10 Ways to Sabotage Your Classroom Management | MiddleWeb
By Jennifer Gonzalez
You know the basics: Establish clear rules and
consequences, be consistent, keep students
engaged. But even with all that in place, the small
things you do could be wreaking havoc on your
Here are some habits you might have developed that are messing with
your classroom management, along with more effective alternatives.1. Smiling at the Wrong Times
This was a big problem for me. I thought my students were pretty funny
people, so when a kid took those first steps to get us off-track, I
couldn’t help but smile. And that just encouraged him to continue. The
irony was that five minutes later, I would be yelling at the whole class
for getting too wild. Duh.
Alternative: Make a conscious effort to hold a neutral, “on-task” facial
expression when you need your class to be focused. I still think it’s
important to show students you have a sense of humor and appreciate
theirs, but everyone needs to learn that there’s a time and place for it.
Have a private conversation with your class clowns, letting them know
that there will be times when you won’t react to their jokes – that will be
your signal that it’s a “serious” time.
2. Handling Problems Publicly
Addressing student misbehavior in a public way
risks embarrassing the student, and if she is prone
to being oppositional, she’s likely to talk back and
dig herself into a deeper hole. You retaliate, and
before you know it, a full-scale war has erupted.
Alternative: Whenever possible, address off-task
behavior in private. Some teachers silently place a post-it note on the
student’s desk to signal that a problem has occurred, then add a checkmark for every subsequent infraction.
Others just speak in a quiet voice by the student’s desk or call the
student up to their own. The method isn’t terribly important; just aim for
a bare minimum of spectacle.
3. All Sound, No Sight
So many behavior problems start with students simply not
understanding what they are supposed to do. This is especially true
when teachers only give verbal directions instead of making them
Alternative: Provide visual cues for what students are expected to do. If
you want them to do steps 1-4 of today’s lab, then clean up their
materials, then read silently for the rest of the period, go to the board
and make a quick list: step 1-4, clean up, read. Simply writing those
steps on the board will save you from having to remind students or
reprimand them for not following the plan.
4. Not Waiting for Quiet
When I observe teachers, I see this mistake more often than any other:
They start talking to the class before everyone has completely stopped
talking. To be fair, they often wait until almost everyone is quiet, but
allowing that last bit of chatter to linger causes problems: Students who
don’t hear what you say will either (a) turn to a neighbor to ask, or (b)follow instructions incorrectly. It’s easy to blame kids for being poor
listeners, but the problem could actually be the teacher’s timing.
Alternative: Before addressing your class, force yourself to wait a few
extra seconds (about five) until everyone – everyone – is completely
5. Making Students Choose Between Listening and
When you distribute a handout to students, do
you give them quiet time to actually read it?
Or do you keep talking, “going over it” and
constantly interrupting them to the point
where they can’t process any of it? When you
do this, you guarantee that students will either
skip over something important on the document, or miss a vital bit of
information you gave verbally. The brain can’t do both at once.
Alternative: If you have preliminary remarks to make before giving
students written material, do your talking first, then pass out the
papers. Once students have the document in hand, tell them you’re
going to give them a few minutes to read it. Then…BE QUIET. If you
must interrupt, have students turn their papers face-down and look at
you, then give the announcement.
6. Only Speaking in “Don’ts”If I tell you not to think about a hot fudge sundae, what do you think
about? Yep, a hot fudge sundae. Similarly, if you tell a seventh grade
boy not to tap his pencil, he still has pencil tapping on the brain.
Alternative: Tell students what to do. These directives can address the
problem at hand (Jake, put your pencil under your textbook until I tell
you to use it) or distract the student with another activity altogether
(Jake, read number 4 for me, please).
7. Taking Too Long
When a student gets off-task, an ineffective teacher
will waste five minutes lecturing her about it. This not
only makes you lose valuable instructional time, it
also annoys the heck out of the other students, who
are forced to sit and watch.
Alternative: Just becoming aware of this problem will
help you improve it. Remember, you don’t have to
settle every issue right away; when an interaction drags on, tell the
student you’ll finish talking after class.
8. Staying Up Front
Proximity is a huge key to stopping misbehavior before it gets going. If
you’re always at the front of your classroom, you can’t pick up on
trouble in the early stages. By the time you notice a problem, it’s already gained momentum, making it much harder to stop.
Alternative: Move around while you teach. Do it so casually and so
regularly that students just expect it.
9. Focusing on the Problems
It’s natural to give your energy to misbehaviors, to
only comment when something goes wrong, but
you’ll get more cooperation if you give equal (or
more) attention to the good behaviors, especially
when it comes to students who have trouble with
Alternative: You’ve probably heard of “catch them being good,” but
actually doing it takes concentration. For some students, you have to
wait a while before the desirable behavior happens! Watch Daniel, the
pencil-tapper: After you tell him to set his pencil down, does it stay
there for a few minutes? Before he grabs it again, go over and say,
“Thanks for keeping that pencil down.” Nine times out of ten, that will
lengthen the time it takes for him to pick it up again.
10. Taking Things Personally
No matter what’s going on, taking student misbehavior as a personal
affront can only make things worse. But not taking it personally is a lot
easier said than done.Alternative: A mental trick I used to help me step away from those hurt
feelings was to think of myself as a service provider – like a dentist –
and my students as patients. If my patient got a cavity, I would treat it
as best I could, but I wouldn’t take it personally. If things don’t always
go well, it doesn’t have to be about me.
Classroom management is so complex, it can take years to develop a
style and a system that works. By replacing these habits with more
effective practices, you’ll build a better classroom for everyone.
[Illustrations by Jennifer Gonzalez]
Jennifer Gonzalez taught middle school
language arts for seven and a half years (she
insists on counting that half year…it was a
doozy) and prepared pre-service teachers at the
university level for four. Now she works full-time
on her website, Cult of Pedagogy
(cultofpedagogy.com), where she shares
strategies, tools, and articles like Using Notebooks for Classroom
Management to help teachers make their work more effective and
more fun. Follow her on Twitter @cultofpedagogy.
10 Ways to Sabotage Your Classroom Management | MiddleWeb