How can a teacher gain control of his/her class?
The first thing to realize here is that you are not alone.
Working at a school, you have a community of teachers who will almost definitely be glad to help you. Admitting that you need some tips from other teachers does not make you look bad. It makes you look like you want to get better as an instructor (and also signals to other instructors that you respect their professional knowledge). After all, every teacher was new once and almost no one masters the craft of teaching on the first day. It takes time to become a good teacher.
I will offer some ideas here that I feel work across disciplines, but I would also encourage you to ask another science teacher for some instruction and class management ideas that have worked for him/her.
In addressing issues of student confidence, your own confidence and classroom management, these ideas may be helpful:
- Use quizzes.
- Create definite and predictable routines.
- Let students work together.
- Use as many activities as you can in every class period.
- Be consistent and have a list of responses for behavior management.
Use quizzes to check for understanding and strive to construct questions on several levels of difficulty. Make the quizzes brief and make some quizzes really easy and basic. Use the quizzes as a means to (1) check for understanding, (2) review concepts and encourage studying and (3) to build student confidence.
Offering students regular and realistic chances to get an “A” can go a long way to helping students realize that they can succeed. You might consider also creating a system where the worst quiz grades in a unit are eliminated and only the top three, four or five quiz scores count toward the grade. This can reduce performance anxiety.
Create definite and predictable routines. For all grade levels, students thrive on routine. This is true outside of the classroom as well. Routine is comforting. In the classroom, where students are dealing with many personalities every day and also engaging in challenging course material, routine can reduce anxiety and help students learn.
This may be somewhat counter-intuitive because routines may at first seem boring or repetitive, but in my experience starting every class period with by asking students to copy down two or three subject-related vocabulary terms helps to set the tone, get students settled in and anchor the class period in a predictable activity. Many options are available, naturally, and using vocabulary is just one example.
(Combining these first two ideas, I had good results with giving students eight vocabulary terms per week (two per day, Monday to Thursday) and then a vocabulary quiz on Friday. Students knew what would happen at the start of each class. They got some easy points on the weekly vocabulary quizzes. And I used the time they were copying terms and definitions from the board to take attendance at the beginning of the period.)
Routines also communicate the idea that you, as an instructor, are organized. If you have a system, students feel confident that you can teach them. If you are looking to build up your students’ confidence in you, routines can be a great and big step in that direction.
Let students work together. Behavior issues, in my experience, diminish when students have opportunities to talk in class. Also, when students work in pairs or small groups you can move around the room and interact with individual students or groups, allowing students who do not want to ask questions in front of the whole class to ask questions in this context without drawing unwanted attention. An additional benefit here is that students see other students struggling and might realize that their own difficulties are normal.
Use as many activities as you can in every class period. Keep things moving during a class period and also put the class agenda on the board. The agenda can work as a count-down for students, letting them track their progress through the class session on any given day. The agenda also communicates your sense of organization and planning, letting students know that you are fully prepared for the class (thereby building confidence).
Using many activities helps to eliminate some behavior problems. If students can see that they will be doing many things (on the agenda) and then are engaged in multiple activities, they are less likely to succumb to boredom. Boredom is not necessarily always a response to a lack of stimulus. Sometimes boredom comes from a sense of being stuck in one place for a long time. Bad behavior results from this but can be circumvented, to some extent, by letting students move from activity to activity and thus not be stuck doing one thing for an entire class session.
Be consistent and have a list of responses for behavior management. If you have a student that is interrupting class with a panic about “not getting it,” you might consider immediately responding by telling that student you are available after school to answer any and all questions. The rest of the class needs to learn and so must move on, but any questions can and will be answered, the student will be caught up, after school. Say this every time. Say it to everyone.
Let students know that you are tracking their behavior. Make a chart for yourself where you mark five points for each event of bad behavior. Tell students that when they reach fifteen points, you will send an email to the principal to let the administration know you are concerned with this student’s ability to behave in class. When they reach twenty-five points, you will send an email to the student’s parents asking for a conference.
Write the email ahead of time and think about showing the students. Let them know that you have a plan. Their choices have consequences. This system of cause-and-effect is in their control. They can choose to have these emails sent or choose not to. Consider adding a plan to get students back to zero somehow, if that seems like a good idea to you.
Whatever happens, stick to the script. Be consistent. Your consistency speaks to your professionalism and to the authority of your systems. You do not have to be the authority, per se. Your routines and behavior management program can be the authority. And you can just teach. This is not you versus them. They should know that you are on their side and rooting for them to learn, get the “A” and avoid getting those emails sent out.
Giving advice is always easier than implementing advice, but hopefully you can see some relatively easy ways to put some of these ideas into practice.