It's essential that teachers communicate their classroom management expectations to students and parents at the beginning of the school year. Ambiguous classroom policies early on can lead to aggravation for everyone throughout the year. Here are some common mistakes teachers make early on that can lead to trouble down the road.
1. Not Communicating Expectations Clearly
Teachers should convey their expectations for students on the first day of school. This means sharing and reviewing rules and procedures for the classroom, including consequences for infractions. The expectations for any routines that help facilitate learning—the handling of science equipment or art supplies, for example—should be clearly articulated. Some teachers opt to create rules as a class so students take ownership of their responsibilities. Having both students and parents sign and return a copy of the classroom rules can aid communication and prevent issues later on.
Further reading: 5 Tips Guaranteed to Make You a Happy Teacher
2. Being Inconsistent
Most students, no matter how old, are hyperaware of how consequences are doled out in the classroom. This means it's incredibly important to be consistent. If a student notices you meted out discipline for an offense to one student but not another, students will view you as unfair. Being consistent with rules conveys an equitable classroom environment to your students.
3. Not Creating an Action Plan
Students who demonstrate poor behavior are often unsure of how to improve it. Teachers should create action plans that clearly describe expectations and delineate steps a student can take to be successful. When Winston began acting out because of a failing grade, I showed him exactly what assignments he needed to complete and what grades he had to earn to pass. Having a concrete action plan helped him succeed. Kayla, a fourth grade student, frequently called out answers and disturbed students who sat around her. She also had trouble working in cooperative learning situations. Kayla's teacher set forth an action plan for Kayla in which Kayla counted to five when a question was asked, and the teacher made sure that she noted and praised Kayla when she was on task with group work.
4. Waiting Too Long to Intervene
I once had a student named Sydney who had no impulse control. She frequently yelled out insults to her classmates, and she was often rude, loud, and obnoxious. I felt sorry for Sydney because the other students didn't want to work with her, so I ignored her behavior and simply tried to redirect the class when she interfered. When Sydney finally blew up in May, attempting to physically assault another student, I realized I'd failed her and the class by waiting too long to intervene. I should have addressed Sydney's bad behavior immediately instead of letting her get away with it. It was one of the biggest classroom management mistakes of my career, but I did learn from the experience.
5. Going Big Too Quickly
I encourage the younger teachers I mentor to use progressive discipline in their classrooms. Small offenses should warrant teacher conversations or detentions. Medium offenses should result in parent phone calls or meetings. Telling a student to leave your classroom or reporting a student to administration should only be used for serious offenses. If a teacher tosses a student out of the room too readily, there's nowhere to go with discipline. Also, if you utilize your school's administration for discipline in a situation that doesn't warrant it, your principal might begin to view you as incapable of effectively managing your classroom.
Further Reading: Effective Classroom Management Strategies to Achieve Your Daily Goals
6. Not Following Through
We all know the teacher who constantly threatens students with discipline but doesn't follow through. It's one of the biggest mistakes teachers make. The teacher who doesn't follow up on promised consequences is in danger of not being taken seriously. Students will quickly learn what they can get away with and will exploit that knowledge.
7. Failing to Triage an Issue
Most behavior issues have an underlying cause. My colleague, Ms. Stewart, learned this the hard way when her student, Alphonse, threw a tantrum in her classroom. Alphonse had behavior problems throughout the year, but it wasn't until this incident that Ms. Stewart dug deeper and found out that Alphonse's volatile behavior was rooted in frustration about being unable to play basketball for the school's team because of a difficult home life. With her new knowledge, Ms. Stewart was able to connect Alphonse with the school social worker, and she also helped him to enroll in a weekend basketball league. Many of the classroom management issues teachers face can be eradicated by getting to know the student and figuring out the root of the behavior.
8. Not Establishing Relationships
Building relationships with students is the most effective way for teachers to avoid classroom management issues. When students have a relationship with their teacher, they're less likely to act out. So get to know your students. Talk with them and meet with them one-on-one. Find out what's going on in their lives and see if you can help with problems they might be having. Building relationships with students can go a long way toward creating a classroom that is truly a community.
The start of the school year is a critical time in your classroom. By avoiding these common mistakes teachers make early on, you can set yourself up for a happy and healthy school year.