What’s Your Classroom Climate Like?

Hey everyone! Time for another educational post 🙂

To bring ya’ll up to date, this most recent unit has been about “creating a caring classroom climate” (alluring alliteration, isn’t it?). Basically, as teachers, we should make our classrooms warm and inviting while, at the same time, provide appropriate structure and guidelines to make sure things don’t get out of hand. We also, as teachers, are challenged to be empathetic and compassionate while simultaneously maintaining a professional distance from students. Even as a new teacher with little experience, I know that this is no easy feat.

The children who attend my church are quick, clever, and terribly incorrigible. Tell them not to do something and, of course, they do it. Ask them if they want to do a fun activity, and they emphatically shout, “No!” with a grin. Yet, ask them an age appropriate Bible question, and they nail it. Ask them to explain a passage, and the depth of the response is shocking. Here, therefore, is my struggle: how do I channel that energy, that curiosity which I know lies under that “I don’t care” expression, into something positive and creative while, also, maintaining control of the class?

If I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I’ve seen many different teaching styles, and most of them have taught me what NOT to do. I’ve suffered under teachers who punished more than taught. I think the worst I’ve seen was my poor middle school Chorus teacher, Mrs. P. An accomplished musician, a passionate director, I had so much fun under her direction when everybody else in chorus actually did what she told them. Instead, I think our choir about drove her off the deep end. I remember days where almost nothing was accomplished; we made it through maybe a few verses, just learning one new passage, and that was it. Mrs. P yelled at, shamed, and reasoned with my choir until she was blue in the face. That classroom certainly had a miserable, very tense climate. Due to this experience, I enter my church’s classroom with the full expectation that I will NOT, I repeat, WILL NOT yell at my students. It does nothing but stir up antagonism and prolong the disruption. Yet, as I mentioned before, they are a rowdy bunch. How, then, do I be kind and reasonable without letting the students walk all over me?

Thankfully, Teach NOW has pointed me towards what I should do in order to avoid such a disastrous classroom climate. Therefore, I’m going to share with ya’ll the three classroom management tips that I found the most relevant to me:


1.) You’re the teacher; be the boss. 

Now, that might sound a little weird, but what I mean is that you have got to be in control of your classroom. How does one accomplish this? Make sure that you have established rules and boundaries that students can understand and easily obey (Marzano, 2007, p.150). In short, make sure they know what is expected of them at all times. I read or heard from somewhere (I don’t remember where, sorry) that children respond well to regularly enforced rules and discipline. From my own experience, I can relate that this really works.

My church has Vacation Bible School for a week every summer, and for the past few years, I’ve been a group leader. A few years ago, I had four rambunctious first graders under my wing. Sure, that doesn’t sound like a lot, but, remember, these are my church’s kids. One in particular, Z, was almost in trouble. He was getting up, going down, picking up things, taking things, talking out of turn, etc. etc. I told him repeatedly that I would tell his mother on him, and I did on occasion. I even got, well, what I consider “mean” for me: I became very serious, told him, “No,” appropriately, and made him sit down and be quiet. I’m such a non-confrontational person that that was rather difficult for me. Yet, miraculously, it worked. By the end of the week, Z was begging to sit on my lap, and when the leaders held group prayer on the final day, Z told everyone that he was thankful for his teacher (me!!!). My heart melted a little then 🙂 But it worked! Now, though he still is, well, a little energetic boy, he tends to listen to me more and behave more calmly in my presence.

Getting this to work on a much larger class of different children who I don’t even see every month is another beast entirely, but I know that I can’t give up the fight. Therefore, my plan of attack is to get together with the other Primary school teachers and create a list of rules that we can prominently display in the classroom. These rules will be coupled with appropriate punishments should students get out of line. With these rules all agreed upon and enforced by every teacher, it will make it easier for every teacher to maintain control over the class, no matter how many times they teach each month. Further, as a novice teacher myself, I won’t have to second guess myself about what constitutes an appropriate punishment when I’m faced with a problem.

2.) Be aware of yourself; your behavior is a greater variable in classroom management than you think.

It’s so easy to blame everything that goes wrong in the classroom on student behavior; what isn’t easy is admitting that you might be part of the problem too. I really like this quote from one of our Teach NOW textbooks, The Art and Science of Teaching: 

“The causes of many classroom behaviors labeled and punished as rule infractions are, in fact, problems of students and teachers relating to each other interpersonally” (Marzano, 2007, p.150).

If you’re in a bad mood, can your students tell? Do you take what students say to you personally? Do you notice any correlation between how you act towards your students and how they respond to you in turn? If this is the case, heed this advice: check yourself before you wreck yourself.

