Many veteran teachers consider classroom management the cornerstone of their success. After all, it’s difficult — even impossible — to deliver instruction on academic content in a classroom that isn’t functioning smoothly. Fostering a respectful environment and establishing predictable classroom routines goes a long way toward helping students thrive.
But for new and experienced teachers alike, this school year presents fresh challenges to traditional classroom conduct. Students who learned remotely last year have gone 18 months without participating in the rhythms of classroom life.
Teachers who worked in person last year now find themselves readjusting again, too. “Last year I had between five and 10 students in my classroom, so now having a full class of 28 students is definitely something to get used to. The energy level is up there,” says Josh Rosen, a second-year teacher at IS 59 in Springfield Gardens, Queens.
Here are some suggestions for how to adapt your classroom management plans to meet this school year’s specific challenges.
Be sincere and direct with students. “It’s very clear that so much is different, so it’s important to create an environment where you acknowledge that,” says Allison Teicher, an English and ENL teacher at Veritas Academy in Flushing, Queens. “I asked my students to tell me what they think teachers and schools should do for students this year, and they all said: Be patient, understanding and open.”
Start small and be proactive. Rosen says he’s noticed that seemingly small decisions on his part have prevented negative situations from escalating and have helped him build rapport with students. “If a student is off task, I’m going to walk over to them instead of calling them out in front of the whole class,” he says. “If there are one or two students who need help managing their behavior, I’m going to randomize the seating arrangement of the whole class instead of singling them out. They’re going to see what they can and can’t get away with, and I’m going to show them dignity and respect.”
Create opportunities for students to have autonomy. In the 2020–21 school year, Teicher’s students asked permission to work together on a project, so she helped them figure out how to do that while maintaining social distance. “They created a shared Google doc, put in their AirPods and worked in a group without going anywhere near each other,” she says. “They were innovative and resourceful. My philosophy is: Give them something to do and let them lead.”
Don’t reinvent the wheel. Adjust it. You can preserve your favorite lessons and activities by adapting them for this school year.“If you like station activities but it might not work to have students moving in groups around the classroom, maybe they try different activities on laptops in Google Classroom,” says Tina Macchio, an English teacher at IS 141 in Astoria, Queens.
Remember to be patient with your students — and with yourself — as you adapt. The confidence you gain will last long into your career.
“If I can take on the challenge of teaching during a pandemic,” says Rosen, “I can take on any challenge teaching presents.”