he has rattled a teacher.  Once the student is gone, I continue class like nothing happened.  The next time I see that student, I act like I always do.  There is always an opportunity for a fresh start in my class.  

*Minor Incident Reports--they serve as a written warning.  You get 3 in a 9 weeks and you get an administrative referral.

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