Classroom management is probably the single most crucial challenge that any beginning teacher can face. Penning great lesson plans without taking the learning environment into account is like watering a plant while placing it in a dark cupboard. Students need to be given clear roles and responsibilities so that they can take ownership of their own classroom.
Susan was a fantastic teacher who often came into class dressed as a cartoon character. The weekend after Charlie and the Chocolate Factory opened in theatres, she came dressed as Willy Wonka with a bag full of chocolate and sweet wrappers. The students were thrilled as she played the opening theme of the movie and strut into class with a big grin. She then proceeded to get students to study the ingredients listed on each wrapper and calculate the amount of fat and sodium content. The winning group would of course have a prize- a healthy snack of granola bar (to some students’ disappointment).
And so Susan would take great pains to craft her lesson plans based on how she understood the class. Her weekends were spent planning these lessons and gathering the necessary resources. Then one day, Susan fell sick, really sick. She called the office to say that the lesson plans were on her table and that there was a class file detailing the students’ profiles. She was forced to take the rest of the week off because of this sudden bout of flu.
As she’d be away for a long time, the school decided to call for a relief teacher for 4 days. That same day, Matilda, a retired teacher, showed up and proceeded to take over Susan’s lessons. She took one glance at them and decided that she could not possibly re-enact those Kung Fu Panda scenes for her science lessons nor could she dance like an ‘Oompa Loompa’ for her poetry class. So she zoomed in straight for the lesson objectives and the work that needed to be completed.
When Susan returned the following week, she was in for a shock. Half the worksheets were not handed in and the work was badly done. Matilda wrote a little note for Susan.
‘Dear Susan, I tried my best to control your class but they were completely unruly. I spent most of my time trying to get them to keep quiet and the other part of my time getting them to complete their work. My apologies but despite my best efforts, these were the only worksheets that were completed. I tried to mark them but the handwriting made it difficult. I know the children missed you.’
This had never happened to Susan before. Despite them being noisy, the students always completed their work and handed it in. Teachers who walked by would sometimes pop their heads in to ask the class to keep quiet, much to Susan’s embarrassment. There wasn’t anyone designated to control the class because Susan was always in the classroom. No one to collect the work because Susan walked around to collect the work. No one to take the class attendance because Susan always did that. In short, Susan was their super teacher who handled everything while the students did not have clear roles and responsibilities.
What Susan had missed out amidst her enthusiasm in planning great lessons was setting clear procedures for students to follow. In short, good classroom management.
Every good teaching institution would have classroom management as one of its core modules. If you can’t control the classroom, you can’t possible deliver a good lesson no matter how great your lesson content is. However, the challenge in learning about classroom management is really that there is no formula for developing the perfect system. You might learn that it is important to set rules, teach procedures, be ‘with-it’ in the class and be consistent. Raju was one of those who made sure that he implemented all of this in his first week of school.
Raju had just completed his teacher training and was posted to the school just opposite his house. It was a notorious school and a police car was sometimes seen parked inside. Raju had quite a reserved personality and didn’t enjoy standing in front of an audience. Sometimes his friends laughed and asked him why he chose a profession where he’d have to constantly stand in front of an ‘audience’ if he didn’t like doing presentations.
His style of teaching was straightforward and so were his lesson plans. He believed that he just needed to write the learning objectives down and the work that needed to be completed. In all, every lesson plan did not take longer than four sentences. Most of his students believed that watching a sloth cross the road would probably be more earth shattering than listening to Raju.
When Raju was sent on a course, the school arranged for a relief teacher, Steven, to take over his classes. Steven was a young student who was waiting for his A-level results. Raju called him to tell him that he had placed the lesson plans on his table and to give him a ring if he had any questions.
After three days, Raju returned to the school and found three stacks of worksheets on his table. When he lifted the books, he saw a note with his class monitor’s handwriting.
‘Sir, we counted all the worksheets. Only Chun Yi did not hand in his work. The rest are all here. On Wednesday, Ali was absent because he had the flu. Everyone else was present on every other day. The names of the bozos who kept talking are on the whiteboard and you can see them when you go to class.’
Some educators like Raju’s style of classroom management because everything is carefully structured. He had empowered his students to organize themselves and they were well behaved even when he was not in the classroom. However, his students were not very interested in his lessons.
Susan on the other hand was very unstructured in her approach but able to engage the class when she was in it. When she left, however, the relief teachers often complained that her students were rowdy and boisterous. Her students on the other hand loved both her and her lessons.
Good classroom management requires students to manage their own behavior. It is the skillful educator who designs such a system to encourage this self-management.