At the beginning of my teaching career, I thought I knew everything about teaching. I spent hours decorating my classroom with lots of student work. My lessons were well crafted and standards-based. I dressed like a teacher with cute shoes. My job was to teach, and my students’ task was to behave while learning.
Then one day, my principal said I had poor classroom management! WHAT! She must be wrong because I worked so hard!
But she wasn’t wrong. She even sent me to a special class so I could learn how to run my classroom. My head was spinning because I thought that I was doing all the right things.
Sure I could get my students to line up quietly most of the time. All of them except that one kid the one that nobody could ever get in line. That really wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t my fault that my class came in loudly from recess, either! It’s’ just what kids do after they come in from playing! And that ‘mean’ kid – I put him in the corner away from everyone. It served him right! Nobody wanted to sit by him anyway! If he learned to behave, I would move him.
I even had a beautiful clip chart because all great teachers had one! Moving clips up and down would get those naughty students who didn’t listen to behave! It would show the whole class that they needed to do! And the prizes that I gave to all the wonderful “good” kids. They deserved them. I loved every single one of my students! I loved them even more if they listened to me.
It wasn’t until I was bragging to my great-aunt that I had a moment. You know those life moments when you realize that you are totally flawed, and it is time to change. I explained my classroom management system to her. I was waiting for her to praise me and say that my teaching was amazing. But she didn’t. She just stared at me and said quietly: “that’s not positive.”
I mulled those words over and over in my brain for two years! I felt like a caterpillar spinning its cocoon slowly and waiting for something beautiful to happen.
That’s when I started to ask my questions to experts. I asked master teachers what they did in their classrooms. I watched and learned from the best and the worst. I read every book I could get my hands on and watched YouTube videos about classroom management, teaching, children, classroom organization and procedures. I asked all sorts of questions to anyone that would listen. I wanted to learn to be better than I was.
And then the answer hit me like a ton of bricks. Good teachers love their students for who they are right now with all their imperfections. They plan for every little routine, and they carefully teach their students what is expected from them. In other words, good teachers are proactively teaching their students what it means to be an active participant in a learning community.
I threw away my clip chart because I realized it shamed students. It made them feel unloved because of their behavior.
I stopped blaming students for their bad behavior. I began thinking of ways to encourage students to make better choices and decisions.
I started asking parents for support as we worked to solve classroom struggles together.
Discipline became private, more thoughtful, and restorative. My expectations were shared clearly with students.
I slowly began creating a classroom culture that celebrated good behavior with systems that encouraged students to be better than they were yesterday.
We can ask our students and ourselves to be better than we were yesterday: better students, learners, friends, and helpers.
Each Sunday, during August, I will share classroom management tips that help me as I create a more positive learning community. I hope they also encourage you on your journey. If you have any ideas, share them in the comments below.
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Hi Cara, this is amazing! I love how reflective you are! Teaching is so hard! I absolutely love that you included the bit about teaching students to be better than they were yesterday because even the students who are well behaved can hear that and think about how to improve themselves. It also teaches a growth mindset about behavior when usually growth mindsets focus on learning! Great post!
Thank you for your kind feedback!