Friday, May 25, 2012

Consistency: the key to classroom management

Where I have been??

I have so many pictures on my iPhone that I took for the purpose of sharing with you all. But the process of editing them all to stick a smiley face sticker over my kids' faces (for privacy purposes) has just seemed too time consuming. Maybe that will be a project over the next couple weeks.

It took most of the year but I recently realized that my class has finally settled into a good routine. Desks are not being thrown. People are not getting bitten. Braids are not being cut off. We've moved past all that. Yesterday, one of my students (she is being evaluated for Oppositional Defiance Disorder) was throwing a temper tantrum. She was knocking chairs over and hiding in the closet. It was then I realized that wow, this hasn't happened in ages.

She is not my only difficult student. Last year I had two. This year I have 10. And by difficult, I mean students that need constant attention regarding their behavior and constant redirection every single day.

Last year in South Carolina I worked in a Title 1 school in my hometown, a suburb of Charlotte. I had few behavior problems and was able to handle the ones that did occur in my classroom with no anxiety or stress. I knew a lot about classroom management from learning about best practices, studying Love and Logic, and hours spent reading The First Days of School by Harry Wong.

This year I've learned you never really know classroom management until you work in an innercity Newark school. A little background - my students are familiar with violence, gangs, and every one of them knows a family member or family friend who has been to prison or at least to jail. The attitudes and disrespect is something I never imagined but it is cultural - a method of survival within a difficult community.

When people ask what I do, I tell them I teach Kindergarten. Their usual response, "Awww." When they ask where and I tell them, they say, "Ooooh." To be honest, when I started my current job I was a little terrified.  Especially since I was coming into a classroom where the previous teacher had quit after only a week. At the beginning of the year, we had two students (one with special needs) who would literally walk out of our classroom whenever they felt like it. Our class has three doors so their are more doors than there are teachers to guard them. We have at least four students who didn't think twice about throwing furniture. Biting or hitting myself or my coteacher was not uncommon. Teeth sucking, eye rolling, and shoulder shrugging was the norm when we would give directions.

We've come a long way. I'm really proud of my students. They've shown SO much growth academically as they prepare to go to first grade. But what is really spectacular is the growth they've shown in behavior.

My co-teacher is awesome and she has a couple years experience working in Urban schools and has really been a role model for me in classroom management. When working with a difficult population you should think long and hard about your procedures at the beginning of the year and make a decision for what your consequences will be when they are not followed. This is important because your procedures need to become the "Bible" of your classroom. They are the law. And there are no exceptions.

This was difficult for me at first because I always believe in giving my students the benefit of the doubt. My class last year and I sat in a community circle and came up with our "class contract" together. And that was that. The consequences were consistent when the rules were broken but that rarely happened. This year, it happens every day.

We use a lot of songs as rituals in our class. We have a song we sing when we're lining up. When its over, the students are expected to be quiet in line. We have a song we sing when we move to circle on the carpet. When its over, the students are expected to be sitting quietly "criss-cross applesauce." These rituals are consistent and the students know the expectations when the song is over.

Whatever you decide what the consequences for poor behavior choices will be, you have to be consistent. If you expect your kids to keep their hands to themselves, there has to be a consequence for every child every single time they refuse to do this. If you expect students to be respectful, there has to be a consequence every single time this doesn't happen. Over the year, I've learned how important this is.

Building relationships with parents and families is key for consistency. If you tell a student you're going to call a parent and their behavior doesn't improve, you have to follow through. Part of consistency means never making a threat you can't keep. This goes hand-in-hand with having a relationship with parents so you have their support. I have a handful of parents that I can send a text to during the day if their child is not following directions or is being disrespectful and within a few minutes they will have taken a break from work so they can call and talk to their child. I've found that telling the parent you will call back at the end of the day to let them know if the behavior has improved is very motivating for the child. They're already in trouble but they know Mom or Dad will be much happier to hear they turned their day around. On more than one occasion, I've videotaped a student throwing a temper tantrum (hiding under tables, kicking chairs, etc.) and texted the videotape to their parents. While this may be extreme, I have learned that extreme time call for extreme measures.

While I'm so proud of how much my students have grown, I'm even more proud of how much I have grown this year. I feel like I can handle any kind of classroom management issues now. Its hard for me to even believe at the beginning of the year I felt a little intimidated by a group of five year olds. Children are strong willed and they can be stubborn. Part of being a consistent teacher is being even more strong-willed. The rules are the rules and everyone is expected to follow them. I'm proud of having these high expectations for behavior and I'm proud for following through on them. Teaching isn't just about academics. Part of teaching, arguably the most important part, is character development. This is especially true for the younger grades. Being consistent in behavior management is teaching skills that will make your children better students later on in school and more successful members of society, no matter how difficult it may be at the time.

What are your thoughts on classroom management?


  1. What a darn fun blog and what a great writer you are so impressed!!

  2. I can so relate to this post. Although I don't teach in an inner city, I DO teach at-risk kiddos. I am often speechless and heart broken about the things they have seen or have gone through. About 5 years ago, I learned about Conscious Discipline. It is the most amazing thing I have ever learned. It has changed me as a person and therefore I have become a much different teacher. It is all about building a School Family and problem solving. It is used in our district starting in Pre-K3-5th grade.

    My children have become problem solvers and have learned some many skills that will hopefully be with them for the rest of their lives. I basically have had no tattling since October. I bet you would love some of Our School Family jobs like the Cheerleader and Kindness Recorder.

    I am so happy to be your newest follower. I would love for you to hop over and visit when you get the chance. You can read more about Conscious Discipline if your are interested. I also shared an adjective and inferring lesson that my kiddos adored. =)


    Heather's Heart