By TONI POLING
As the number of squares on the calendar between summer vacation and the first day of school dwindle, my back-to-school dreams have started. I’m sure you know the ones I’m talking about: dreams where my projector bulb blows in the middle of first period; dreams where I find myself in my Harry Potter t-shirt and ripped jeans instead of my more professional attire; dreams where my students walk in with their math book instead of the novel we’re discussing; dreams where I RUN OUT OF COFFEE! Every summer the dreams come and I know that it’s time to get serious about planning for the coming year.
For the coming school year, I will be taking over as department chair for the English department at my school. With retirements and turn over, I know that I will have at least three new or novice teachers in the department and I know the importance of making sure that new teachers have support and guidance to help them get through the first years in their own classrooms. As I was putting together a little back-to-school gift for the department, I decided to include something extra for each of the new teachers coming in: a box of pencils and a pencil sharpener.
It’s no surprise to any teaching veteran that classroom management can be a struggle, but if I could offer one piece of advice it would be this:
“Give the kid a pencil.”
Every year I see teachers and pre-service teachers devising complicated classroom management plans that involve everything from trading a shoe for a borrowed pencil to completing a discipline referral for unpreparedness. I am certainly not here to say that my method is the right method, but for me it’s certainly the kinder method.
The way I look at this is simple: I don’t know what that child has been through that morning. I can’t know if he’s simply irresponsible or if he doesn’t have pencils available at home. What I can know is that my simple act of providing a pencil when it’s needed tells my kids that I will always provide what they need when I can.
I will support them. I will help them. I will not criticize or belittle them. I will make sure they have what they need to learn. And I say it all with a pencil.
We know that students learn best and perform better in a student-centered psychologically safe environment where respect and trust have been both earned and reciprocated. How we as teachers respond to our students has everything to do with how they feel about themselves in our classrooms. In all situations, our students should be treated with the dignity and respect that we ourselves wish to be treated. Even when infractions take place and disciplinary action is needed, it should be handled with dignity, respect, and trust. We are the adults in the room and we must set the example. When I attend a meeting and forget a pen, someone always loans me one without shame or recriminations.
When a hand goes up in my classroom and a student asks if he can have a pencil, my response is, “Always.”
WVCTE is wondering...
How do you encourage compassion in your classroom?
by MK Jarvis
I don’t know about you, but I am experiencing the midsummer doldrums. The lawn-mowing is in hand, flower beds planted, tomatoes growing, windows washed, and curtains laundered. My mind is shifting into planning mode and I can feel the growing anticipation and anxiety of a new year. I’ve only been teaching a short while, so I’m still anxious about what the year will bring and how I will perform not only as a teacher, but as a class manager. Keeping control of my classroom while providing a safe and comfortable place for the students to learn is still a new skill for me. Maybe for some of you, too.
In the last two years I have read a lot about classroom management and discipline, and sought much advice from master educators. I have also found tons of help from teachers who have put themselves out there on the web creating websites, videos, and webinars about classroom management and discipline strategies along with stress management and relaxation tips for teachers. Let me introduce you to three tremendous individuals who have simply saved my life in the last two years.
Hailing from the UK, Rob Plevin has put together wonderfully helpful resources for new and experienced teachers alike. While a lot of Plevin’s Need-focused Teaching website deals with teacher-student relationships, one of his resources is a series of videos on how to handle and settle a noisy class.
I found Plevin when I was searching for advice on handling my rude, crude, and socially unacceptable 7th grade homebase my first year of teaching. This group of students was not only driving me crazy, but making life generally miserable for everyone. I was desperate and dreaded facing them every morning. Plevin’s videos about classroom management were a godsend. His advice was simple: keep the class out of the room, making non-confrontational conversation in the hallway, pointing out positive behaviors, until the students settled. Surely, that would never work. The next day of school I tried it and, lo and behold, it worked. After that, I devoured anything I could find of Plevin’s and have purchased a few of his books. His advice is solid.
Additionally, Plevin has another website called The Life Raft where he concentrates on helping folks “overcome life’s challenges” and live a more stress free and meaningful life using meditation and mindfulness. Not surprisingly, he focuses on educators. It’s worth checking out.
In my endless search for how to be a better teacher, I found a YouTube video of Jennifer Gonzales, creator of Cult of Pedagogy, going over her tried and true advice for teachers using a mini chalk board and a lot of good humor and honesty. Gonzales, a middle to higher ed teacher, has gathered a group of teacher nerds together to host a comprehensive website for educators. In this video she gives the invite to Cult of Pedagogy, and hints at all you might find there. Her site is not just for new teachers, though. She has book reviews and summer book studies, interviews with educators and authors and a podcast. One of my favorite posts is Find Your Marigold: The One Essential Rule for New Teachers. The title might say it’s for new teachers, but I’ll bet there are some mid-career and veteran teachers who could find wisdom there. She also has some products for purchase ranging from first days of school activities to technology lessons. She even has merch available--cool t-shirts and mugs. The site is well designed and attractive. My academic coach, who has been an educator for forever, was even impressed with Gonzales’s site and shared it with the other new English teachers in our county. Plus, it’s such a cool name for a gathering place for educators cuckoo for education, don’t you think?
Gonzales’ website is one that once you find yourself there, you must devour the entire site. There is so much good information from a teacher with experience in secondary and higher ed. Gonzales also has Pinterest boards for those of us who love being totally overwhelmed with information. Definitely make some time to become a part of the Cult before returning to school.
Michael Linsin of Smart Classroom Management is brilliant. He has taught elementary through high school for over 26 years and lived to tell about it. His specialty is, of course, classroom management and he has become that still, small voice (coming to me in an email every few days) over the last couple of years.
The philosophy behind Smart Classroom Management is pretty simple:
“Here at SCM, we believe in two principles thought by many to be on contradictory ends of the classroom management spectrum. On one side we believe in faithfully following a classroom management plan . . . On the other side we believe in creating a classroom that students love being part of, that they’re excited to come to every day” (Linsin).
Adhering to a management plan “holds students accountable” and should be executed without yelling, scolding or lecturing. Linsin believes if the classroom is not a hostile place, but somewhere the students feel safe and cared for, they will want to come to class and will be on their best behavior.
Linsin’s July 15th blog post 3 Promises for the First Day of School really sums up the SCM philosophy very well. Teachers make a promise to respect students, listen to them and help them, and follow the classroom management plan to the letter. Sounds simple, but even the best of intentions are often cast by the wayside. We want to be firm, fair, and consistent, yet it is very difficult sometimes, especially for those of us who are new at the teaching gig. Linsin guarantees that his advice works and I’m sure some of you veteran teachers know the method is ironclad. There are more than 400 articles on his site with more great advice about classroom management, dealing with behavior, and helping students succeed.
I am currently reading The Happy Teacher: 11 Habits of the Happiest, Most Effective Teachers on Earth by Michael Linsin. I just started reading it, but not surprising the first habit is saying no to any extra work that takes you away from the classroom. Any teacher would like to make that a habit.
It’s such a comfort to find help and advice that works.
WVCTE is wondering do you have advice that might save a teacher’s life? Is there a website or blog (besides this one!) you love and regularly go to for encouragement? Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!