Classroom management

Teachers have two central concerns. How do we deliver content and how do we manage our classrooms? This post will delve into classroom management but we’ll see that management plays hand in glove with content delivery.


I have been referred to as a “unicorn” in today’s educational environment. I went to James Madison University and majored in music education. In 1988 I got a teaching job and I’ve been a teacher ever since. Most of that time has been very positive. I am an avid learner. If I see someone doing something that works, I will steal it and use it. My approach to teaching is pieced together like Frankenstein’s monster.

Early struggles

When I began teaching, it was more than difficult. It was a gut wrenching, soul killing nightmare. I’m concerned that I might not have expressed myself clearly so how about some details.

I had a nightmare before I started teaching. In the nightmare I was in my classroom and the students were running around and refusing to sit down. They were screaming and laughing and having a great time… at my expense. I woke up in a cold sweat, glad that it was only a dream. Thankfully I had no idea of what was over the horizon.

In August of 1988 I began living that nightmare at Northampton Middle School in Virginia. I was taking over from a teacher who had left teaching to have a baby. The students loved her. I was a young teacher who dreamed of making my mark in the profession. I knew my stuff (HA!) and I was ready to get things done. Our first day together as teacher and student was a nightmare. Literally, THE nightmare. The bell rang and the students charged into the room screaming. They ran around the room, one student stood on a chair while he yelled. So, what did I do? I screamed back! Not good.

The next two years were filled with confrontations that I will write about in another post. Suffice it to say, I did not like the students and they did not like me. And, to make matters worse, they knew I didn’t like them.

Settling in

I left Northampton and went to work at a small school in central Virginia. The students weren’t overly thrilled with their former teacher so I was ‘liked’ immediately.

I spent ten years at this school and made many positive connections with the students. I had an office with a couch that was routinely filled with students. We talked about their classes, their boy and girlfriends. Sometimes we’d talk about government or economics. And, occasionally we’d talk about our band classes. (LOL!)

I loved these conversations. Sometimes they were the highlight of the day. The kids were interesting. They liked to listen and so did I. We weren’t friends, it was more of a mentorship. Moreover, our class time was beginning to have bits of these conversations as well. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was beginning to understand something about teaching. There is more to teaching then just delivering high quality content!

So, get to the point already!

Teacher! You must resist the push and pull asserted on you to be a ‘bell to bell’ content czar. It doesn’t matter how much you pretty up your content with games and small groups, etc. You must get to know these kids!

We all have different personalities. I have the gift of gab and I use it liberally. (Perhaps too much at times.) Some of you reading this may be quiet and deeply introverted. Find a way to connect that suits your personality. You can do it!

Getting started

Stand at your door. Look the students in the face as they enter the room. Display the most positive expression you can muster that day. Some days smiling will feel like trying to hold a cinder block over your head.

While the students come in, say, “hello!, hey!, good morning!, good to see you! (Mean it!!), welcome back!, hi!” While you’re doing this you will hopefully be able to gauge some of their emotions. What are they bringing into your room?

I had a student come into my room once and I saw that he was looking at the floor instead of in my face. I asked if he was ok and I don’t remember precisely what he said, but I do remember something his mother said a few days later. She said that this little gesture meant the world to her son. She asked me how I knew something was wrong. I told her that his emotions were written all over his face. She was floored and said that no other teacher had ever acted this way toward her son. Obviously, I now had a new member in my fan club. This student was on my side and hung on every word I said.

All of this was possible by simply paying attention at the door.

Content is king?

You want to teach. The administration wants you to get results. Parents want their kids to excel. This puts a great deal of pressure on the teacher. It makes a teacher content focused.

But, is content king? If the kids aren’t listening, you can deliver content all day and night and it won’t matter. So, I recommend the occasional rabbit trail. If something reminds you of a story, tell it! Of course, try to make the story point back to content. I’m not telling you to dump your life story on the kids and I’m not telling you to preach your social, political and religious beliefs to the kids. Show them you are human. Connect to their world. Do you like someone’s shoes? How about those cool earrings?

Now that they’re listening. Deliver your content!

Play the long game

Teaching is all about playing the long game. You’ll fail and succeed but the goal is to keep heading in a positive direction. Ultimately what I’m talking about here is relationship building. Building relationships takes time.

Let me leave you with this thought. Just because the kids in the next teacher’s classroom are quiet and sitting in their chairs, that doesn’t mean they’re absorbing content. They may have an intimidating teacher. Students that have strong, positive relationships with their teachers pass these intimidated students over time.

A short video on motivation that deals with some of the ideas mentioned above

2 responses to “Classroom management”

  1. […] Take some time off this summer and recharge. But, also sit down and think through the last year. Whether you are a new teacher, or a seasoned veteran, sit down and think through how you want next year to look. Envision everything. How do you want the kids to enter the classroom? How do you want them to leave? What exact materials do you want them to posses during class time? How will you begin the year? What content is first? I have some ideas for you in this post. […]

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