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I’ve been teaching since 2009, and many of these years have been abroad in several different schools. Even as a young teacher, I knew that I had strong classroom management skills. There were groups of kids that other teachers struggled with who were angels in my class and succeeding academically.
When I returned home to North America, I wasn’t nervous at all to start at a new school. I was confident in my classroom management skills as I knew I’d dealt with tough groups before.
Can you see where this is going?
I taught five different classes at my new school. In the first couple of months, I’d say that 2 were awesome, 2 were pretty good, and 1….was terrible.
And these descriptors are for both my management of the classes and how I felt about being with them.
Classroom management is at the root of so much in teaching, so I just wasn’t enjoying the groups that I was struggling to manage well.
The “terrible” group wouldn’t stop talking. They didn’t do their homework. The first test came and went and some of the students who didn’t do very well blamed it on the way I had organized things on their online portal. The hardest critique came when I was told that I didn’t actually teach them after I’d had them do a discovery activity rather than direct instruction to introduce a new topic…huh?
It was honestly miserable. Thinking back to it still makes me cringe.
But It made me reflect a lot.
If you read my recent blog post, you’ll have seen that there are 3 pillars to master in order to have a well-managed classroom.
With this group, I somehow found myself constantly reacting in the moment.
I had created systems (i.e. a set of procedures within my classroom for different tasks), but the students in this class didn’t buy into them because I didn’t do a good enough job implementing them.
It turns out, their previous subject teachers (some of whom also taught other sections of this course) had all been doing things a certain way and I did them differently. They were small differences to me that I believed were best practice, but for some reason it was enough that a few leaders of the class were rebelling hard.
I now see that I made two mistakes with this group:
- I didn’t check with other teachers to see what expectations were. It wasn’t as if my small systems were against any school policy, but there were enough differences from what they were used to from previous years and in other sections that they fought back.
- I didn’t take enough time with teaching them the systems. If I had been more deliberate in introducing my way of doing things, students would have been less confused and I think it would have been fine.
But…the worst part was that it wasn’t just a problem with one pillar. Without solid systems, I was also struggling to build relationships. I had a few kids that really liked me, but most were indifferent or annoyed because of the rough start.
I was able to muddle through the year, but honestly I’d lost some of them and couldn’t recover enough to really feel good about it.
The next years? No problem. Same content, fixed up my systems and how I implemented them – we sailed through the year!
So my takeaways from this?
Here are 4 Tips for Creating and Implementing Systems to get you started!
- You need systems, and you need systems for all kinds of things. How to enter, how to exit, how to turn in work, how to keep track of homework, what to do when you’re absent, lab behavior, test days, etc.
- You need to check in with other teachers or a mentor to see what systems are expected. For example, is it up to the teacher to post the homework every night, or do students have agendas? Are you allowed to change dates for assessments? Is there an expectation of how many assignments you need to give? What about homework? All standard department or school policies need to be taken into account before you create your own systems to fit around those.
- When you are introducing a new system or procedure, explain your reasoning when you introduce it and take the time to answer any questions or concerns.
- Realize that classroom management might be harder in your first year, or when you move to a new school. New teachers are tested more and not always given the benefit of the doubt. After a successful year or two, you have a reputation which will take you a long way. Reputation is something that established teachers often forget about…they don’t need to work nearly as hard as new teachers to prove themselves! This can be YOU one day! Once you’ve taught siblings, friends, teammates, etc. you aren’t starting from scratch every year. Put in the work now and it WILL pay off for the long haul!
I hope that today’s tips have given you some direction and confidence as you think about the school year ahead.
If you’re interested in more in-depth guidance in terms of…
- assessing which systems and procedures you need,
- options for common systems that work well,
- tools to support your systems and procedures,
- and exactly how to run your first days of school…
You’ll find that and more in Module 2 of What You Wish You Learned in Teachers College: Classroom Management.
If you have any questions you can email me at email@example.com or DM me on Instagram @bigredscience!
Interested in other Back-to-School activities? Check out:
Classroom Management Series #3: Tips for Reacting in the Moment
Classroom Management Series #2: Tips for Building Relationships
The #1 Things Teachers Wish They Learned in Teachers College
How to Guarantee that Your Students Will Remember What They Learn
The Proven Blueprint to Using Movies in the Science Classroom
Using YouTube for a Low-Prep Bellringer
My Favorite Way to Start the Science School Year