An Exciting New Project!

Today, I am introducing a new feature of MYClassroom that I hope will be very successful. It is the Teacher Profile Survey and it can be found here:

Teacher Profile Survey

The survey is designed for teachers who want to share information about how they successfully manage their classroom. Once a teacher fills out the survey, I will use their answers to make a profile about them and their methods on the MYClassroom blog. I understand that we are all very busy, but I really believe these profiles will be very beneficial to teachers all around the world.

I am honing my classroom management skills every day, but I am still learning. I hope to learn just as much from these teacher profiles as anyone else. Even if every single one of my classes went perfectly every day, I would learn a lot because there is no one right way to manage your classroom.

My wish is to provide readers with more than just my views about classroom management. No one person has all the answers. Hopefully, these profiles will provide a broader picture of the different strategies, tools, and attitudes towards classroom management.

Also, please don’t feel like you need to be a teaching veteran to participate in this survey. I know many great teachers who are just starting out right now. All teachers, new and old, can learn from each other. This project is just designed to collect as many different viewpoints on classroom management as possible.

So, if you want to be featured in a Teacher Profile on the MYClassroom blog, then please don’t hesitate to take a few minutes to fill out the survey! It would be a big help to teachers around the world!

Thank you for participating and, as always, thank you for reading!

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September 17, 2012 · 7:00 am

The One-Step, Fool Proof Plan To Make All Your Classroom Management Problems Disappear

What if I told you that you could change one thing in your classes and most of your classroom management problems would vanish? Would you believe me? It’s true. Here is the answer to your prayers:

Don’t. Be. Boring.

The number one reason that students misbehave in class is because they are bored. Try, if you can, to remember what it is like to be a student. If something is not interesting, it gets ignored. This is doubly true in today’s culture of instant gratification. You need to engage your students right from the beginning.

It’s actually a lot like writing a good short story. A good story begins with a hook to draw the readers in. Take a look at the beginning of Kafka’s In The Penal Colony:

“’It’s a remarkable apparatus,’ said the Officer to the Explorer and gazed with a certain look of admiration at the device, with which he was, of course, thoroughly familiar.”

When you read that, many questions come to mind: What is this apparatus? What does it do? Why was the Officer familiar with the device? Where are they and why do they need this device? It grabs the readers’ interest and that is what a teacher needs to do with their students.

So, start out with something interesting that is at least somewhat related to the topic at hand. It could be a short video, a demonstration, a question, a joke, a picture, or anything. It just needs to engage the students. It’s also important to know what your students find interesting. One class might find a brainteaser interesting, while another might not care about it. It’s your job to find something that will engage the class.

Once you have the class hooked, you need to keep them engaged and introduce an exciting activity to help them learn. Here’s a hint: textbooks are boring. My personal preference is to have the students work on projects. Besides helping students learn about a given topic, a good project should have three features:

1.) It should be fun and engaging.

2.) It should require some form of creative activity and expression.

3.) If possible, it should involve real-world experiences.

Of course, there are other interesting ways to engage your students, but projects are important for a number of reasons. They usually end in some sort of tangible product that students can take ownership of and be proud of. Projects can help build teamwork. They also are more likely to resemble whatever type of work they will do outside of school when they get a job.

Ken Robinson has a good explanation of the importance of creativity in his TED Talk here. As far as real-world experiences go, students need to see that what they are learning really matters. The way to do that is to connect that to the real world.

Let’s look at a simple example: In one class, my students were learning about George Washington’s Farewell Address. Instead of having my students write an essay, I had them write a letter… to the President of the United States. You would be amazed at how much improvement there is in students’ writing when you tell them they are writing to the President, rather than to their teacher.

Even the students with poor writing ability worked hard to make sure their letters were presentable. The key to this project was to convince students that there was a chance that the President would read their letters. This video made that easy.

There were no behavior problems in this class. Do you know why? Because the students weren’t bored. They were excited and engaged in the material. That’s the number one way to avoid classroom management issues.

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Mindset and Management

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!

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Predicting The Future of MYClassroom

At the time of this writing, there are probably only 1 or 2 people reading this. The MYClassroom site has only been up for about 5 days and is still mostly just an idea in my head.

Over the next few weeks, I plan on getting the site set up and getting the kinks worked out. I will begin posting content regularly, every Monday and Thursday as well.

This project is an experiment. I will be writing mostly about strategies and tools for classroom management. There sure are plenty of other sites out there that cover these topics, but I have a lot of unique things I want to say on the subject. Hopefully, this will allow the MYClassroom site to flourish in a crowded blogosphere. (Yes. I just used the word “blogosphere.” Yes, I do realize that if I actually had any readers I would have just lost them all by using that word.)

I am not a seasoned veteran of teaching, but I do have some experience in classroom management:

  • I have attended school, in some form or another, for over two decades.
  • My first brush with teaching came while working at a summer camp in the northern Adirondack Mountains in New York. I started teaching there when I was 17 years old and stayed until I was 23. I taught a few different subjects from crafts to model rocketry to archery and air gun marksmanship. This is when I first realized I wanted to be a teacher. It’s also when I realized that classroom management is very important, especially if all your students have guns or rockets.
  • I received a M.S. in Education with a 4.0 GPA from a relatively prestigious school. This is where I got my first taste of “real” classroom teaching. I knew immediately that I had made the right decision and that teaching was a field that I would enjoy working in.
  • After graduating, I moved back home to the Adirondacks and substitute taught for a few months, mostly in poverty schools. Although I was not there for a long time, I feel like I learned a lot about classroom management here. It gave me experience all over the spectrum from kindergarten to high school and special education rooms to AP classes.
  • In February 2012, I moved to South Korea to teach English in a public middle school. It was mostly out of necessity that I really honed my classroom management skills very quickly here. When you have a classroom full of 40 middle school boys screaming in a language you don’t understand, classroom management skills are a must.

Of course, I am still learning and improving my classroom management. This site will be a chronicle of what I learn as I continue my career as a teacher. But, I also believe I have something unique to say that will be of value to many teachers old and new.

With all this in mind, here are the goals I would like to achieve over the next year:

  1. At least 100 posts of around 500 words or longer. That’s 50,000 words. 137 words a day. 5.7 words per hour. I will be posting to the site primarily every Monday and Thursday, but will also be posting the occasional Teacher Profile on a separate day.
  2. In addition to the 100 regular postings on the site, I want to complete 20 Teacher Profiles. These profiles will look at other teachers who are successfully managing their own classrooms.
  3. At least 500 regular and loyal readers who follow MYClassroom posts through –email updates, RSS, or just be coming around to the site.

Eventually, I will release an e-book on classroom management. That will be at least a year and a half away, however, due to current contractual obligations.

For now, though, I will be focusing on producing great content and, hopefully, the rest will follow. I hope you will enjoy following along!

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