How do you keep your class in order?
September 21, 2010 11:14 AM   Subscribe

TeacherFilter: What kinds of rules and policies do you include in your classroom management plan for secondary science education? Either for specific circumstances (a cell phone policy) or in general (be respectful).

As I've mentioned before, I'm a secondary science ed student (I will be certified to teach grades 6-12; for non-Americans, that's around ages 11-18). I've been working on a classroom management plan for a while, but I would really like to hear the opinions of some former/current teachers on what policies or procedures you have in place for your classroom, from testing policies to cell phone policies to late work and how your students turn in their work. I'm also interested in what general rules you have for your room as far as students being prepared for class every day, being respectful, etc.
posted by kro to Education (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
When I did my teaching practicum (Social Studies 11) I laid out my rules and expectations at the beginning of my first class, and boy was that ever a mistake. It wasn't necessarily that the students wanted then break the rules, it was that once stated the rules I had to enforce them, and if I didn't my "authority" was weakened.

Most rules should be unspoken and should be based on common sense. If you have a no cell-phone rule, what do you do when students start using a cellphone in class? Take it from them? And then what do you do with it? The cellphone suddenly becomes the focus, rather than the curriculum and and actual learning.

Unwritten rules that are based on common sense (for a 16-year-old) should have common-sense solutions. If a student uses a cellphone in class, tell them to put it away. If cellphones become an issue, address the entire class about it, rather than an individual student. A really great trick is collective punishment. If you have a double block, or perhaps on Fridays when energy levels are low, try showing a movie (science is great, because you can just show Discovery Channel DVDs on a laptop). If something like cellphones are a problem, stop showing the movies, and give a worksheet instead (you can't forget that the reason why you are showing a movie is because energy levels are low, and worksheets are really easy to focus on).

In terms of "be respectful", once again, that's a no-brainer that doesn't have to get mentioned. If students are using foul language or calling each other names, call them on it. But when you call students out, just spend 1 second max before moving on and turning down the temperature. If you emphasize learning rather than negative behaviour, you will preserve your sanity.

Explicit rules are only for the biggies. For me, it was always eating in class, but in retrospect even that seemed like a battle that wasn't worth fighting (kids get hungry, which means they can't concentrate, so let them eat).

In short, I really tried to manage the class by making sure activities and assignments were suitable, and then rotating/changing up activities every 20 minutes.

A great way to get kids to be quiet and settle down is to introduce a worksheet at the start of every class. You could also get them to copy notes from the blackboard/overhead. Introducing an easy exercise that puts pen to paper gets kids to concentrate and focus. It's also really easy for them to understand what they should be doing, versus what they should not be doing (talking, walking around).

If you do need to call out a "problem" student, take notes, preferably with a date, time (to the minute), and the activity. With list in hand, speak to the student privately (ie, when no other students are in class, but with the door open and in sight of student and teachers walking in the hall). Documenting behaviour is a really effective way to illustrate a pattern, and then ask for an explanation. Remember that 99% of students want to be successful, so a little listening and understanding helps build trust, and confidence.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:51 AM on September 21, 2010

The one aspect of your question that strikes me as a bit incongruous is the implication that the rules for secondary science education might be different from the rules for any other form of secondary education. Education works in much the same way for most subjects, except that some subjects require more equipment than others (but you are talking about a classroom, not a lab). The only special rule that I might want to have in a science classroom as opposed to any other type of classroom is that the students should accept that even if their religious beliefs contradict what they are studying, they should still accept that they are there to learn about science, not religion. If they want to they can think of it as a fictitious subject, but they still have to learn about it.

Since you raise the issue of cell phones, students obviously have the opportunity to use their cell phones when they are not in class; it would seem to be a waste for them to ignore you in favor of their private conversations, research, or whatever they may be doing with their phones. I would not go to the extreme of forbidding students from even having cell phones, however; they are still good in an emergency (not that you are expecting an emergency, of course...but one never knows).

