When I was fresh out of college I began the rounds to look for my first teaching job. My journey took me to an alternative middle school in Charlotte, NC. This school was where students went for 9-18 weeks while they were expelled from the regular program.
My biggest concern after leaving student teaching was my classroom management. This was probably the last place in the world for me to learn it, but I said a prayer on my way home that if I was offered this job then God believed I could handle the discipline issues coming my way.
I got the job. On my first day I had 3 kids and really had no idea what to expect. I completed first day activities with the two kids who stayed awake while the other student slept. I was surprised by how much fun we had and I waited for inspiration on how to manage the bad behaviors I was sure would come my way.
After a few weeks, I got to know my students. I had a few new ones trickle in. We built our little community and the only issue I really had was my “sleeper.” But in the few moments he was awake, I realized how absolutely brilliant he was and created some assignments to leave for him after he rested. Turns out my first big lesson was that I could create an environment where my kids could feel safe enough to sleep.
The second lesson I learned was respect. Not too far into the year I got a new kid with an attitude. He sighed, rolled his eyes, and basically ignored everything I said that first morning. Leaving lunch he whispered something rude behind my back. I’d been teaching a month and not once had I dealt with any behavior issues. As I contemplated how to handle the situation, one of my students took over, “You better be glad she’s in between us right now, because I’d kick your a#$ for talking to her like that!”
Well, now I had two issues: disrespect and cursing. But you know what, the moment passed. We walked back to class and the new kid quickly fell into our routine. He wasn’t super excited but he gradually joined us.
My years at that school taught me that the easiest way to have classroom management is to have a genuine respect for your students. They want boundaries and they want a safe place where they know what you expect from them. From these students I learned what it took to build a community that is ever changing, to differentiate the curriculum based on student needs, and to be their rock when they didn’t have one. Celebrating their successes rather than focusing on the negative behaviors was the best classroom management system I could create.
I always made a point to not read the reports coming in about my students. I didn’t need to know their infractions and I didn’t need to make any preconceived judgements based on that information. My first two “fighters” were such a joy each day. They developed a friendship that resulted in sleepovers and new experiences. One day I finally asked them why they ended up in my classroom. They told me that they got into fights every day. When I asked with whom, they pointed to each other. Thank goodness they found my classroom and went from hate to friendship.
Get to know your students a little better with this FREE What I Wish My Teacher Knew Guide.