New teachers want their students to like them and to enjoy school. New teachers do not always know the best way to accomplish this. Older teachers can also find themselves buying into the following myths.
Myth: I’m capable of handling this on my own. A teacher does need to take ownership of her classroom and students. But none of us can be immediately successful of ourselves. Of greatest importance, we need to recognize that without the help of God we are nothing. We need His wisdom and aid every day. We also need advice and help from other teachers, the principal, the board, and the parents. They cannot do our work, but they can shape the way we do the work.
Myth: If I show enough love for my students, they will love me, and I won’t have to discipline them. There is a kernel of truth in this statement. The teacher who truly loves her students fosters respect for herself and the student, making discipline much easier to administer and be received. However, the teacher who overlooks misdeeds or gives in to student demands because she wants her students to know she “loves” them, does not truly love her students. True love for students will seek ways to for those students to grow in character. Many times, character growth involves some form of discipline whether self or otherwise imposed. Truly loving our students will give them the direction they need, even if we shrink from that need. Most of us do not enjoy correcting other people’s children; but “love” alone will not build character.
Myth: A teacher needs to carry a big stick. This myth is the opposite of the last one. Yes, a teacher must be the one in charge of the classroom. But you can be in charge without being heavy-handed with it. Students do like to know where the line is drawn. If they don’t, most will keep pushing until they find it. Communicate with the students. Make your expectations clear. Make sure the students understand what you want. But don’t get into a power struggle with them. Project matter-of-fact confidence that they will do as you expect. And then if they don’t, handle it confidently without making it big deal.
Many times, a look can quietly take care of disruptions without distracting others. An illustration: In the cafeteria one day a mischievous second grader was testing his teacher’s authority. Her pleading words were just part of the game for him. I happened to walk past and instinctively gave him a raised eyebrow look that he knew from the previous year. He wilted and turned to do what his teacher told him. She didn’t know what had transpired, but I realized after I’d passed that I’d been interfering with her actions. I did find it an interesting study of a student recognizing someone in control.
Don’t show frustration or anger. A calmly stated command, “Please go to your seat,” is more effective than a raging torrent of words. A teacher does well to remember to apply the least amount of energy that it takes to solve the problem. Most times the less words used the better. The big stick often causes resentment. How do I know? Even after many years, I sometimes still forget and ruin all that had been accomplished beforehand by wielding the big stick.
Myth: You can’t smile till November. A student wants to know that their teacher wants them in the classroom. Kindness and empathy are important assets of a successful teacher. Genuine smiles and words of appreciation let a child know we are aware of them, and we want them to succeed. We all need encouragement to do our best. Positive feedback gives us the will to keep working. A teacher’s genuine praise builds trust and teamwork. Letting our displeasure or grouchiness habitually show breaks down respect for the teacher and creates an atmosphere of discouragement. This does not mean that we don’t deal with less than perfect issues. We just do so in an honest and kind way.
Myth: Students coming back to school need a few days of grace to learn what your expectations will be. There is truth in this statement. However, it is a myth to think that you will not need to enforce expectations for the first few days. In this way, you lose valuable ground in developing your classroom management strategies.
Students do need time to practice and have reinforced the way you want things to run in your classroom. Spend time every day for the first while reviewing and practicing expectations. However, students are also going to want to know that they can depend on you for consequences. Don’t let them down. Students will also forget the first while. Consequences will help them remember.
For first grade students, I may not introduce the consequences in full detail on the first day. They already have much new material cluttering their minds. I do introduce a modified version and as time goes on continue to add details as needed.
Example: Beginners need to learn to raise their hands for permission to talk. This is a new habit they need to make. I introduce the idea, model it, and get them to practice. We review several times during the day—maybe after breaks or other free time activities. I have a list of the student names on my board. If a student forgets I remind them and put a mark after their name. We may also practice raising our hands again. This mark is the only consequence at this time, but we turn it into a game of trying to keep the marks off the board. Those first few days, I will usually comment on students who have no marks and then erase them all several times a day—after lunch, after recess, etc. Every day I lengthen the period the marks stay up until I no longer erase them at all. I usually recognize students who can make it through the period or day with no infractions. As I need to, I will introduce the next steps of my consequence plan. Some years, I need to do this within the first two weeks. Last year, we were in the fourth quarter until it become necessary to fully implement the plan.
We have a fairly consistent classroom management foundation for elementary. Each teacher adapts it to fit their style and group of students but most students beyond first grade have an idea of what is expected of them. Teachers who introduce their plan and reinforce it through review, modeling, practice, find that providing consequences, if necessary, the first day lay a good foundation for the rest of the year.
Part 2 of this series will address a few more myths teachers may encounter.