June 6, 2014

5 Common Mistakes that Will Lead to an Out-of-Control Classroom

Guest post by Linda Kardamis at Teach 4 the Heart



My first year teaching was not very pretty. I thought I knew how to manage a class, but I made some critical errors that left me in the situation every teacher dreads – standing in front of an out-of-control classroom.

While I certainly don’t want to go back and repeat that first year, I’m very thankful for the lessons I learned. And once I learned from my mistakes and corrected them, the next year went much more smoothly.

Effective classroom management can be challenging, but the key is to keep learning and growing. So whether you’re a first-year-teacher or a veteran who’s facing challenges, here are some common mistakes that you definitely want to avoid:

5 Common Classroom Management Mistakes

1. Not having clear expectations and procedures. A well-managed classroom starts with clear expectations and procedures. So before you try to teach the kids how to behave, you need to know exactly what you’re going to expect. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s better to err on the side of higher expectations than lower – you can always loosen up later on, but raising your expectations in the middle of the year is very challenging. If you need any help in this area, The First Days of School by Harry and Rosemary Wong is the go-to book on this topic.

2. Waiting to deal with problems until they’re big. My first year teaching I let a lot of little things go because I didn’t think they were a big deal and I didn’t want to whack kids on the head for small things. But the problem is that if you don’t deal with problems while they’re small, they’re just going to escalate. I finally learned that I don’t have to give out a punishment for small issues, but I do need to address them. Every time.

3. Not requiring individual responsibility. Just telling the entire class to be quiet is not very effective. And it isn’t much better to offer group rewards or threaten group punishments. Yes, these can be a part of your classroom management plan, but individual responsibility is extremely important. Find a way to give individual warnings to students without interrupting your flow of teaching. (I share the method that made the biggest difference for me in my post “How to Calm a Disruptive Class”) And, of course, give individual praise as well.

4. Choosing between being kind and being firm. Too many teachers think this is an either-or situation, but the truth is that you need to be both kind and firm. Students need to know that you care, and kindness goes a long way towards earning their respect. At the same time, being kind and caring does not mean that you just let everything go. We need to care enough to be firm and to have high expectations of our students.

5. Lacking confidence. Nothing will kill your classroom management faster than a lack of confidence. The students can sense it and will quickly start to take advantage. The problem is that you can’t just snap your fingers and – bam! – you have more confidence. Confidence must be built, but you don’t have any time to waste. What you need to do is develop a plan for how you will deal with a variety of situations that you commonly face (or may face). Then, practice your responses in front of a mirror until you’re confident you’ll be able to deal with them effectively.

What other mistakes have you made and how did you correct them?


Linda Kardamis is a former teacher and writer who is passionate about helping teachers impact the next generation. You can find her at Teach 4 the Heart or on Pinterest.

36 comments:

  1. I am not a teacher yet (I am going into my last year of the BA BEd program and doing my practicum in the winter); but, as a dance teacher, before I learned the 3-5 rule, I had way too many rules! Since I learned the rule, I have 3 main rules, and the dancers follow them to a "T" because they don't have to remember so many!

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  2. Procedures are so important. I have a few broad classroom rules and then everything I do in my high school class is a procedure.

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    1. I have only two rules -- #1 is you will spend each and every moment in my class, doing your best to master the material presented. #2 is you will not impinge upon anyone else's ability to follow rule #1!

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    2. Great ! I'm using this as the main rules. I have a list of gold rules that I merged with basic values to ensure a healthy learning community.

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  3. You hit the nail on the head: procedures, expectations & honesty/sincerity play a huge role in a teacher's success. I agree that kindness is a must in the classroom. After all, we're supposed to model good character as well.

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  4. Confidence is huge. After 18 years of teaching I suffered from a bout of double depression. Upon returning to school after a 2 month absence I was physically able to do my job, but I had zero confidence in myself which led my students to take advantage of me which whacked at my confidence and basically led me to spin my wheels.

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  5. I too have made all of these mistakes! I have been teaching for 14 years and I feel I have a good behavior system in place but this year for some reason the kids are exhausting me! I have a couple of boys that do not seem to care that they are disrupting the class or whatever their behavior may be. I have contacted parents and have given consequences but nothing seems to work for them. I would love to hear what others give for consequences. I teach 5th grade. Thank you!

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    1. Sometimes, those are the ones you give the "extra" jobs to....after 25 years, I believe that some problem behaviors are crying for the attention! (...and rarely praise them in class; it ruins their image!) Good luck!

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    2. Sandy you're SO right about downgrading the public praising of those certain hard-to-manage "class clown" types of kids. Great point!

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  6. Very good points....
    I have been teaching for last 7-8 years and had developed ways to tackle class in my own way....but i would like to use these methods as well to improve more....

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  7. Absolutely these points are highly practical. Its my silver jubilee of teaching service. Confidence, thorough preparation, awareness about students movements, noting minor issues, personal correction, abstain from blaming the students more over love them. students might have a thought that the teacher love and care them and so a teacher should be easily approachable trustworthy person. Be a role modal for the students. Keep in mind we are teachers and they are students, so we need enough patience also. Thanks for the sharing.

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  8. I understand, Denise. Some of my "tricks" don't work as effectively with students now as they did a few years ago. Now I need to come up with more strategies and techniques. I will be using more from Whole Brain Teaching. Hopefully that will offer some effective ideas!

