While working to improve my own classroom management skills, I have noticed many things that tend to effect how well a class behaves: class size, grade level, routines, use of competition, individual problem students, using consistent consequences, setting clear expectations, etc.
More than anything else, though, I have found that the most important factor determining the success of failure of a particular class is myself. In particular, it is the mindset I have going into the classroom. It took a while for me to come to this realization, but when I finally did, it made me realize something important:
The majority of classroom management is 100% under my control.
For a long time in my first few months of teaching, there were many times I went into the classroom knowing that a particular problem class was going to be horrible. Then I would go into the classroom and it would turn out just like I thought.
Soon, I became frustrated. I would often get angry during the class. I would confront and yell at students for every little thing they did wrong. This just made things worse, of course. It lead to more disruptions in class and students were getting angry in class. Worst of all, almost no learning took place in the class. It was a definite low point.
I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point, I just decided to stop. Stop being frustrated. Stop getting angry. Stop focusing on the things the students do wrong. I went into all of my problem classes thinking two things:
1.) Focus on every positive thing the students do. Praise them for every good thing, no matter how small.
2.) No matter how difficult the students are, do not show any signs of frustration.
I noticed an immediate difference. The students responded immediately to the positive attention. I realized that these guys were constantly told how bad they were. They were constantly yelled at in every class. And I was just another loudmouth teacher added into the mix.
They weren’t used to receiving any positive attention. So, when I started giving it to them, the class transformed. I am not going to lie or exaggerate here. The students were not angels. The class was still rowdy. They didn’t always listen and sometimes they were still disrespectful.
But… things got better. They were engaged in the class. They answered questions. They participated. And I realized that when the students were disrespectful, they were looking for the teacher to become angry. They were looking for a response and when I gave them one, I was validating their behavior. I gave them exactly what they wanted. I fell into their trap.
By refusing to give them negative attention, they started to crave the positive attention more. Each class got better little by little, day by day. It was all due to having a positive and assertive mindset going into the class.
In the end, I have found that teaching is like looking into a mirror. If you give off a positive energy, you will see a reflection of that positive energy in your class. If you give off negative energy, your class will reflect the same. And really, that should be a very comforting thought: you are in direct control of your classroom!