If you have a student doing something you don't want, you need to determine the cause of the behavior and address it. Rules and consequences are important, but you can't take a one size fits all approach. That will only backfire on you.
I agree with #5 in saying that positive reinforcement can work wonders. My school has a 'three strikes' system that begins with a child's name being put on the board, then a tick next to it. Two ticks means the student then is sent out to be dealt with by pastoral staff. I asked my students what they thought of the system. It was surprising how many liked the recognition of having their name on the board - for some it was really the only acknowledgement they received!
I now have a 'smiley face' board. The objective is for everyone in the class to get their name on the board for something positive - answering a question, asking a good question, clarifying a point or even settling quietly to work (of course there's a fair bit of engineering on my part). I haven't had cause to go anywhere near the 'three strikes' system since. It costs me nothing, and I tell kids the reward is the recognition they have done well. It's positive, works even with my seniors and it means I ensure I have interacted with each student every lesson.
Welcome to the fold, kyrak! Sounds like you have the basic ideas down pat - just keep on that track, and you will do fine. You are 100% right about picking your battles, especially on the things that are not dangerous or destructive, but are simply annoying. I once told a student in the middle of a class that I was absolutely not going to kick him out, because I understood that that was what he was trying to get me to do, and I was not willing to let him dictate my actions. He was shocked...but he got his act together after that.
Just a thought from an old war horse to a new one - it's a good idea to try to scope out what the hot button issues are for your supervisor (particularly whoever will write up your teacher evaluations) and make a point of dealing with those, even if they don't seem worth it to you. For example, if your supervisor absolutely hates when kids write on the desks, make sure it doesn't happen in your room, even if you personally don't care about it.
I agree that being consistent and fair is the first order of business. After that, I find that I can generally avoid or divert student distractions and misbehaviors by keeping students engaged--something much easier said than done. Being overprepared is my best defense against most discipline issues.
Being fair and consistent with how you treat all students goes a long way in terms of attaining and more importantly maintaining discipline. Be clear about your expectations at the start of the year and be super vigilant about enforcing your policies, whatever they may be. There is an old adage in education that you can always get more lenient, but you can never take back control if you never had it in the first place. I think it is extremely important to have control on the first day of school, the first week, the first month. Get parents and administration on your side early on.
The age old adage is true also: A well planned day being your routine approach to teaching is the best classroom management there is. When that fails, I make sure not to let that student get in the way of the rest. I will often remove them from the classroom until there is a parent conference (depends on age, of course, I teach high school) so that it is always the student's choice of behavior and consequence. Then you don't spend too much of your time dealing with this one student, which is sometimes the attention reward they are seeking.
As a teacher and professor of nearly every grade level I can attest to the fact that it is true that positive reinforcement is way more effective than punishment. By positive reinforcement I am refering to rewarding good actions rather than punishing bad actions.
One of the best reward programs that I have is very simple. Each time I see a student doing the right thing, I put a piece of candy, or a cookie, inside a little bucket with the student number written on the outside.
This works for EVERY grade level, since everyone loves candy. Just get a small container, assign a number to each student and say that, everytime they do the right thing, place candy, gum, or whatever, in the bucket. Likewise, take it away if they misbenave.
However, there is something else. In difficult groups such as middle school and early high school students, the best solution is prevention. Prevent hot situations by keeping the students busy and engaged. Once they are engaged there is very little they will be bothering each other about.
So, plan ahead and plan accordingly. Pretend that you are one of the students: What would your teacher have to do to keep you busy and satisfied in class? Then, do the same.
This depends so much upon why the child is misbehaving. If the child is misbehaving out of boredom or frustration, it is much less likely that punishment will help change their behavior. In that sort of case, you would need to try to determine how you could engage the child's interest in your subject matter. This is more easily said than done, but it can often be the only real way to prevent that bad behavior from continuing.
Bullgatortail has summarized the problem quite well. If one has parental support; a phone call to the parent will normally solve any discipline problems. If that is lacking, then the most one can do is isolate the kid one way or another; hopefully by having him removed from the class to some sort of in-school or out-of-school suspension; or placing him as far away from his friends as possible.
