Day Nine: My Biggest Teaching Accomplishment – Finding My Most Powerful Tool

I may be a bit naive, but about once every few weeks I decide that I have just completed the best lesson of all time. I am so thrilled with myself that I run next door to any of my available colleagues and tell them that I have just taught the perfect lesson. They say, “That’s great, Martha. I can’t wait to hear more about it,” and go back to their work, knowing that I get a little overly excited sometimes. So, I have mini-teaching breakthroughs that happen regularly enough to keep me motivated and looking for new and fresh techniques.

BUT – there is something that I can say is my ONE best accomplishment – and it’s huge. It is classroom management. I must make this clear: things are certainly not perfect in my classroom, and I don’t have one hundred percent control at all times, but everything runs pretty smoothly these days.

Discipline is not my specialty. I would rather sharpen pencils all day long than discuss rules and procedures with eye-rolling teenagers. But, teaching an unruly classroom is just as effective as taking notes with a broken pencil tip. So, a well-managed classroom is a must for any of us who want to teach kids well.

After an evaluation one time I decided that I needed to be tougher on the kids – firmer, stricter, more demanding and less friendly…. I tried hard for a few days, but it just wasn’t my style, and I couldn’t keep up being Mrs. Mean.

I had two classroom management issues. First, I couldn’t get the class quiet in order to give instructions and teach a lesson. Second, I used to have students that didn’t like me and that wanted to argue with me. Those students, and their negative attitudes, occupied too much of my time, and it made me neglect the students who were eager to learn.

I have figured out that it’s not just “experience” that improved things, but it was a change in my relationship with the students.

At the beginning of each semester I started to figure out which students came in to the classroom with issues and would become my “problem” students. I learned to “stereotype” them – not by race, gender, or academic talent, but I could stereotype them according to their attitudes. I learned to treat the negative, sinister, teacher-defying scowls with “cool” compassion. I am not overly ooey gooey with them, but I become interested in their lives – their families, their jobs, their friends, their music, whatever I could find to discuss with them. I love doing this, and some of these kids have fascinating stories and are eager to have someone who is interested in them. People feel valued when we are asked for information that is specific to us. It doesn’t take much time to ask those questions; I am not having lengthy conversations while I am helping the students with their work. How many seconds does it take to ask “How is your Mom’s job going?” Just a couple, right? It’s worth the time.

I also avoid sarcasm. I used to think that it was fun to make sarcastic comments, and I know that some teachers are able to do this effectively, but it can yield a negative tone. We laugh and have fun with one another, but sarcasm isn’t part of the humor toolbag anymore.

Calling students by name, however, is my most powerful tool. Using someone’s name, and even better, giving them a nickname, makes students feel special. I have students who visit me after they have graduated or been out of my class for a while, and they come back and wait for me to call them “Al Pal”, “Kay Kay”, “Bobby C.”, or whatever name I had come up with for them. Often I use their first and last name together.

Think about what it feels like to hear the sound of YOUR first and last name together – not when you are in trouble, but as a greeting. It makes you feel important, even famous.

Some people will say that they are not good with names. Well, we are teachers. We need to be good with names. We are in the business of public relations, and the “inability” to know names is equivalent to wearing your pajamas to work. Knowing names comes fairly easy to me; I am lucky. However, I work pretty hard at it at the beginning of the year. I take notes and memorize names and people – just like students memorize the preamble to the Constitution. I practice until I get it right.

Because my students know that I value them, they listen to me when I ask them to be quiet while I am speaking (or while someone else is). I rarely have a”problem” student, and when I do, I end the negative relationship pretty quickly

Like I said, it’s not perfect – some days are better than others in terms of classroom management, but I finally feel like I am in control and have set a positive tone for the classroom.

So, dear Teacher Friend, best wishes to all of us as we work to manage our classrooms everyday.

Rita Pierson, a Lifelong Educator, gives a really powerful message on the importance of building relationships. It is a MUST-SEE!

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