Friday, December 14, 2012

Classroom Management in a Post-Civil Society

Piles of books have been written on classroom management. Student teachers across the US have been gifted with Harry Wong's First Days of School and if they've begun teaching in the last 5 years, they've quickly realized that there is much more to classroom management than the good Dr. Wong ever talked about. He makes wonderful points, and I use many of his strategies. However, the face of society is changing and that means classroom management is changing.

The days of "sit down and shut up" while the all-knowledgeable teacher talks are quickly disappearing and many teachers are losing their handle on their classrooms much more often than they ever did in the past. Just ask them. Any teacher in my building will quickly tell you that students today are much harder to control than they were just 5 years ago. Tried and true methods like proximity don't work anymore. Threatening a student with a trip to the office to meet with the principal doesn't matter. ISS and OSS just mean more free-time for at-risk students to run enterprising small business, rabble rouse, wreak havoc in their family homes and otherwise educate themselves in the ways of the world. THere really isn't anything scary about authority to these students. They don't even consider the adult vision of authority to be authority, so why would they care if a well meaning teacher moves them to a desk next to their own or sends them to the office. Why are students so hard to handle these days?

The American culture  of civility is disintegrating. This is evidenced by the loss of manners in public, the idea that life is a joke and must be lived for the thrill, and an education that is not considered valuable. More importantly the structure of the family is falling apart, and therefore kids have no concept of authority. School should teach them the value of authority, but really school just creates a united front for the family unit to rebel against, especially for students in poverty.

Proximity as a tool for management no longer works. Test it and see. The adage is "move into the proximity of a student misbehaving and the majority will stop what they're doing." But, try it. Move into their sphere and many won't notice your presence (adults are not authority figures unless respect has been earned), many  misbehaving students will attempt to engage the teacher in what they are doing that is distracting the class, and a few will become belligerent, further distracting the class.

Students to whom ISS is given as punishment see it as a mere 7 hour study hall. There is no threat in that. OSS is even less scary. Granted for a good kid who has never been in trouble, OSS may seem like a big deal and will probably bring that student into line very quickly, but for a repeat offender, at-risk student there is no real punishment in being sent home for several days.

So, how can a teacher continue to teach without having a veritable zoo in his or her classroom? There are two major ways a teacher can create an atmosphere where his or her authority is accepted. Those two ways are fairly simple create relationship and build community.

Creating relationship--
How does a teacher create relationship? In my classroom, I greet students at the door. I learn their names as quickly as possible. My syllabus clearly states that I will treat them with respect. I teach mostly upperclassmen, so I state that I expect adult-like behavior for adult-like treatment. I am careful to let them know that I care about them. I give them feedback on their work in the form of handwritten notes and reactions to their writing. I take the time to listen to them when they need to talk. I tell jokes. I  introduce them to my life and who I am. I attend sporting events with all three children and husband in tow. I go to the school play. I do whatever I can to let the students know that I care about their real life and that I have a real life as well.

Building Community--
Building community begins with a teacher who creates relationship and moves beyond that into the actual pedagogy of the classroom. The content of an English classroom does not lend itself as well as some to a lot of collaboration, but I practice it at every possible moment. Students freewrite at the beginning of class three times a week. After they freewrite they share a line or two from their freewrites and listen to each other share. That 5 to 10 minutes at the beginning of class alone creates a community of thinkers and creators. Another community builder is getting rid of individual desks. I know not every school is able to do that, but having tables where students sit together in groups daily creates an atmosphere of collaboration and community immediately.

I'm sure I've missed things in this short post. I'm still thinking about this concept. It's worth researching and digging into at length. It could even make a wonderful doctoral thesis not that I ever thought I wanted to get a doctorate.

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