Welcome back! With a new group of students, the first few weeks of the school year offer a valuable opportunity to launch new strategies for classroom management. Here are some tips from veteran educators about how to set the tone for a successful year.
Establish routines for your students — and then practice, practice, practice. What’s the first thing students should do when they enter your classroom? How should students let you know when they need to use the bathroom? What happens at the end of your class? These are all questions you’ll need to answer in the first few days of school.
Then, “Model, model, model what you expect!” says Janina Jarnich, a teacher at Baychester Academy in the Bronx. If you’re working with younger students, you may spend days or even weeks practicing routine classroom procedures like lining up. “It can be tiring, but management is important,” says Melanie Csorba, a teacher at PS 104 in Brooklyn.
Set clear expectations. Many teachers involve their students in the creation of classroom rules. “This helps set a tone of mutual respect in the classroom and helps with accountability when a kid breaks a rule he helped determine was appropriate,” says Denise Verde, a teacher at PS 186 in Queens.
Eager students will often jump to define classroom rules by letting you know what shouldn’t be allowed: No hitting, no fighting, no teasing. That’s why Susan Eicher Hemmer, a teacher at PS 18 in Brooklyn, advises setting a maximum of five rules that are positively phrased. “Keep it about what will happen, not what won’t happen,” she says. “For example, ‘We will listen when our friends and teachers speak.’”
Be consistent and follow through. “Discipline to encourage, never to discourage,” says Melanie Fontana, a science teacher at IS 93 in Queens.
For many teachers, classroom management strategy boils down to a simple adage: Say what you mean and mean what you say. “Do not negotiate on your non-negotiables,” says Andrea Vélez, a teacher at PS 44 in the Bronx.
Be firm, but be yourself. Most new teachers have heard the advice, “Don’t smile until December.” For some educators, this still rings true. “Be strict and then gradually relax. Remember, you are in charge,” recommends Susan Mustac, a teacher at PS 148 in Queens.
Other teachers, though, endorse a softer approach. “‘Don’t smile’ is such archaic advice. Be yourself!” says Tamara Cella, a teacher at PS 199 in Manhattan. “The work is so stressful for us and for them. Being able to laugh with your students, have open dialogues and have them enjoy their time with you makes the year go smoothly for everyone.”
“The kids have to know you care,” agrees Jenny Troman, a teacher and dean at PS 115 in Brooklyn. “For some students, we are the only adults who care about them and they know it. Why be mean?”
Finally, be prepared — but be flexible. “Be prepared to teach but open enough to embrace the reality that teaching and learning go both ways,” says Cassandra Deas, a paraprofessional at the Archimedes Academy in the Bronx. “Be prepared for the unexpected and always have a backup plan for the unusual.”