Do you need 20 pairs of eyes to be an effective teacher? Well, it sure would be nice. But with a few tricks up your sleeve you can make 'em think you've got peepers in the back of your head.
1. Pee all over the classroom.
You know that's not what we actually mean. But you get the point: mark your territory. Show who's boss. And do it from the get-go.
It's all about the balance: you want 'em to like you, but you also want it to be clear you're the one in charge. Some research shows that students prefer strong teacher guidance to permissive teaching styles. How can you bring that into effect? In the words of one study, by "establishing clear behavior expectations and learning goals and by exhibiting assertive behavior…and by providing consequences for student behavior." Who doesn't love a good consequence? (Or a bad one, when needed.)
2. Build rapport with your students.
Yes, we're putting this at #2, and rules at #3. Rapport is about as important as a word no one knows how to spell can get. And it means (in our interpretation) having a mode of interacting that's consistent, encouraging, firm, funny, helpful, flexible, playful, luminous…well, what matters is that it's you.
Every teacher is unique in the way he or she chooses to interact with the class, but what matters is that you have some specific methods of communicating with your students—whether that's communicating new lessons, what the homework is, or that you appreciate how well-behaved they are. (Well, we can always dream.) And they should be able to tell the difference when you're telling them they better simmer down, just giving directions, or oh, we don't know, trying to get to know them as people. Very little ones, but people all the same.
3. Rules Rules Rules Rules Rules Rules Rules Rules.
But before we talk about rules, one other tidbit: set objectives at the start for what the rules are meant to accomplish, and discuss those aims as a class.
But what if Ricky really, really wants to call someone the s-word? (Yes, we mean Shmoophead). Well, if he remembers that that might bum someone out, and therefore put a wrench in the class objectives, maybe he'll refrain. Though he'll probably logic that out in slightly simpler language.
So, back to rules. The key with these guys, aside from having everyone invested in not breaking them, is making them super-duper clear. Establish what they are, what happens if they get broken, where potential rule-breakers can refresh their memories if necessary, and stick to it.
Of course you'll want to incorporate school policies and procedures as you make your classroom list of rules. But again, in line with that class-objectives thing, sometimes getting your students involved in the process helps them be more invested in actually following those rules, too. Sure, you're bound to get suggestions like "it's a rule that we can eat chocolate in class every day," but chances are you'll get some participation, or at least some nods, for things like not cheating, working together, and mutual respect.
And in case you want more on how to set objectives, create a classroom management plan, and maintain it, here you go.
4. Set learning objectives.
We know, we already talked about rule-related objectives. But learning ones are about how the students are supposed to approach a lesson, what they should get out of it, and how it will make them better people.
Well, maybe you don't have to go that far. But some level of outline for them can help them know not just what they'll be evaluated on, but how this applies to larger lessons. Like: your objective is understanding this formula, getting it memorized, and being able to apply it in different types of problems. Or: you're aiming to finish " The Importance of Being Earnest" by Friday, be able to recognize how it uses irony and satire, and write an essay linking it to late-19th century British literature.
That sort of objective.
5. Tell them they're doing it wrong.
But, you know, do it in a way that doesn't get them down. So, saying "You linked The Importance of Being Earnest to the wrong century of literature" will probably just make 'em hang their little heads. But saying "you did a nice job talking about these details, but let's straighten out a few of these historical bits, yeah?" Then you're probably going to get a better reaction.
If you aim to be encouraging, supportive, and respectful—maybe even having an eye to what could be going on with them to make 'em misbehave, miss an assignment, you name it—then you'll be making a correction without dwelling on weaknesses or discouraging the kiddos. And demonstrating that you place value on them as little humans, not just little mechanical homework-turner-inners, will both help them grow up into better big homework-turner-inners, and put a smile on those mechanical faces.
6. Always look on the bright side of life.
Well, hopefully you won't have to take it to crucifixion-level extremes. But think of it this way: it's not a time-out; it's an opportunity to re-focus. It's not a reprimand for distracting the whole class; it's a reminder to stay involved and contribute to the classroom train moving full-steam ahead.
This applies to getting individual troublemakers back in line, and to your attitude with the whole class. Instead of dismissing a not-so-genius idea right off the bat, ask for clarification using class material. Instead of getting your yell on and showing the whole class how that one brat really gets to you, talk to that one early on. Maybe set up a secret signal that will remind said brat to check their own behavior—a check-yourself-before-you-wreck-yourself kind of thing.
Generally, taking steps to prevent conflict will save you from a whole lot of managing it later on. And when you do have to crack the whip, framing your criticism or your reprimand in a positive light can go far.
7. Environment. Respect. Cooperation. 'Nuff said.
This is kind of the undergirder of everything we've said so far.
It goes for interactions between students and how you get along with students, too. Which ties back to the assertive guidance stuff and how you make rules an "agreement" for the whole class, but also has to do with those more personal interactions. So this relates back to #2 and #3 both.
Because it's through a combination of getting along and respecting the rules that everyone lives, works, and breathes by that we build something called "class environment."
Cue all the happy analogies to family and community.
8. Remember, you're the one with authority. And don't let 'em forget it.
In the heat of the moment, it's easy to lose your cool. That's why it's so key to set those objectives from the start that will build to a collaborative and engaged class community.
But you can still have community, and even good relationships with your students, when you maintain your role as the high-and-mighty one in charge. To be sure, striking a balance between being your students' friend, mentor, instructor, and discipline-er is one of the toughest parts of the teaching thing. And that's why creating a classroom management plan from the get-go that both involves your kiddos and sets you up as the authority is so necessary for the game.
And by finding that balance from early on, you won't have to feel like you're constantly twisting your neck into pretzels on the lookout for miscreants.
If all else fails, just throw on Shmooptube and hide under your desk!