Whether you’ve landed your first teaching job, you’ve been in the classroom a few years, or you’re a seasoned veteran, certain classroom management issues rear their ugly heads every year. In this post, read about effective ways to address five of the most common classroom management issues for secondary teachers.
Welcome to ELA Today, a monthly chat where the authors of Reading and Writing Haven and Language Arts Classroom cover different ways of approaching common decisions in the ELA classroom.
Recently, I wrote about three different late work options for use in secondary classrooms. However, when it comes to teaching at the middle or high school level, a handful of additional issues are just as pressing. Teachers need to be confident in their classroom rules and procedures, and students and parents need to be familiar with them on day one in order for the machine to operate smoothly.
Common Secondary Classroom Management Issues
Beginning of class procedures are essential. Without a consistent routine and enforced expectations, students won’t be in their seats when the bell rings, and they might grow to expect at least two minutes of socializing time at the beginning of every class period. The way we begin class sets the tone for the entire period. How can this issue be addressed?
At the beginning of the year, make it crystal clear that you expect them to not only be seated, but also working on the bell ringer for the day when the bell rings. In my class, it’s daily independent reading time. Every period, my students know that they need to have their books open and already be reading them when the bell sounds. To encourage this behavior, I model it. I sit on my chair at the front of the room, greet students as they enter, and let them observe me reading my novel. Sometimes I take my novel to the door and read as students enter, a visual reminder of what they should be doing immediately.
As an extra incentive, I also give students a one-point participation grade each day. Either they are engaged in the bell ringer activity without being reminded, or they’re not. You can easily track these points. During the last two minutes of my daily independent reading, I quickly use a checklist to record everyone who earned a point for the day. One point means they did, no points means they didn’t, and 1/2 a point means they forgot their book in their locker, didn’t start reading immediately when the bell rang but began without being reminded, and etcetera (There are always exceptions!).
When students leave our class every single day, even if it’s just for five minutes at a time, they are missing out on valuable instruction and learning experiences. Think about it. Five minutes a day times 180 days…that’s 900 minutes of class! Of course, medical issues arise, and I’m more than willing to accommodate for students who have legitimate reasons to use the bathroom on a regular basis, but those situations are few and far between.
Each nine weeks, I give my students five restroom passes. I don’t print them off. I just explain that they have five times during that nine weeks that they can miss my class to tinkle without penalty. In order to document their usage of the passes, I have a chart on a clipboard by the door. The chart has six columns: one with students’ names in alphabetical order and five that are each titled “Pass 1,” “Pass 2, ” and so on. Each time a student uses the bathroom, they write the date next to their name on the chart. This way, they don’t lose the passes, and there is a visible reminder of how many times they have gone.
I would never tell a student they can’t go to the bathroom. It’s illegal. But, this approach does minimize the number of times students leave during my class. It’s a fact. If you have no restroom policy whatsoever, high school students figure that out, and they purposely plan their bathroom break for your period. There’s no consequence, and they can maximize their socializing in the hallway without rushing to go between classes.
In the rare case that a student needs to use the restroom more than those five times, I call their parents and discuss the issue with them. I explain that I would like their child to spend five extra minutes with me on the day after they use the bathroom (before school, after school, during lunch – parents’ choice) because it’s a recurring issue so that I can catch them up on what they have missed. It usually only takes one of these discussions to remedy the issue.
When students talk during your direct instruction, it’s a disruption, and it’s disrespectful. For that reason, this is often the issue that frustrates educators the most. It’s nearly impossible to prevent students from talking, but there are some strategies that work more effectively than others when addressing the dilemma.
- Make eye contact. It’s harder for a student to continue talking at an inopportune time if they know you are onto them.
- Invite them into the lesson. When one of my students doesn’t respond to the eye contact method, I use their name, and ask them a purposeful question. “Luke, have you written a paper like this before? Can you tell me what your favorite or least favorite part was?” I don’t try to trick them or embarrass them by asking a question I know they can’t answer. I just subtly let them know where I want their attention.