Obviously students should respect you on the grounds that you know more about science than they do, and you are there to share your knowledge with them. And even if they care nothing about science, they should respect the society in which they live, which has collectively decided that they ought to learn something about science.
posted by grizzled at 11:54 AM on September 21, 2010

My (middle school) classes all have three rules:

Be kind
Be safe
Be productive

They're vague enough to cover pretty much everything. We brainstorm examples of what each of those rules does and does not look like in the first week of school (e.g.: being productive means coming on time with your materials and working hard, it does not mean talking to your neighbor while the teacher is trying to give directions).

My consequence tree looks something like discreet student conference/redirection ----> minor consequence with me (teacher detention, etc.) ------> official parent notification -----> office referral. 99% of behavior problems are solved on step 1. The very rare bit of egregious misbehavior goes straight to the last step.
posted by charmedimsure at 12:09 PM on September 21, 2010

Most schools have rules laid out and you just enforce them. At the high school where I teach we have a student handbook that outlines all the rules and regulations for the students to follow. Included in this are cell phone/music player policy, internet policies and dress codes. Most schools have a standard discipline policy as well. At my school there are four levels of infractions. A level one infraction might get a detention, level two gets two detentions and so on. There are certain infractions that lead directly to the student being removed from the classroom and sent to the disciplinarian. Every school I have taught at has these rules in place. I remind my students that all school rules as outlined in that handbook are to be followed in my class and I will enforce them, it is my job.

My big rule in classroom rule is "Act the way you want to be treated." If you want to be treated like a young adult act like one - don't throw tantrums or roll your eyes, or suck your teeth at me. If you have a problem with me, address it like an adult would - see me after class and we'll talk privately. That also requires me to treat them like adults - not "yelling" at them, or calling them out on bad behavior in front of their peers. I use non-verbal methods (aka 'the look') to get them to see that I know what they're doing and they should stop. If that fails, I sidle up to the student and quietly remind them to stay on task/put their phone away/etc. I make it clear in September that these are the warnings I give and they should be heeded. I never let a student bait me into a shouting match. (You wouldn't believe how many students pride themselves on getting a teacher to lose their temper.) Remember that what they say isn't meant personally to you, but to you as the authority figure.

Be consistent with your discipline and policies. If you threaten to take off points for late work- do it. If you threaten a student with detention - follow through. Students quickly learn which teachers mean what they say and which ones blow hot air and adjust accordingly. Routines are good, kids like them and expect them.

As a former student who was a "good" kid, I do not use group punishments as suggested above. I really hated when the actions of one or two students would cause ALL of us to get punished. It puts a bad taste in the mouth of the good kids whose class time is already being wasted because the teacher has to take time out to discipline the disruptive student anyway.
posted by NoraCharles at 12:41 PM on September 21, 2010

>>>As a former student who was a "good" kid, I do not use group punishments as suggested above. I really hated when the actions of one or two students would cause ALL of us to get punished. It puts a bad taste in the mouth of the good kids whose class time is already being wasted because the teacher has to take time out to discipline the disruptive student anywa

You're right. Administering "punishment" or sanctions for unruly behaviour is really hard to do well, especially for new teachers. It's probably better to expect that kids are going to talk or walk around or be late or use cellphones, and manage around it. When in doubt, always focus on what is being taught and what is being learned, and only worry when kids start behaving unethically (cheating) or unlawfully (theft, assault, vandalism).
posted by KokuRyu at 2:13 PM on September 21, 2010

Excellent advice above; just wanted to elaborate on KokuRyu's advice about beginning class with a worksheet. Transition times -- at the beginning of class, when students are getting settled -- are a good opportunity to set the tone for the block/hour and get your students to focus. It's a good strategy to establish a routine early and stick to it.

As part of your daily agenda, it's good to have a few review questions (and maybe a "challenge" question for extra credit, occasionally) on the board, or projected, if you have a computer/overhead setup, when the students arrive for class. Your students will quickly adapt to the routine: get to their desks, get out their Science notebooks, start the board work. (Or use worksheets, as KokuRyu suggests.)

