(Mis) Adventures in Classroom Management
Let’s play out a very common scenario that has been happening for the length of my teaching career. The following outlines a typical dialogue when I meet a new person:
New Person Making Small Talk: So what do you do?
Me: I am a teacher!
New Person MST: Oh really, what do you teach? What grade?
Me: I am supposed to teach all the subjects, but under No Child Left Behind I’ve taught mostly math and reading. I teach fourth and fifth graders.
New Person MST: Oh that is such a sweet age! *possibly mumbles something about NCLB*
Don’t get me wrong. I think it is a sweet age or I wouldn’t be teaching this age group. It is a really magical time in kids’ development because it is a distinct maturation of an ability to reason, question and think ahead. Issues of fairness, wrong and right and self-reflection start to play out pretty big in Grade 4. (For reference: Ages 9-11) I’ve been blessed enough to see the maturation of student thinking and it is one of the main reasons I enjoy my job. It is awe-inspiring to see the progression.
But there is also a reality that most of these poor strangers are blind-sided by, if I get a little deeper into the conversation. I usually spare them these antidotes so not to ruin their unsullied view of just how sweet it is.
Fist fights, kids pushing kids down stairs, kids yelling out inappropriate language, a certain student with a flatulence problem so bad that it is a serious interruption, bullying, pushed over desks, thrown chairs, running out of the classroom in a blaze of anger, stealing, broken noses, broken arms, a kid who vomits every afternoon…
I generally spare a stranger making small talk the whole list but it is a partial list of the classroom management issues or outcomes I have dealt with in my career. And YES these were 9-11 year old children.
Over 2011 the case against bullying has been brought to the forefront of our national psyche by some unfortunate events. I’ve heard parents and politicians suggest that more responsibility and accountability be placed on teachers and schools.
I couldn’t agree more. But I’d like to offer some push back. The reality of classroom management, its effect on teaching and academic achievement are often silent in the public dialogue. Bullying is one facet of many management problems we teachers face. If the public wants to see better management of bullying, teachers need specific classroom management training. We are not trained in school counseling. And school counselors are being cut from many a public school due to funding woes.
The Master’s In Teaching program I attended was a very progressive program but it did a piss poor job of readying me for the realities of fist fights and bullying. I was VERY prepared to write killer lessons but not adequately ready to face the toll classroom management would take. There was the idea that if you wrote KILLER plans you’d not really need to worry about managing behavior. If only that were true in practice. In my two-year program, I had one class that was aimed at classroom management.
Any teacher/learner knows that the jump from theory to practice, is a large one. Students struggle with the concepts of multiplication and division until they can apply them to real-life situations. The same could be said for pre-service teachers and classroom management.
I have thought a lot about classroom management and how I can hone my skills and how new teachers could be spared the strife. I am very torn. Is it really a problem of inadequate pre-service training? Or is it something that can only be learned in practice?
B.F. Skinner is the godfather of many a classroom management in-practice default. I am guilty of it. Skinner was one of the leaders in behaviorism which is, I think, how we often structure our classroom management plans. If you have ever been faced with 28 high needs students, this might be the theory you don’t even know you are falling back on. If you do this, this or this? This, this and this will happen without exception. Next? If you do this, this and this, you will get rewarded.
I should probably give myself a little more credit because over the years, I’ve not just used Skinner’s theory. I’ve melded together different things that work (or don’t) from conversations with other teachers, custodians, support staff and administrators. Come to find out there are other theories of classroom management! (I was probably exposed to these in graduate school…but teacher brain made me forget!)
So I’ve given myself a challenge for the new school year. Study these theories more and educate myself. I’ve started by reading about Love and Logic and it really resonates. I don’t want to pull my hair out or be driven to taking anti-anxiety meds (yes, it happened. my second year teaching) over classroom management.
And I’d like to reiterate a challenge to pre-service programs and school districts everywhere. You want your test scores to improve? You want bullying to decrease? Teach your teachers. Invest in professional development in classroom management and character education. It isn’t a passing fad. It is the foundation on which great kids, schools and teachers are made.
Now go punch something.