This article was written by Ivana Kilibarda — a 7th grade math teacher at Global Village Academy in Aurora, Colorado. Her writing has appeared in elimae, The Best American Poetry Blog, Barrow Street, Augury Books, and moria, and is forthcoming in Lost Magazine in October 2017.
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Whether you’re a seasoned pro or first year teacher, the following tips will help you master the art of classroom control. If you do these 10 things, you’ll be able to sleep easy once it’s back-to-school time. And we all know how much teachers prize sleep.
1. Be a beast on day one.
Pizza parties and dressing down are for later. Now is the time to instill fear/respect in the minds of the young. As Michael Linsin notes in his article “The Biggest First Day of School Mistake You Can Make,” often, the first day is viewed as a lax, getting to know you therapy session and, because of this casual environment, many teachers lower expectations, which is dangerous, because, “…as soon as this germ of an idea gets in (the students’) heads, a host of bad things begin to happen. Your students will start tuning out the sound of your voice. They’ll become inattentive and disrespectful. They won’t follow directions well. And misbehavior will be a daily, even hourly, presence in your classroom.” On the flip side, “The first day of school—when you have your students’ rapt attention and when their minds are open and they’re eager to do well—is the one chance you have to get things right from the beginning.” So, no pressure. You’ve got this.
2. Know at least slightly more about EVERYTHING than your students.
If you’ve got this down, winging lessons and talking confidently about evolution will come easily. Not to mention, you’ll be deemed an expert on topics like Sex Ed, World Affairs, and Pop Culture. But, what if you’re a Tech Teacher? How the heck are you going to know MORE about technology than these iPhone wielding, snap-chatting, fidget-spinning experts? Well, sometimes, you’ve got to let them teach you. That’s exactly the realization that teacher and writer Tricia Ebner came to: “Learning to let go of my need to be the "technology guru" for my students is an ongoing process. I'll admit that sometimes I still hesitate to try a new tool because I haven't yet explored all the details. But in those moments, I try to remember that our students today are growing up in a world filled with websites, programs, apps, and tools that are readily available to them, and they are willing to learn by doing. It's a true example of hands-on learning, and it's working for them. Who am I to stand in their way?” she writes in the article, “When Students Know More about Technology than their Teachers.” So, move, Teach, get out the way, get out the way, Teach, move!
3. Pay attention to the hierarchy of the students.
Who’s popular? Who’s not? Who are the jocks, computer geeks, drama queens, skaters, and all-around trouble-makers? You must know the dynamic among the students so that you can use it to your advantage. Jennifer Gonzalez gets it. In her article, “8 Things I Know for Sure about Middle School Kids” she reiterates my point: “Find the most confident kids in class, the ones everyone looks up to, and try to get them to take on a new project or help you lead the charge toward some endeavor you want everyone else on board for. If Josie the cool girl says she likes Shakespeare, others are more likely to follow.” You get it?
4. Understand that your job title is misleading.
You are part parent, part babysitter, part counselor, part police officer, part entertainer. This last one really sucks if you’re shy, quiet, or dare I say it…boring. But, it’s the reality of being a teacher today. In his article, “Today’s Educator: A Jack of All Trades and Master of One,” John Hardison notes, “The modern educator needs to be a sort of entertainer at times. Now, I’m not saying teachers have to showcase magic, singing, dancing, or some acrobatic art. I’m simply saying that lecturing to a generation who understands that the same topic at hand can be investigated and explored in a gazillion different ways via the endless library known as the internet…is not always the most effective delivery of content.” But, there’s a bright side to having so many jobs: sometimes you appear inhuman and become 100% God. Of course, that means that some students will view you as 100% Devil.
5. Delegate. Delegate. Delegate.
Kids love to do things. Mold them into little workers. Who wants to remove staples from the wall? Who wants to erase the whiteboard? Watch them fight over it. But seriously, you need to have classroom jobs. Teachhub.com, in their article, “Put Students to Work with Classroom Jobs,” states, “If you already have a list of classroom jobs, add some more! If you don’t have classroom jobs, get them started! Think of all the things you could let the children do and let them take that ownership. I believe that not only does it help you out in a serious pinch, but it gives your friends a sense of accomplishment and belonging that can’t be measured with a test.” Remember that some students will never get a Proficient in Language Arts, but they can earn an Advanced in Table Monitoring.
6. Model correctly once. Then, let the students get their strut on.
Your classroom is not the “Teacher Show.” The clearer, simpler and slower you explain yourself, the less you’ll have to repeat yourself and the less you’ll have to teach. Remember that it’s way easier to learn something if you dumb it down. If a kid has an easier approach to solving a problem, let them show it to the class. If you find yourself staring at a bunch of bored or confused faces, it’s probably time to simplify what you just said. If students are lost, it’s usually because the directions were too complicated, long, or expressed in language that’s written for people who read more than text messages.
7. Use the seating arrangement to your advantage.
Is Emilio being impossible? You know he’s got a crush on Diana, so move him next to her, and watch his behavior improve. Tables or desks? Rows or shapes? Whatever you do, you’ve got to understand that, “By simply rearranging how the desks in the room are setup, you can not only get better control of your class but create an open and friendly classroom environment.” (“Classroom Layouts: Seating Arrangements for Effective Learning.”) Even better, you get kids like Emilio on your side with virtually zero effort. How cool is that?
8. Get to know other teachers outside of school.
Most teachers are giant kids. Play and party together and don’t be afraid of being immoral. “How and why teachers drink is a topic that rarely receives the discussion it deserves. For the average drinker, alcohol provides mental escape, but for teachers that escape is physical, too – after spending entire days surrounded by children or teenagers, we are retreating to the one place that will be – ideally – certifiably child-free.” (“Pencils Down, Bottoms Up”, Alexander Nazaryan). Just don’t pick a bar too close to school because, chances are, you’ll run into at least one of your beloved little angels, just like you’re sure to run into a student on your first day of any type of break.
9. Learn what’s cool now.
While you may cringe upon hearing that the hot chicks these days are the Kardashians, remember that Gwen Stefani was the cool chic back in your day. Both of your teen idols are total fakes. Your friends used to snort pixie sticks and shoot spitballs at their crushes? They put slime in each other’s hair and tie their hoodies up in defiance. You used to write, “I signed your crack” in yearbooks while they write, “I’m coming” on desks. It is what it is. And Facebook isn’t cool to them. Musical.ly is. Because the thing is, anything that we started is boring.
10. Parents have changed. Get used to it.
The realization that parents are no longer on the teachers’ side is a hard one; however, don’t let a parent tell you how to run your class even though you’d like to tell them how to parent. Jessica Bowers agrees with me, and lists The Boss Parent as #8 on his list of “Ten Types of Parents that Teachers Secretly Hate” and describes this special type of human perfectly: “This parent brings a business sense to the classroom, and he wants to make sure I know that my place in the hierarchy is somewhere below him. He has no problem letting me know that he is in charge and I am punching my card on his company clock. This parent sees me not as a partner, but as an employee. It's just a matter of time before he says ‘I pay taxes, so I am your boss.’" No, no, no, honey, remember that YOU’RE the boss.