For my science classes, I've also used this time for lab observation, if you have some kind of multi-day lab going on that involves tracking data.

This might be obvious, but it's also a good idea to have a designated place for them to turn in their finished homework at the beginning of class. You can make it clear to them that they're expected to turn in their work without being asked; for the first week or two, be sure to remind them, but as Nora says, students appreciate a routine, and they'll adapt quickly.

As NoraCharles outlines above, if you treat your students like young adults, enforce rules rationally and consistently, and expect your students to behave accordingly, they will usually rise to the occasion.
posted by Spinneret at 2:35 PM on September 21, 2010

I should have added that the best defense is a good offense, as far as management goes. If you are proactive about subtly quashing minor-league shenanigans (the key part is doing it without letting the kid escalate the situation- give a redirect (most of mine are nonverbal), then back off and give the kid time to respond appropriately), plan your transitions well, make your subject matter as interesting as is possible, treat the kids like actual human beings, and are/act like a reasonable person with a decent sense of humor about things, they will return the favor by acting like rational people.

The current educational jargon for the question on the board as the kids walk in/worksheet available is a "Do Now." I teach instrumental music, and I use them every day for a little bit of review and as a helpful/educational part of the daily routine, so they know to focus as soon as they walk in and get their instrument tuned.

Similarly, also have the rest of your plan for the day on the board as students walk in. Even older students like structure and a sense that they know what will happen next.

The standard guidebook recommended for new teachers who want help thinking about procedures and rules (presented in a "here's what you might not have thought about that you need to think about" way) is The First Days of School by Harry Wong. Tools for Teaching (Fred Jones) is another one.
posted by charmedimsure at 4:26 PM on September 21, 2010

And keep in mind that you will need to find your own style of classroom management and that is usually through some trial and error. What works for the teacher down the hall may not work for you. What works one year may not work the next. You will find that each day and class has it's own personality and needs.

Grading policies and procedures are often developed collaboratively either as a grade-level team or as a department, so you may want to spend some time thinking about your preferences but expect that you may have to defer to established procedures or policies.

Many teachers include student input into classroom rules and policies. This infuses a sense of ownership and community into the classroom. As an administrator I see many new teachers struggle with the expectation that they will set the rules and by George, the kids will follow the plan. Avoid this trap by having basic expectations of respect, self-discipline, and responsibility instead of a long list of rules/policies.

The two books listed above are great for new teachers but Tools for Teaching transformed my classroom even after I was a veteran teacher.

I graded everything so that students who had not mastered the concept yet could extend their learning. For example, circle incorrect answers instead of the standard red X and allow students to make corrections for a better grade. Your goal always should be for the students to learn, not for you to give grades.
posted by tamitang at 7:19 PM on September 21, 2010

Teacher here.

charmedimsure covers a lot of what I wanted to say, but I'll chime in with:

* Most kids really do want to please adults. If they're screwing around, chances are the work is too hard or they don't understand the direction. Kids aren't obnoxious generally for the heck of it.

* However, ALL kids lie. And they usually lie because they're scared of consequences. You'll hear a lot of stories about why assignments didn't get done; but basically they'll say anything to avoid detention. They should still get detention or whatever.

* You have to recognize that this is a generation of easily distracted kids who are used to almost immediate gratification from video games. Don't fight it with endless worksheets and too-long assignments and moan about kids today. Accept that you need to teach to their learning style, not force something on them that's beyond their ability.

* Emphasize the positive. When a kid is being annoying, redirect them positively (i.e. "We're opening our texts to page 114," not "Stop doing that, Percival.")

* Remember the parents. It goes a very long way to establish positive relationships with them early on. Try to call or email to check in; say something nice about their kid. That information gets passed along to the kid and the kid gets the connection that everyone is working as a team and they will try harder for you.

* An overused phrase (but underutilized practice) is to catch them being good. "I love the effort on this paper," "I can see where you really challenged yourself here," "Thanks for giving a pencil to Mary" or "It's great how you stuck with this hard problem" goes very far. When all they hear is "Stop that," or "You need to listen, now!" they catch on that they need to misbehave to get your attention. When they make the connection that doing the right thing gets them attention, you're golden.