- Proximity. So maybe the talking continues even after eye contact and invitation to the discussion. Next, I try proximity. If I’m standing by a student while I’m teaching, they have to be intentionally and blatantly disrespectful in order to continue their disruptive behavior.
- Call parents or send to office. On a rare occasion (Friday the 13th, a blue moon, a pig flies, etcetera), I will encounter a student who doesn’t seem phased by any of my usual protocol. If I know a student is purposefully defying my number one and only classroom rule (Be respectful), I call their parents that day to discuss the issue. If the problem is truly distracting, and other students are not able to learn because of the noise, I ask the student to wait for me in the hallway until I have time to speak with them one-on-one, or I send the student on a pass to the dean’s office. Rarely is this the case.
Consider: You may find it beneficial to lessen the amount of time you are spending on direct instruction. If you find you are having repeated issues during times when you are “on the stage,” try allowing students more control with additional student-centered work time. Also, sometimes offering students different choices of what they can work on during lectures helps to engage more learners.
The last thing you want to do at the beginning of class is have a line of five students waiting to collect absent work as they watch you running around, trying to find stacks that are missing or buried, or realizing you ran out of copies of the worksheet they need. All this while the rest of the class sits and socializes.
I’ve tried many different options for handling absent work. Ultimately, it comes down to your organizational strengths and tendencies as a teacher. Two approaches have been the most successful for me.
- Digital: If you’re riding the digital wave, it’s easy to organize assignments on your platform. It’s also simple to quickly make notes about what you do in class each day. If you can keep up with updating your lesson plans and uploading assignments, all you really need to tell students is that everything they need is on Google Classroom, or Haiku, or Blackboard — whatever system you use.
- Traditional: Some students and/or parents don’t have access to technology at home or simply prefer paper copies. With this approach, students are assigned an accountability partner at the beginning of the year. If a student’s partner is absent, he or she is supposed to collect an extra assignment for that person. If you’ve ever tried this method, you know it doesn’t always work. Maybe both partners are absent, or maybe one forgets. So why do I do this? Simply assigning these accountability partners prioritizes absent work in my mind. Some students will remember to collect their partner’s homework. They will remind me they need an extra paper, which reminds myself to make sure I have extras set aside for all absent students for that period. I have accountability partners write the missing person’s name on their papers, paperclip them together, and put them in a folder for that hour: 1st hour, 2nd hour, etcetera. When students ask for their late work, I simply get it out of the folder and hand it to them.
Seeing Support Staff
Secondary teachers witness a lot of drama. Fights, breakups, gossiping, family tension — teenagers have difficulty focusing in class because of issues like these. Often, they ask to go see their counselor, the principal, or a favorite teacher when they are upset. Other times, they ask to call their parents or go see the nurse. I also frequently have students ask to return a book to the library during English class. Whatever the request, students are always wanting to see support staff during class time.
As educators, we have to make our expectations clear at the beginning of the year (as with any rule). I tell my students the best time to visit support staff is before school, during study hall, or after school. Still, they ask. When they do, I encourage them to wait until a more opportune time. “Let’s see if we can wait until the end of class.” or “I’d be happy to write you a pass to see your counselor during your study hall. Does that work?” If they persist, I let them go. It’s not a battle worth fighting. However, teachers should definitely call parents if the scenario becomes routine or chronic.
These solutions have given me peace of mind and provided a smoothly run classroom for years. Take these ideas and run with them, tweak them to fit your circumstances, or toss them entirely. I often find that my classroom management issues reduce significantly when I’ve spent time building relationships with students.
Hop on over to Language Arts Classroom to read about a different intentional approach for each of these five common secondary classroom management issues. I do this, and she does that.
What issues are the most pressing in your classroom? Tell us about your classroom management predicaments and solutions in the comments.