One must never forget that kids are a work in progress. Although we must teach them to be responsible, we cannot expect from them the same level of responsibility we would from a mature adult. Oftentimes, kids misbehave to assert their individuality; other times, it is to entertain his peers. If that entertainment can be turned into mild embarassment or punishment which the peers will also witness, then that might alleviate the problem somewhat.
Even so, as long as there are kids in school, there are going to be discipline issues. All the "experts" who were so smart they had to leave the classroom and sell their methods to others notwithstanding, kids have a short attention span and a need for peer recognition. If they are teenagers, they need to show their independence. One should keep this in mind when forming the appropriate response. Still, don't expect a one-size-fits all solution. It doesn't exist.
This is the age-old question, and one of the hardest parts about being a classroom teacher. As a 25 year teaching vet, I have had MANY students whose only reason for attending school was for the social aspect of it, and that included socializing and misbehaving throughout each class as well. One school where I worked in the 1980s utilized paddling extensively, and I must say, it seemed to work for most students. The next school I taught at had a principal who frowned on punishment of any kind, and she saw little problem with rowdy, unruly classrooms. Repeated warnings and detentions were the norm, but they seemed to have little effect on some students. I believe that students who repeatedly disrupt a classroom should be removed--to In-School Suspension if necessary--and some schools provide permanent classes for such students (woe be to the poor teachers who have to deal with them). As far as what type of punishment, I used to isolate students away from their friends in a far corner of the room; although it was not an always successful tactic, it usually separated them from their friends or from other students who were trying to study. If I needed to make them wait and be the last student to leave the classroom, I did that. Needless to say, parental contact and counseling are other options, and when I was growing up, a call to my parents is all it would have taken. But this is the 21st century, and parents don't always support the teacher or teach their children proper behavior in social settings. You may want to sit down with your department head and/or principal or dean and see if a joint decision can be made. Good luck!
Identifying the goal of the student is important. That is why knowing your students is paramount. If a child is simply seeking attention, then you can remove the negative attention and give positive attention. If the child is bored, then you create activities that will keep them from being bored. This does not mean that negative behavior is tolerated. I have straight forward expectations and consequences when the year starts, but I am continually differentiating my strategies to meet the needs of every student.
I have just starting teaching on the middle school level and have been amazed at the behaviors students get away with, how difficult parents become when their child is disciplined, and the frequency in which administators cave to the parent's demands to recind a disciplinary action, which often negates the discipline doled out by teachers, and undermines the teacher's authority in the process.
That being said, I agree with the poster who mentioned rewarding the positive behaviors more frequently than punishing the bad behaviors. I find most middle schoolers do not care if they are given a detention. But, they do not like to not earn rewards that others may receive.
I also believe we need to pick our battles. There are some behaviors that frankly should just be overlooked, or ignored (attention is what they are seeking after all). It is not worth getting locked in a battle of wills. It is a waste of time that could be better used to educate. Instead, just deal with major issues, and of course school rules that cannot be changed.
When discipline is necessary it should be fair, have been clearly stated previously that such-and-such will be the consequence of a specific negative behavior, should be doled out immediately following the infraction, and then that is the end of it. Sometimes we get caught up in the dragging it out in some way or another. The following day, I will also tell the disciplined student that this is a new day, clean slate.
I find that over preparation of my lesson and knowledge of my subject matter is the first line of defense. The students can tell if you know what you are talking about – and they will test you every time. I spend hours and hours during the year and summer reviewing new materials and information related to my subject.
Everyone has posted the main ideas that I would share – be prepared, have definite procedures planned for the first day of class, follow through with discipline justly and evenly, and initiate parent contact PRIOR to needing to discuss behavior. It is very important that you discipline fairly. I have found that many of my students already feel like the deck is stacked against them and so they need to know you discipline everyone equally for the same offense.
I use the Three Strikes approach. First I will issue a redirection to the general class regarding classroom procedures (i.e. “we should all have our folders and be seated now.”); Second, I would move in the proximity of the student and give additional redirection if needed, quietly and respectfully, Third time I have a student conference in the hall and advise him/her that repeated offense will result in further discipline and I will be calling parents. The next time the child is “OUT” either removed from class, discipline referral written, or ISP.
I also use a reward system for my students who are on task, participating, answering questions, helpful in the classroom. I give out “tickets” and they put them in a container and at the end of the week I draw a name and reward that student with a snack the next week.