* Punishment HAS to be unilateral. If there's a rule, it applies to everyone, all the time. Kids notice if you don't enforce rules equally.

* When they do misbehave, try to phrase corrections along the lines of disapproving of that behavior, not that child. You can tell kids, "When you were standing on your desk, that was something a person with no self control who acts stupidly would do. I know you're not that person and I know you don't want the other kids to think you're that person, so let's stop having that kid join us in class."

* Lastly, and to me as a teacher, this is critical: as hard as it can be, you have to find something good about every single kid. I've worked with sociopaths and plain obnoxious kids, but still, you need to genuinely appreciate something about them. Otherwise, they can tell that you don't like them and again, game over.
posted by dzaz at 7:24 PM on September 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: The one aspect of your question that strikes me as a bit incongruous is the implication that the rules for secondary science education might be different from the rules for any other form of secondary education

Oops, sorry if my question gave off this vibe- I was thinking in terms of procedures like lab procedures that would be specific to a science classroom, not that any classroom rules would revolve fully around science and nothing else.

Thanks everyone, this is great!
posted by kro at 7:53 PM on September 21, 2010

High school English teacher here. I'll send you a copy of my 6 pages of rules; just email me. Why 6 pages? If the rule exists, there won't be any arguments when they are broken. Key points:
1. Give them a set number of hallpasses at the beginning of the year. Other teachers spend hours a year...tracking the bladders of their 200 students. Why? Give them 4 tickets for the semester and let them control it. If they run out, they can still go, but they owe you...detention?
2. set up a ladder of discipline. Call home to detention to sending them to the office to..? They'll know what's coming if they screw up; gives them time to think.
3. If a rule is broken, I often...keep the whole class for a minute after the bell. If they protest, I remind them-
a. hey, my rules, and
b. you saw him/her do it and you would've benefited if it had worked (distracting me, stopping my instruction, etc.) and you did nothing to stop him. Therefore, screw you and you sit there while someone steals your boyfriend outside.

And one crazy thing I did.
I banned sarcasm in my room.

From me, around me and at me. In my class, everyone says what they mean, NOT the cowardly opposite. I make a big deal about it. I enforce the rule. I give my kids extra credit or snacks when I am sarcastic.
It's amazing. Be brave, good luck.
posted by flowerofhighrank at 11:55 PM on September 21, 2010

If a rule is broken, I often...keep the whole class for a minute after the bell. If they protest, I remind them-
a. hey, my rules, and
b. you saw him/her do it and you would've benefited if it had worked (distracting me, stopping my instruction, etc.) and you did nothing to stop him. Therefore, screw you and you sit there while someone steals your boyfriend outside.

I vehemently disagree with this practice for a few reasons: first, it's critical to teach kids about personal ownership and responsibility. You screw up, you pay the price, period. It sends a contradictory message when the group has to accept punishment because someone else didn't take responsibility for themselves.

Also, there are a LOT of kids with genuine disabilities that can cause behavioral problems like ADD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, etc. So when the ADD kid blurts or runs around, you can't punish the other kids for that.

To some extent, if a kid misbehaves mainly in a certain setting (let's say for example, only in your class), then you're doing something wrong. You can't punish the kids for something you're handling wrong. (Sidenote...I work with a science teacher whose class is very loosey-goosey; very little discipline. Kids are on their worst behavior in that class only because they know there are no consequences. So when half the class is having a water fight because the teacher is in the hallway chatting, it's not cool to walk into the class and punish the kids who are actually measuring water volume.)

Lastly, more and more kids have documented anxiety issues (but even "typical" kids live in a social minefield, generally). You can't create a situation where you punish the kids for not tattling. Kids hate tattlers; they want YOU to deal with the misbehavior, not them. Please don't punish them for not ratting each other out. Everyone hates the tattletale kid; don't set them up to fink each other out.
posted by dzaz at 2:56 AM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I like dzaz's advice.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:27 AM on September 22, 2010

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