“Don’t smile until Christmas.” Teachers have all heard this advice in at least one education course. This classroom management tip is supposed to help new teachers strike fear and respect into students. But today this mindset doesn’t seem to fly, especially at the high school level. If you want a sure fire way to spend less time on classroom management, spend more time building real relationships with your students.
Get to know your students as people.
Students need to know that we see them as more than a missing assignment or a bad test grade. What are they good at? What do they like to do outside of the school day? It takes time to find these things out, but it also saves time in the end. Students are much more willing to work for a teacher who seems to genuinely take interest in them. I recently had a new student who desperately wanted to get kicked out of class. I knew this and I wouldn’t give in. Then I found out that he enjoyed working on engines. We chatted a bit about this for a few minutes and since then, he has been a model student for me. I treated him like a real person worthy of my time, and he has reciprocated the gesture.
Show your students that you are a real person.
Students need to see that teachers are more than just talking heads spewing mathematical equations or grammar rules. We are real people. We have good days and bad days. We make mistakes, and we don’t know everything. We need our coffee in the morning and our chocolate in the afternoon. Students are always amazed to find out that teachers like some of the same things they do. Conversations about movies, books, sports, and TV shows may seem like a waste of time, but in the end it makes us human to them. These connections build the respect that we need in our classrooms.
Build on the positive.
Students generally know what they don’t know. They don’t need to be told. Instead they need to see what they do well and how they can build to make improvements. I start every year with a discussion about what my responsibility to them is as a teacher. I explain that I never make corrections or suggest changes to their work in an effort to make them feel bad. I do it to help them improve. My goal is to help them be a better student by the time they leave my class. Improvements of any size are successes. Many students need to see small successes in order to be motivated to reach for bigger things. Classroom management strategies aren’t as necessary in a room full of motivated students.
Trust your students until they give you a reason not to.
Most kids are good kids. There are always a few who ruin it for the bunch. You know who they are, but be careful about the time wasted in power struggles because you assume the worst. My students know that my answer to their questions about bathroom or locker use will always be “Yes,” until they give me a reason to say “No.” They like the bit of freedom they have, and the majority don’t abuse it because they know they can lose it.
You have to teach your lessons, and you have to be professional. You can’t always be super entertaining. But you don’t have to be bored or boring. If you are tired of listening to yourself, chances are you lost your students half an hour ago. Lighten up. Connect to their real life, make a joke, let them talk and explain their understandings and frustrations. Students feed off of our enthusiasm. Give them something to work with.
At the end of the day, we all have to remember that no teacher can be loved by every student. It’s not possible. But, bottom line, students are more likely to engage if they feel connected to their teachers, and engaged students tend to manage themselves.