Some teachers, perhaps reacting against the harshness of the old “sit up and shut up” classroom, take a laissez-faire attitude toward student restlessness. While it’s good to encourage children to volunteer opinions and ideas, no classroom should be an anarchy. Give the kids too much license to do as they please, and you’ll become at best a supplement to a rowdy and popularity-dominated mob of students, with no one really learning much of anything.

Effective teachers know how to manage a classroom so students have freedom to express themselves—without the insecurity of being turned loose with no boundaries. The best classroom management techniques involve understood “contracts” between teacher and students, where everyone knows the fundamental rules and the consequences for violating them. Then a teacher is rarely caught in the uncomfortable position of having to quell a scene by making a scene.

Some details of classroom management vary, but the following principles always apply:

  • Keep the rules few and simple. Leaders who have “a rule for everything” are rarely respected—or followed. If the students can’t easily internalize all that’s required, chances are they won’t even try.
  • Require everyone to respect everyone else. No classroom can be fully effective if bullying—in any open or subtle form—is rewarded with ANY level of toleration.
  • Respect ALL the students yourself. If you ignore, or give a noticeably harder time to, any individual, the other kids will either pick up your attitude (making that student’s problems worse) or side with the targeted party (creating a faction of increasingly unmanageable students).
  • Require everyone to raise a hand, and be acknowledged, before speaking. While teaching is usually most effective when anyone is allowed to ask a question at any time, don’t allow speaking at will. If you do, what starts as one enthusiastic volunteering of opinion will quickly turn into a shouting match with everyone (including you) competing helter-skelter to be heard.
  • When someone is full of questions, or asks one that requires a lengthy answer, request that he or she meet with you to talk one-on-one, after class or during a break. Don’t allow anyone to monopolize the discussion to the point everyone else’s eyes glaze over.
  • Reinforce good behavior with positive attention. Don’t gush (and definitely don’t get into the habit of having “pets”), but let individual students know when you’re proud of them.
  • When someone really acts up, make the consequences swift, sure, and brief. Don’t make a big deal of it; that just teaches that misbehaving is the way to get attention. In most cases, a one-sentence warning, followed by a time-out if the warning isn’t heeded, is enough. And once the time-out is over, welcome the student back without lectures or grudges.
  • Do get to know the kids’ caretakers—not just to have a “higher authority” for reporting problems to, but to better understand students’ individual needs and concerns. Ideally, allow parents to periodically sit in on classes. They may have observations that will make you an even more effective teacher!
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