I know that’s hard to do, particularly when it feels like you’re literally “in the heat of battle” some days. Yet, as The Art and Science of Teaching points out, we as teachers are called to rise above the the currents of hormones and emotions billowing about us. We are a kind of public servant, having dedicated our lives to the mental upbringing of the next generation. As such, we should stand tall, put on a brave face, and set the tone for our classroom. Truly, your students are watching you. I remember how closely I scrutinized my teachers as I tried to discern what was expected of me. Go to the mirror and take a good look at yourself. Put yourself in your student’s place, and ask, “Do I like who I see? Is this someone I can trust?”

In short, be the kind of teacher you always wanted to have as a child. Act wisely; scrutinize your every movement, if you must. Remember, you are shaping minds and souls, and students will, like little mirrors, reflect what they see.

I’m an introvert by nature, so I tend to be very aware, sometimes hyper aware, of how I appear to others. While this sometimes drives me (and others) crazy, I know it will help me as a teacher because it will help me project the best image for my students. I’m not suggesting that I’ll be fake; rather, as I sense how my students are feeling, I can change how I act and react to them so that my classroom remains upbeat and welcoming, despite whatever mood might prevail elsewhere in the school.

3.) Get to know your students on a personal level. 

This helps in three ways: 1.) Students who are known and understood on a personal level are less likely to cause disruptions and require discipline, 2.) Understanding your students helps you tailor your lessons to their individual tastes and styles, enhancing their learning experience, and 3.) It helps you see your students as what they really are: mini-people.

I know that third way sounded strange, but I have to agree with Sir Ken Robinson on this: kids are not little robots that need information routinely programmed into their systems. I really like this quote from his “How to escape education’s Death Valley” video:

One estimate in America currently is that something like 10 percent of kids, getting on that way, are being diagnosed with various conditions under the broad title of attention deficit disorder. ADHD. I’m not saying there’s no such thing. I just don’t believe it’s an epidemic like this. If you sit kids down, hour after hour, doing low-grade clerical work, don’t be surprised if they start to fidget, you know? Children are not, for the most part, suffering from a psychological condition. They’re suffering from childhood” (Robinson, 2013). 

By taking time to understand your students, you experience for yourself what they need to grow. By putting yourself in their place, by seeing where they come from, you become a more knowledgable educator and a more just disciplinarian. Take this scenario from The Art and Science of Teaching: 

“To illustrate, assume that a teacher has had a negative experience with a particular student named Chris. Chris might have spoken disrespectfully to the teacher when the teacher asked if she had completed her homework. The teacher’s first (and quite natural) thoughts are that Chris is challenging her authority and trying to disrupt the class. Such thoughts will quite naturally stimulate negative emotions in the teacher and potentially provoke further conflict. A more useful approach in terms of projecting a sense of emotional objectivity would be for the teacher to re-explain Chris’s behavior to herself in more acceptable terms. For example, Chris could be upset because of an argument she had with her parents the night before class. Chris could be frustrated because she was working at her job after school and did not complete the homework assigned, and so on” (Marzano, 2007, p.160).

Sorry for the long quote, but it makes a good point: put yourself in the place of your student, and it will change the way you teach forever. Yes, as a teacher, you have superiors who tell you what to teach and want to see results. Yes, you have deadlines to meet and required lessons to cover and standardized tests looming on the horizon. But, in the end, those things aren’t truly important. What matters are those growing human beings before you, those seedlings ready to burst into bloom. There you stand, holding the watering can. Treat your students like the individuals they are, and before you know it, your classroom will become a veritable garden, glorious to behold.

This is what I hope to see happening in my little Sabbath School classroom. Since I see the children in church, know their parents, and have mentored them before during VBS and other church related programs, I’ve gotten to most of them on a somewhat personal level. I know who plays Minecraft, who enjoys sports, and who prefers playing dress-up to coloring. I’ve discovered several artists-to-be, and I can tell already who will become leaders for their generation. All these things and more guide my teaching and my attitude towards them. May you, my dear readers, be similarly inspired to discover more about your own “diamonds in the rough.”


Sources:

Marzano, R. (2007, January 1). The Art and Science of Teaching: A Comprehensive Framework for Effective Instruction.         Retrieved December 21, 2014, from http://www.teachnowprogram.com/get_help_resources/activity_resources/module4/The_Art_and_Science_of_Teaching.pdf

Robinson, K. (2013, April 1). Transcript of “How to escape education’s death valley” Retrieved December 22, 2014, from http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_how_to_escape_education_s_death_valley/transcript?language=en

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