Management and Control
Classroom management has always been a struggle for me. I guess that’s not shocking. Reports show that new teachers report struggling with classroom management the most in their first few years of teaching. Just through talking to colleagues I often find that classroom management”is a shared struggle for many. As the years have progressed, I find myself good enough at classroom management to feel like it is not the primary focus of my reflection and improvement as a teacher. Sure, I have had incidents in my classroom, but usually they seem like outliers, not the normal day-to-day routine of my classroom.
But as I finally am back in charge of a class on my own for the first time in two years (or three if you count my year with a full-time student-teacher resident) I’m starting to really think about what “classroom management” actually means. I’m been putting it in quotes here because I think educators often throw it around without really thinking about a definition. Maybe I’m just behind on this because I had a horrible teacher for my “classroom management” course in my credential program*. But more and more I think there are different meanings of “classroom management” both in my school and education in general, but that we rarely take the time to unpack the difference.
The most common (although rarely stated directly) understandings of classroom management that I come across is this idea of control. If someone has good “classroom management” skills, they should be able to “control” the class. This usually means that the kids follow the rules of the class/school (no cell phones, hoods off, etc.) and are always dutifully doing exactly what the teacher wants them today. Of course it is ideal that a student is always doing the work of the class, or is listening attentively to the teacher, but if a student isn’t doing these things, the teacher better keep control by making sure the student is at least quiet and not disruptive.
Another meaning of classroom management is the idea of creating a safe physical environment. I experienced people talking about this a lot when I was a first-year teacher, and there were fights breaking out in other classrooms. Basically, if I had a classroom where there wasn’t a fight, or people weren’t yelling or swearing at each other, that meant I had decent classroom management. Essentially, just keeping everybody physically safe was enough to (hopefully) get learning to continue for most students. I think this type of attitude is most often seen as related to “low expectations” in a school, and thankfully I don’t hear classroom management couched as simply having a “safe class” that often.
The final understanding of classroom management is one I’ve only recently come to understand is the idea of creating a flourishing learning environment Don’t get me wrong – I’ve always strived to create this ideal learning environment. I just didn’t see it as a classroom management issue; I saw it as more of an instructional issue. This is the type of classroom management struggle with the most. Obviously there are elements of control at work here. In the classroom we are a group of people, and my job is to manage the group in a way that allows everyone in the group to learn. Where I struggle the most here is with different learning styles, different needs etc. One student needs to talk her ideas out, while another one needs silence. One student really does work better with headphones on, but another also wants to listen to music, even though it will get in the way of his writing process. I usually know how I could help one student if I had the whole time to focus on them, or to let them work in a way that makes the most sense for them. But I struggle to do this with a class of 28 (or 32, or 35, like I have taught in the past). More and more I want to move towards having students participate in the management of the classroom more, making it a learning environment for all, rather than a group of people directed and controlled by me. That is the dream, but I’m finding myself hard-pressed to move towards it as the school year continues to march onward.
Any thoughts on classroom management? Any insights into ways you have created a supportive learning environment in your room? Leave a comment below!
*Seriously. She told a story about flipping over a chair in her classroom to respond to an angry student. And that was one of her good examples of what we should do.