In all my years of mentoring student teachers, there have been two things I have always addressed first: getting control of the classroom and establishing routines. I never received direct instruction on these two things during my own student teaching, and it started me off at a great disadvantage.
Most good teachers I had observed were able to get order quickly and follow through with a lesson seamlessly. Nevertheless, it did not work that way for me! I was very ill-prepared to control a classroom of sixth graders, and it ruined my first year.
In this post I will tell you exactly how I demonstrate for my student teachers how to get control of the classroom. In the next post, I will explain how to establish good classroom routines which will set the tone for the entire year.
One of my most difficult tasks as a new teacher was getting attention and MAINTAINING it. I can tell you from the school of hard knocks that these things will not work:
- Yelling (It stopped students for a moment, then they went right back to talking.)
- Flashing the classroom lights (It only worked for about a week.)
- Begging for cooperation (It merely confirmed that I had no control.)
- Threatening punishment for non-compliance (I had nearly every student in the room on my detention list.)
- Standing there smiling (They ignored me.)
- Pretending like you have attention and going on with the lesson (They were not the least bothered by this. They had their own plans!)
We’ve all been students, and we’ve all seen these tactics fail. It took me awhile to put my finger on what was actually going wrong. Luckily, I attended a teachers’ conference that first year, and a kindly gentleman modeled the correct strategy for getting the students’ attention for all of us newbies. Here’s what he demonstrated and what I have found to work well:
- Move to the front center of the room. Do not stand behind a teacher’s desk or podium.
- Get the class’s attention by using these words: “I want ___________________.” Fill in the blank with what you want to happen (depending on your grade level). You might say, “I want everyone’s attention, or I want all eyes to the front.” Use a firm voice, but no shouting. If all students are buzzing and talking, stand and wait. Do not yell or try to startle the students. Standing there waiting will usually get someone’s attention and the ripple effect will happen. The students will quiet down. Nevertheless, you cannot wait forever. Step #3…
- Perchance no one even notices that you are standing there, you can start by saying, “It is now time to start class. I WANT everyone to ____________________.” The secret to this process is twofold: a) speaking with authority in your voice and b) proximity to the students. Assume that they will do exactly what you say and if necessary, pretend that you fully expect them to comply. There is something about projecting confidence in yourself that causes students to sit up and take notice. (BUT DO NOT PRETEND TO THE POINT YOU ARE WILLING TO PROCEED WITH THE LESSON IF THEY DO NOT STOP TALKING.)
- Wait for 100% compliance. If you notice Susie, shuffling around with her belongings, use her name in your next sentence. Do not scold her (yet). Simply say something such as, “Susie, we are going to collect picture money first thing. Did you remember your picture money?” Or, “Today we are going to be looking at amoebas under the microscope. Susie, have you ever seen an amoeba?” If talking begins in another area, look straight at the offender(s) and pause with the expectation that you know the person(s) will stop talking. Do not act annoyed, upset, or frustrated. Repeat your request with a firm tone. If the offender does not quit talking, continue your directions while walking over and standing by the disruptive student–again, using his/her name in your introduction to the day’s activity.
- At this point, most students will be listening. Continue to walk around while giving directions (if possible). It also helps to have something VERY interesting on tap! Give them a reason that they want to be quiet and listen.
- Most importantly, DO NOT RESPOND TO STUDENTS WHO BLURT OUT QUESTIONS OR COMMENTS. Extinguish this behavior by totally turning to a compliant student who has their hand raised and say, “Thank you, Owen, for raising your hand. Do you have a question?” The talker will be indignant that you ignored him/her, but watch–you will find that they will raise their hand, too. Be sure to call on that student ASAP. That reinforces good behavior and reassures them that they will be heard.
Practice, practice, practice. Waiting can seem eternal sometimes, but establishing order early on is completely worth it!
These ideas will work if you have also been careful to establish a relationship with your students. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF THE STUDENT-TEACHER RELATIONSHIP. Students will obey you when a relationship is established. Think about it. Would you likely pick up a pencil on the command of a stranger in a department store, or on the request of your favorite waitress at a local restaurant? It’s all about relationships. For more information, see this post: The Importance of Building Relationships
If you find that these strategies are still not working for you, contact me and I can work with you on how to improve your classroom control!