Classroom management is about trial and error; it comes through practice, patience, teamwork, flexibility, quality mentoring, willingness to seek help, and a huge dose of humor. There is no one solution for every classroom management problem. Try new ideas, take time to listen to your students, trust your instincts, and have fun along the way.
Young adolescents will move, with or without permission. Our goal is to get them to move with purpose. The next time you realize your students have been sitting more than 20 minutes, find a productive reason for them to move. Allowing students to move keeps them engaged and alert, and it can help you keep your sanity. Look for ways to incorporate movement when you are making your lesson plans.
Show them you care
Adolescents want attention—positive or negative. Understand that sometimes students who are familiar only with negative attention will naturally seek negative attention. Try not to give them negative attention but find reasons to give them positive attention.
Humor is another way to show your students you care. Sharing a laugh builds positive energy and shows students you enjoy being around them.
Design the environment
Update your classroom as often as possible. Make sure it is inviting to students, meets everyone's seating needs, and reflects at least some student interests. (It may be time to ditch the old "Hang in there" kitty poster.) Incorporate popular culture and put your students' creativity to use by allowing them to help. This gives them a sense of belonging and ownership.
Keep up with technology
This is probably one of the most difficult challenges today's classroom teachers face. The next iSomething is always just around the corner, even though we adults are just getting comfortable with the current model. But keeping up with students in this area is essential if we are to adequately prepare them for their future. And if we don't allow them to use their favorite technologies in productive ways in the classroom, they will likely find unproductive and disruptive ways of using them. If your school does not have a set of rules governing students' personal technology, make your own rules and teach students what it means to be a responsible digital citizen.
Channel adolescent power
Young adolescents want more autonomy, and sometimes they go about it in ways that drive us crazy. Refusing to do their work and procrastinating are common ways they try to exert their power. To gain control before these issues start, own the room. Remaining at your desk or standing at the front of the room allows students to avoid work and create distractions. If you roam the room while they are working, stopping to ask and answer questions, they will know that you are in control. Hold them accountable for assignments, offering incentives for getting their work done before leaving class.
Planning ahead carefully can help cut down on classroom chaos. Make sure all required materials for a lesson are ready to go at the start of class. Set clear expectations for the activity and try to anticipate areas where students may get off track. When a situation arises, deal with it as quickly and simply as possible. If a situation warrants a longer conversation with a particular student, hold that student after class rather than wasting valuable class time. Always reserve principal's office referrals for the most serious offenses.
Remember, one of the best ways to avoid discipline issues is to keep students actively engaged in positive ways.
This article was adapted from Managing the Madness: A Practical Guide to Middle Grades Classrooms by Jack C. Berckemeyer. Jack is a former middle grades teacher, humorist, and best-selling author.
Copyright © 2013 Association for Middle Level Education