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  11. Different tricks work with different classes/levels. Whatever doesn't work should be dropped until you find "THE recipe". But as you say, confidence, clear expectations and consistency are key. I try to focus on a reward system for good behavior instead of a punishment system for bad behavior. Rewards must be earned and deserved. It puts responsibility on the students.

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  12. I have been teaching for 2 year but even in an unstress condition also we can be felt some nurvous so as teachers we have to practise more and more and on and on.....

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  13. I have been teaching for 2 year but even in an unstress condition also we can be felt some nurvous so as teachers we have to practise more and more and on and on.....

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  14. Thank you for this and the resources. I will take it all to heart as I begin my new career as a special education teacher.

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  15. Big Mistake: I followed the advice, "Don't smile 'til Christmas" for too long. I now have a goal to have a personal connection to every single kid before Christmas. Know the kid. Know their parents. Know their home life. Know their siblings. Know their pets. Listen to them and they will listen to you. They become teachable.

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    1. I completely agree with getting to know them. Part of that can also be to attend their events like sports, band concerts, award nights, even dances or prom. You allow students to see you outside the classroom and even see that you are a real person who has interests outside of your subject. I find it even more rewarding when a student personally invites you to a game, and you show up. They will remember and appreciate that!

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  16. This is marvelous!

    My own two cents? Take no prisoners, but always be willing to giggle. I often say to new students: "I've been on the planet longer, so I am obviously cooler than you since I've had time to collect more useful information. If you behave and don't annoy me too much, I may just share some of all that fun and useful stuff with you." They laugh, then they lean in and listen.

    And I agree with Lisa: hug them, know them, truly care. Be curious. That's how they learn to be curious. LOVE your spot on list!

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  19. In my four years of teaching high school, I have had that one period of out-of-control students. Each year I have somehow improved in my methods of managing these groups, but I have learned that it is always something different that causes those behaviors. For me this year, I blamed it on the "bad mix" of personalities. I had a group of honors students who are so brilliant, but their behavior in class was just awful. My mistake was delaying those phone calls home because (I thought) they were not disrespectful in a sense of foul language or talking back to me (but of course, they were still disrespectful with their behavior). I also hoped that after speaking to them individually and having them tell me they will improve their conduct would make things better; it just didn't work. And once I did call parents, all they did was defend their child saying "well my kid says that there are worse kids in there." It turned out worse to deal with the parents.
    What HAS worked is communicating with parents immediately at the beginning of the school year simply to tell them how happy you are to have their child, tell them the positive things you see, and that just makes the following phone calls go more smoothly and the results are more effective. Usually, these kids are very likely to improve. They know that you care and you are not only complaining about the negatives. I know I still have long ways to go, and each year is different. But there are ways to avoid headaches in the middle of the year by dealing with them right away.

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    1. This is very good advice and I commend you for having the courage to pick up the phone and call parents. As a principal, I am constantly trying to encourage my teachers to call parents when needed rather than a note and an e-mail. Personal communication is so much more valuable. Written communication can be misinterpreted and cause the situation to become more difficult trying to clarify and defend yourself.

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    2. Good job hanging in there! That sounds especially difficult because you clearly did not have parental support.

      I just have to vent a little though: it's such a pet peeve of mine when parents don't make their students take responsibility for their actions. "There are worse kids in there." What?! If that were my kid I would say "I don't CARE if there are worse kids in there. You do YOUR best and your best is way better than how you've been acting! Go to your room!"

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  20. Follow up after any kind of punishment is given. I taught high school math before becoming a secondary math specialist. I always made sure that I followed up with students the next time they came to my class after a punishment was handed out. I would ask them if they understood why I gave a punishment and always asked if there was something that I could do to prevent it from happening again. I also listened to their side and was very genuine with them. I also apologized when I made a mistake (heard something wrong, didn't see what started the issue, etc.). This seemed to create a trusting relationship between the student and I. 90% of the time they would say they understood why they were punished and took the blame.

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  21. Here's a FREE 5-Part Proactive Classroom Management e-Course from my colleague Adam Waxler. Hope it helps: http://classroommanagementtips.thebusyeducator.com/

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  22. I would also add not keeping the students constantly busy leads to an out-of-control environment.

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  23. This is such a useful post,I have just started teaching 16-19 year olds and with very little experience I am finding it extremely difficult,they do not want to be in my lesson and it is so difficult to get them to interact which is causing them to misbehave and hence my confidence is suffering. Looking for more interactive activities but also considering throwing the towel in and giving up. I will definitely try some of the suggestions you have given.

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  24. I've been an English teacher in Uruguay and Argentina for 8 years now and every year is more challenging! Kids get bored easier and wants instant rewards. So mostly is a matter of keeping everyone motivated specially the disruptive students although is a huge work for the teacher to plan for every class, in my opinion is the most effective way to maintain a good lesson environment. Thanks for all the opinions and posts, they are great help to me!

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  26. I'm an after school activity leader for 1st-8th grade and I feel like attention getters are a big deal and one of the things I'm lousy at. Since I don't get to control a class before they come into my room, and I have to have attention getters for little kids and big kids.

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  27. Try the Love and Logic System - puts the issue back on the kid and teaches the kid to solve his own problems! Example: Kid: "I don't have a pencil today". Me: "Bummer!" What are you going to do about that?" Nine times out of ten the kid finds a pencil. :) Have taught fifth grade for 8 years - this is the best system I've used yet.

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  28. I am a relief teacher and I have tried this few times and it worked !

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