Teaching is a challenging profession with stresses from all directions — administration, parents, government, colleagues, and, of course, our students. Educators aren’t capable of controlling everything around them, but there are classroom management mistakes that, if fixed, would improve their teaching.
This article discusses common classroom management mistakes and how fixing them will make classroom interactions more pleasant and manageable, both for the new teacher and the students.
Five common mistakes inexperienced teachers make are:
- They try to shout students down;
- They give students the silent treatment;
- They run for help;
- They try gimmicks;
- They concede to misbehaving ringleaders.
Other mistakes new teachers often make are:
- They try to be a buddy of the students and not their teacher;
- They don’t set classroom rules from Day One;
- They lack class administrative skills;
- They have poor work ethic and fail at school politics.
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When you go into class and the students are loud and not listening, some teachers get aggressive and resort to shouting to get their attention. That’s a big mistake because as soon as you have to raise your voice and get angry, you’ve fallen into their trap and they instinctively know that you’ve lost the battle and they’re going to make a game out of it. They’re going to see how far can they push you each time. So, don’t get angry, don’t shout, or get aggressive. Save that for a desperate situation.
As the teacher and as the adult in the room, you should remain calm. They’re looking towards you for guidance as a leader. Don’t put that negative emotion into your teaching; stare them down with a smile on your face and wait for them to get quiet. There are methods to quiet down a noisy class; it’s part of classroom management that young teachers must implement from day one.
Don’t try Silent Treatment
Some teachers get at wit’s end and make the mistake of withdrawing to their desk, where they try to get the students’ attention through silent treatment, refusing to speak until everyone is quiet. They’re trying to use social leverage to get the class to be quiet. It might work once, but it’s a gimmick.
Giving a spouse the silent treatment may work at home, but not in the classroom. The students won’t fall for it again because there’s a difference between surrendering and keeping quiet for a moment while waiting for them to calm down. Actually, students may find the teacher’s silent treatment funny and make a game out of how far they can push you. The teacher becomes the victim and they are the bullies; once they have that bully mindset, begging and pleading will not make them stop.
Don’t Run for Help
As a teacher, you are the adult and must remain in control of your classroom. You must not argue and fight with students. So, don’t send culprits out into the hallway as punishment, and don’t punish the entire class just when you’ve lost control over a few misbehaving students. It’s not the class’s fault; you’re the one that should practice better classroom management.
Another mistake novice teachers make is to run out of the classroom to get a senior teacher or the principal to help them regain order in the class. The message that it sends is: “I can’t handle them, help me please!” The principal goes in and asks: “What’s going on in here?” with the teacher following. That is not a place of strength; it shows the students that you’ve lost the plot. They will never respect you because you’ve “run to mommy” to get help, instead of taking responsibility. So, do your best to get them quiet by yourself.
Remember, one of the important classroom management strategies is to make it about the action and not the student. Make sure that the students understand that their action was wrong. Do not attack the student personally. Instead of asking: “What’s wrong with you?” Rather say: “I’m upset at that behavior, it’s unacceptable, I will not allow it!” So, the students know that you like them, but you’re not going to put up with that behavior.
Don’t Try Gimmicks
There is a difference between creating good habits and routines that students follow in class, and using gimmicks you saw on the internet to try and control your class. A common trick is flicking the lights on and off; or using a bell, or using some kind of app to attract the attention of the students.
Some teachers use such “bells and whistles” and it might work if you use it in the correct way, but usually such gimmicks are desperate attempts by teachers with little confidence and power in the classroom. Think about one of the best teachers you’ve ever had; did they use a bell? Or did they need an app to control the classroom? No, they’ve grown in power and they knew exactly how to treat their students. So, you shouldn’t put your hope into temporary solutions; they’re only band-aids for classroom management.
Don’t Concede Power
So, you have one or two difficult students in your class and, in a desperate move to stop them from misbehaving and distracting the rest of the class, you give them some kind of role or authority over the other students. You think it’s a good idea because now you keep them busy and you can teach the rest of the class, but actually you gave away your power!
What you are basically saying is: “I can’t control the class on my own; I’m going to beg the troublemakers to be good so I can teach the rest of the class.” It’s going to work maybe once or twice, but the other students will resent you. And that once the ringleader students get bored of their role, they will start to rebel again in a different way. Novice teachers should rather keep on improving classroom management skills to get the students to quiet down; that way you keep your respect.
Let me be clear—I’m not saying don’t give students roles in class to make them feel like they’re part of a community and to give them responsibility; I’m saying don’t concede your power to misbehaving students who do not deserve it.
So, what mistakes have you made in your classroom? None of us are perfect and we all have made mistakes in our classroom management; which is why novice teachers must be helped not to repeat these five big mistakes.
Be the Teacher, not a Buddy
A common mistake among young teachers is to treat students like their buddies. This is perhaps more prevalent in cultures where children are treated like adults. ESL teachers usually teach cross-cultural and must not assume that their personal views are appropriate when teaching foreign students.
Have Rules from Day One
Inexperienced teachers often disregard tried-and-proven advice to their own detriment and in the end, the performance of the students and the school suffers. Some naively view classroom rules and discipline as outdated—underestimating the demands of being a successful teacher.
Veteran teachers will vouch that a noisy class is usually symptomatic of an unprepared teacher. Simple human nature will cause students and colleagues to lose their esteem of such a teacher. Older students must know exactly what to work on even before entering the classroom; they must know the rules and know what the teacher is expecting from them.
Effective Class Administration
The teacher’s poor work ethics soon reflect in the behavior of students; junior teachers must learn that effective administration is essential to cope with the mountain of paperwork that soon accumulates in a classroom; being proactive with lesson plans, testing, and marking papers will enforce the feeling of being in control of your classroom.
Failing at School Politics
Lastly, new teachers should take an active part and immerse themselves in school activities, but avoid getting involved in school politics. Don’t isolate yourself, thinking that successful teaching is a nine-to-five job. Be helpful and polite, but avoid gossip like the plague.
New teachers need all the help they can get, but are often thrown in the proverbial lion’s den and must learn to sink or swim. This is not due to malice from management’s side, but purely because of the overwhelming challenges many schools face within society. Avoiding the five major mistakes and the five pitfalls, novice teachers will go a long way in succeeding with healthy class management and surviving those challenging first years of their careers.