Classroom Management: What Advice Would Teachers Give?

Last night I was leafing through The Virginian-Pilot and watching the gossip shows while I was on my stationary bike. I stopped prying into Tiger’s business and focused on my own when I saw the article, “Teacher Management Style Key to Success,” on page 4. I am usually days behind in my newspaper reading. I mean they honestly sit unopened for days, and when I do open them, I am mad at myself because I have missed an event or a sale. But last night was different; I was reading the paper delivered to my door on 12/18/09.

The article began with a description of a classroom out of any teacher’s sweetest dreams. This language arts classroom happened to be in Daniel Webster Middle School in Los Angeles. The students came in, took a seat, and began the day’s warm-up activity. Blissful.

Well, I knew from the photo caption—“Students in Brent Walmsley’s English class at Daniel Webster Middle School in Los Angeles, ignore Walmsley as the first-year teacher takes attendance.” — that this article wasn’t about dream teaching. Sure enough, it doesn’t take long for the writer, Seema Mehta, to take me into Walmsley’s classroom so I can read about what goes on in there. It’s a new teacher (probably any teacher’s) worse nightmare. None of the students are listening. The article goes on to explain the importance of classroom management skills, and it mentions that a few months ago the U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan wasn’t too happy with the work that people like me do to help prepare teachers. Hey, although I do my best, I’m not happy with my performance either and seek to learn more so I can teach better. While I don’t teach classroom management courses, I do usually say a little something about it in the developing strategies for teaching English in middle and high schools course, but for some reason I don’t think I said anything this semester. Here are things the article says, even though I think classroom management courses (and/or textbooks) do mention:

• Teachers need to be consistent with rules (rules is my word) and consequences

• Start strong and firm in the very beginning

• Follow through. Webster’s principal put it this way, “If you say the next person who talks in class will be set on fire and rolled down the hallway, you’re in trouble if someone talks and you don’t set them on fire and roll them down the hallway.”

• “Remain dispassionate and unflappable” (I wonder what teachers, especially preservice teachers, think of this advice.)

The line that I think resonates with many went like this: “No one can predict how they will fare until they are given the keys to their first classroom.”

Daniel Webster Middle School has a mentoring program designed to help new teachers with classroom management. What advice would my teacher-friends give to new teachers? If you'd like to see the article I read, please email me and I will send it to you.