As I finish an exciting 3 weeks at Riverside Elementary (stay tuned for more stories and thoughts in the coming weeks as I synthesize that experience), I have reflected to realize, more and more, how imperative it is to consider classroom management as a future educator. What I have found, furthermore, is that I believe classroom management is a skill learned through experience, not tacet learning. In other words, it is very difficult to “teach” classroom management in higher education. Now…let me clarify, as I tread on thin ice with professors likely reading…this is not to say that we are ineffective in higher education at preparing teachers to manage classrooms. Not in the slightest! I simply feel, as I have experienced “both sides of the desk,” that “getting good” at classroom management is entirely dependent on the opportunity to practice, learn, and grow with your students. I have been given ample opportunities to peer teach and prepare lessons (something Luther College does a great job at). Yet, despite how much my peers tried to act like first graders, nothing could match the practice I got in Rochester, MN, with 18-6 year olds. We can teach tactics, skills, philosophies, and methods until we’re blue in the face, but until future teachers like me get their butts in the classroom, none of this comes to life or has any real meaning. In other words, making this complex idea simple, we can teach classroom management in higher education…but it must include clinical placement. Every child, every classroom, and every community comes with their own baggage, their own schema, and their own history…and when we combine all of those histories in to one “hodge-podge” and try to manage it “by the book,” we’re destined for implosion. As I have reiterated and strived for with lesson planning and relationship building in the past, each community, class, and student deserves the attention and opportunity to be treated as an individual…this extends in to how we “manage” their behavior as well.
You’re probably thinking…”Well, Andrew, that’s nice and all…but what do you believe then?”…this is valid. What is my philosophy on classroom management? Ultimately, like much of what I stress when talking about teaching in general it comes down to two words: “student-centered.” If classroom management strays, and this can be to the point of being a “power trip” or as simple as rules entirely created by the teacher, the learning becomes less about the students. No, I don’t want a classroom “run” by my students, but I do want a room where my students feel fairly represented and like they have control over their own boundaries and behavior. A “classroom contract,” or in my history teacher mindset a “Classroom Bill of Rights,” can be just as effective when created by the students as a group then when it’s pre-assembled by the teacher before the year starts.
This must be effectively communicated to parents as well. A simple letter may do the trick…and even having students create a list of rules for their parents to abide by can be effective. How should their parents treat them if they don’t do their homework? What can they do to encourage them? …etc. A student-generated list like this can be an amazing tool and an artifact to help show parents what their children want and the support they appreciate at home. When it comes to managing the classroom on a daily basis, I have a few other beliefs: I know positive reinforcement works wonders. Negativity does no good to a child’s learning. Rewards can help, but should not distract or drive the task at hand. Students should experience their learning, not be limited by it. Too many rules stifle creativity. Build a family and a community. …to name a few. The most important of these is the last one: build a family and a community. When students feel invested as a part of something bigger, they are less likely to stray from or do anything to jeopardize the good of the whole. When one can create this sense in their classroom, investing students in the well-being of the class in addition to their own learning, teaching becomes more than just facts and figures…it becomes a living, breathing thing. And that, friends, is amazing to witness.