Halfway through the year, it's not uncommon for teachers to want to evaluate their teaching methods. It's a good time to determine what's working and what isn't. Some will decide they can proceed with a few tweaks, but others may find themselves considering more serious corrections.
If it feels like things have gotten away from you, you may be wondering how to get back on track—or whether that's even possible at this point of the year. The good news: Yes, it's entirely possible to restore more structure to your classroom! The not-so-good news: It's not easy.
An Overcorrection Isn't the Solution
I once worked with a high school social studies teacher who was very popular with his students because of his easygoing ways and his sense of humor. He prided himself on his unflappability and tolerance for behaviors most teachers wouldn't allow. Some of his students called him by his first name and often hung out in his room, listening to music and playing games on their phones. While this made him a favorite among students, he wasn't so popular among his teaching colleagues!
Then, our school began focusing on state test results more than it had in the past. Schools across the state were required to share results with parents and the general public, and it turned out that this teacher's test results were below the state average. Suddenly, like a few other teachers whose students had not done well, he found that he had to come up with a plan to improve his test scores.
As a result, he became much more strict with his students—there was no more joking around, no calling him by his first name, no talking while he was talking, and no hanging out. His students were bewildered, and as time went on, they even became a little resentful. It wasn't a great end to the year for him or his students.
The Path to Getting on Track
If you think you may have allowed your students too much leeway, you don't have to make a 180-degree turn that leaves kids wondering what they did wrong. It's important to be honest with your students about upcoming changes to your teaching methods. Mistakes happen, even with teachers, so take responsibility for the situation and don't blame your students.
Be Honest About Your Expectations
It's OK to say to your students, "I really like teaching and I like working with all of you. But I think we may have gotten a little off-track, and my major responsibility is to make sure you all pass and do well on your exams. That doesn't mean we can't have fun now and then, but we really need to focus on learning. I'm going to need your cooperation, so here are some things we have to change."
Be specific with your students about behaviors that you expect, whether it's that students need to be in their seats when the bell rings or that homework has to be in on time.
Don't Expect Overnight Change
Kids will appreciate your honesty and will be grateful that you're not blaming them for their behavior. The next few weeks may be a little rough as you work with your students to change established patterns, but if you continue to be patient and professional (and friendly), you will see changes.
If you have a couple of uncooperative kids who challenge the changes, speak to them after class and explain that you need their cooperation so they can be successful. If your goal is cooperation rather than compliance, you'll be able to change behaviors without resentment. After all, your students know how they're expected to behave in all of their other classes!
Prepare for the Future
Resolve to start out the next year with clear expectations in terms of academic work and behavior. It's a lot easier to establish ground rules right from the beginning of school than it is to backtrack, and your students won't be surprised that your expectations are similar to those of their other teachers.
Having more rules doesn't mean you can't have fun with your students. In fact, a recent new study cautions that focusing only on raising test scores creates students who are less happy in the classroom. Good teachers know how to find a balance so that kids like coming to school and feel good about their accomplishments.