Why do you think a Google search for “Classroom Management” yields some 79,100,000 key-word related results? We have a couple of guesses.
First, because teachers know that out-of-control classrooms don’t work. Learning cannot take place in chaos.
Second, because we know that teachers who can’t control their classrooms don’t usually last.
Fear of losing control has led too many talented teachers to rule by fear. No doubt, structure and order are critical to our success in the classroom, but as Rafe Esquith suggests in his book Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire, there are simple ways teachers can “ensure the class remains a place of academic excellence without resorting to fear.”
Replace Fear with Trust
On the first day of school, Esquith suggests beginning by establishing a fundamental tenet: Our classroom is built on trust.
Of course, these words sound good to students, but they are vague. To better illustrate the point, Esquith uses the following example:
Most of us have participated in the trust exercise in which one person falls back and is caught by a peer. Even if the catch is made a hundred times in a row, the trust is broken forever if the friend lets you fall the next time as a joke. Even if he swears he is sorry and will never let you fall again, you can never fall back without a seed of doubt.
What is the lesson? Broken trust is nearly irreparable. Everything else can be fixed. Students may forget their assignment; they may break something in the class; they may disrupt a lecture or activity. No problem, all of these things can be fixed, but when trust is broken, the rules change. The relationship will be okay, of course, but it will never, ever be what it was.
Most students are proud of this trust and they’ll do everything in their power to keep it.
Children depend on us, so be dependable
Too often adults make promises to children and don’t keep them. Here’s an example Esquith uses to illustrate the importance of fulfilling promises.
There was a well-respected teacher who once told her class on the first day of school, that at the end of the year she would take them on an exciting trip. Practically every day, kids who misbehaved were threatened with the punishment of not going on the special trip. Many students even did extra work to make sure they would be included. During the last week of school, the teacher announced that she was moving and would not be able to take them on the trip. This betrayal not only ruined anything good she had done with the kids that year, but soured many of them on school and adults in general.
Trust goes both ways. When you tell your students you are going to do something, do it, even if it is inconvenient and seems trivial.
Discipline must be logical
Most students want to be challenged. They don’t mind a tough teacher, but as Esquith puts it,
“they despise an unfair one.”
Be fair. Be logical. If you’re not, students will see you as unreasonable—and once they see you as unreasonable, you’ve lost them.
Knowledge is always the best reward
Too often, teachers rely on rewards to manage their students’ behavior. In a way, this reliance makes sense. We’ve read B.F. Skinner in college; we know when humans are rewarded for behavior, they are more likely to repeat it. Rewards may appear to “work,” but their effectiveness can be deceiving. Consider Esquith’s example:
I have visited middle school classrooms in which the teachers use rewards to encourage their students to finish homework. One history teacher I met pits his classes against each other in a competition to see which of them can complete the most homework. The winning class gets a prize at the end of the year. Apparently this teacher has forgotten that knowledge of history is supposed to be the prize. When I spoke to the class that did the most homework, I learned that they were terrific at completing assignments, but their understanding of history was shockingly limited.
For an even more convincing reflection on the problems with a rewards-based classroom, check out an article by Dr. Richard Curwin.