Classroom management can be a term that causes even the most seasoned teachers' anxiety. Often, we deem ourselves or other educators as either having it or not just by glimpsing in their class for a moment. As for me, I’ve learned it’s much more than what meets the eye... It’s an ongoing process, a relationship best described as the reflection of the educational environment you wish to produce for the specific students you have in your possession at a given time. Whew! That sounds like a lot…well not really when you put it into perspective and remember that this is something you continually work towards with your students daily. It’s the intentionally unbiased platform for meeting your students where they are, no matter who they are. Here is where you appreciate the fact that not all students will be in the same place as other students and nor should you expect that, but the goal remains the same… to grow them in a way that carries on beyond your classroom. This is never a “one and done” situation, as some may say. Classroom management starts with building a mutually respected relationship with your students, not only before rigor but throughout their experiences with you.
Before I dive more into the practices I use and the experiences I have had, let me introduce myself …
I’m Carnedra Hill, a 12 year veteran teacher and a first-year teacher abroad. I proudly stem from the American small town of West Point, Georgia. Georgia has always held my heart and it’s here that I attended all schooling as well as the only place I have taught until now. It was here in Georgia that I grew my first love for teaching at a very young age. Often teaching my barbies how to make mud pies and then graduating them on to reading Goosebumps tales with me. Now 7,000 miles away from everything I ever knew, and the people I love the most, I have found that although this new world is personally very different in many aspects, however professionally, my teaching practices have shown to be more valid than ever. Especially the ones I use to manage my classes, and that’s creating a relationship with all students.
Time zones, culture, educational opportunities, and even economical statuses may differ in the students I teach; however, I have found that what they need from me remains the same. To be valued, feel respected, and be inspired to do and be more. That comes from the love and support I give them each day. That’s truly how I manage my classes. I’m sorry it’s no rabbit-in-the-hat trick, or anything fancy, just the age-old golden rule of treating others how I would want to be treated. But in this case and because I’m also a mother, I often reflect and think about teaching students the way I would want my daughter taught. Through an intentional relationship with her. I love to hear stories about her teachers and it’s always very evident who has a relationship with her and who doesn’t. She works and responds ten times harder to those that have a student-centered classroom versus a teacher-centered environment. As expected, her behavior also differs between these two types of teachers. Contrary to popular belief, the teacher isn’t the only one teaching and leading in the class. Although a fictional teacher, Miss Frizzle from the cartoon ‘The Magic School Bus, is often said to “take chances, make mistakes and get messy,”. She wasn’t just talking to her class. These practices were for her too. As an educator taking chances and making mistakes are in the forecast. Maximize these moments and opportunities to grow and learn beside your students, and not just deliver in front of them. Seize those moments when a lesson doesn’t go right and lean on your students to help you figure out a new avenue to take. Mostly we should serve as facilitators and be willing to learn from our students and honor them in ways that encourage them to be bold yet purposefully in their thinking and doing.
Each year we get a new set of names and before we can even place a face with the name, we read reports or speak to their previous teacher to “see” who or what types of students we will receive. As a teacher your choices to manage your classes begin at those exact moments. Either you allow the picture painted to be the deciding factor or you give these students a new canvas to create on. Last year, I was challenged to meet a student where he was, but nothing with academic substance could be said about him. It was truly one of the most unique experiences I have had with a student. His academic goals and report cards only spoke of behavior issues and that he loved learning about football and eating chips. Instantly I thought it was a mistake, surely a teacher had not put such frivolous things on his progress reports. To my dismay it was true and after studying his situation, I found that our system had failed him terribly and he had been disregarded. I decided that day to give him something others neglected him o,f a chance.
On the first day of school, as the kids walked to my class, I held a small nerf football in my hand and casually tossed it as I greeted them and showed them to their seats. When he saw it he asked what was I doing with that and I proceeded to tell him how I loved football, and how when we do our best and try hard in class, I will bring these special toys out during recess. He told me he would play with it during recess, and I told him, of course, he would, but first, he had to show me in the classroom he deserved that chance, this was his motivation. We spoke about our class expectations briefly, and he called them a rule; I quickly corrected him and told him that we don’t have rules in my class but expectations instead. I went on to explain that rules only would tell him what not to do but his expectations were the things I would be challenging them to show me they could do. After meeting this challenge throughout the day, at recess, he played and tossed that ball like he was made especially for this sport. I complimented his speed and fearlessness and told him he should play football. With the biggest smile on his face and pride in his little voice, he told me he already did, and I could see him at his game if I wanted to. He wanted to be valued. My next step was a no-brainer, I got his schedule, and I showed up for his first game. It was at night, no seats available, and it was raining but I refused to leave until he saw me supporting him and valuing him beyond the classroom. The following Monday, he ran down the hall with a huge smile to remind me he saw me at his game. My plan was that if I showed up for him doing the one thing he loved most, he’d show up for me too, but on my field. I was able to go to every game that season apart from one. When asked how I got him to behave that semester I told them I met him as he was … on the football field, but we moved the ball to my field, in the classroom.
Although attending games, birthday parties, or other events for your students may not be your “thing,” the secret ingredient that ties any classroom management skill or strategy together is first building an intentional relationship with your students. Remember that no matter what they have, come with or come without, they need you to invest in them wholeheartedly. Connecting with your students on a level where all know they are valued, supported, and loved makes a world of a difference. An educator’s most challenging job isn’t to cover curriculum, it’s the uncovering of knowledge, talents, dreams, and even the unsurfaced innovation that lies within their students. Teaching just the curriculum most often will miss these opportunities for connections.
If you look to increase your classroom management, this month I challenge you to give your students back some of their power. Not just power over their grades or assignments but power over the way your educational platform is structured because you have taken the time to learn them and how they learn best. Intentionally focus some of that attention on finding out their inner thoughts and ideas beyond the curriculum. The curriculum is only a portion of their day, they live real lives beyond those assignments and when you tap into that, I’ve found that it allows you to manage your class on a new level. Make learning meaningful.
“You cannot be all things to all students. But sometimes, just sometimes, you will be the right teacher at the right time. You will be the exact teacher that one child needed more than anything.” -Paul Mundy
Carnedra A. Hill