You can be the greatest teacher of English language arts content but never be able to teach it if classroom management issues plague your classroom. The fact of the matter is that good classroom management is essential to a successful classroom. However, many teacher preparation programs require only one course on classroom management, and a few teacher preparation programs do not require a course at all. Therefore, when teachers enter the classroom, they may find managing students daunting. And … textbooks do not adequately address the many real circumstances that teachers face pertaining to classroom management. It is pretty much OJT (on-job-training)!
Middle school students are immature, quite naturally. McDonald (2010) posited that adolescent students' brains are still developing and that the pre-frontal cortex (thinking brain) will not be fully developed until age 25. This leads them to be far from astute at evaluating the consequences of their actions, being responsible, and prioritizing (although student maturity levels do vary). These three areas tend to be the main areas that cause classroom management issues for teachers. Nevertheless, middle school teachers must realize that this is the nature of this age group and commit to finding ways to best manage them.
In the recent years of school reform, there has been a shift requiring teachers to focus more on student social-emotional growth in the classroom and to use positive methods of reprimanding, disciplining, and refocusing students. In the classroom, many times situations (aside from isolated cases) do not simply necessitate immediate reprimand, discipline, and redirection. In most cases, there's a progressive building of negative behaviors that lead to these. Teachers must be proactive in staving off as much disruptive behavior as possible for the sake of maintaining a classroom where they can focus on delivering content while building community that values and respects individuals and celebrates learning.
Myriad teachers have found themselves left to maneuver through Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS), the federal program that seeks to improve social, emotional, and academic outcomes for all students. Yet, some teachers may find it difficult to incorporate PBIS due to the many aspects and dynamics of this program, especially when they are not content specific. So how do teachers create a classroom community that values and respects students while building positive relationships where they can successfully teach content? Throughout this piece, I share three ways teachers of middle school English language arts can ease the pressures of managing 25-35 middle school students at once, immature brains and all! These three include care, consistency, and content.
In the article The Power of Positive Regard, Benson (2016) urges teachers to form positive relationships with students. He adds that "learning is transactional—not just cognitively, but emotionally." Given the nature of the adolescent brain, it is hard to separate emotion from what they are learning. They often bring emotions into the classroom and even form emotions specifically toward classes and teachers of those classes. Research has shown that when teachers have caring relationships with students, students tend to be more academically successful, and students tend to show better classroom behavior.
Middle school students are human beings, not little robots that can be programmed at the push of a button to behave correctly, but wouldn't that be helpful! The reality is that they have feelings and, as with any human being, they need to know teachers care. Showing care for students shows them that they're valued and respected. When students know teachers care for them, they are more likely to accept and value the content being taught to them. Teachers can show care for students by using specific words and phrases that demonstrate care, by using gestures, and by touch (see figure 1).
- Use phrases such as "I Care," "I believe in you"
- Use words such as love, respect, and care towards students
- Give a thumbs up when students are on target
- Use the eye-wink as in "good job"
- Smile … Nothing beats it
- Give a gentle pat on the back for encouragement
- Fist bump students when they give a correct response
Middle schoolers are consumed with whether they are being treated fairly or the same as their classmates so when they feel mistreated they are more likely to misbehave. Therefore, it is important to treat them equitably. This provides a sense of security and a sense of respect to the students. Establish clear rules and consequences from day one and hold all students accountable daily to keep them within boundaries. Skipping a day on rules or only enforcing rules with certain students is a recipe for disaster. Teachers will be tested and challenged. Kids will try to see if they can get away with breaking a rule every now and then, but teachers must always be the enforcer and boundary keeper of their classrooms.
Consistency is so important in the classroom for a plethora of reasons. Many students face instability in their home lives, so the classroom should be a place of expected routines. The fact of the matter is that the English language arts classroom is a place where teachers are charged with covering a lot of material in a little amount of time. To combat this and for management purposes, teachers should routinely use timers to keep students on track and to daily use time wisely. Other ideas include using rubrics and equity sticks (see figure 2).
Consistency in the Classroom
|Grade using rubrics when applicable
- Rubrics remove bias from grading. Use rubrics for fair, consistent grading of written assignments.
- Rubrics speed up grading of writing assignments, so there is less wait time for students to receive feedback.
|Use equity sticks
- Use popsicle sticks with students’ names on them to request student participation. Draw each student’s name once daily if possible.
- Allow students to pull other students' names for engagement and excitement.
|Use a timer
- Have daily agendas posted on the board with time frames for each section. Adhere to the times. A simple kitchen timer will work, or use one found online that can be displayed on a screen or whiteboard.
In my humble opinion, English language arts is the most fun subject! There are characters to learn about, foreign lands to travel to, quotes to interpret, claims to make and argue, grammar to correct, narrative stories to create, journals to write, essays to type, metaphors and similes to use, and the list goes on. Teachers must make these concepts engaging for students. The love we have for our content must be shared with students. When kids see that the teacher is enthusiastic about the content, it will be contagious. To get kids enthusiastically engaged in content is the answer to many classroom management issues. If they are engaged, they are on task.
Use the content! English language arts teachers have been afforded the opportunity to teach one of the broadest subjects known to education. English language arts means teaching students how to effectively communicate ideas via the English language. The English language arts classroom is a place of writing, speaking, listening, and reading. More recently, through Common Core, it has become a place for researching and using technology as well. See figure 3 for additional ideas for classroom management.
||Have students read short stories or books that are set in classrooms. Have students compare and contrast characters’ behavior in the passages and use this as a way to reinforce behavior expectations in the real classroom.
||Periodically have students write journals pertaining to classroom expectations, rules, and procedures to reinforce them. Even solicit feedback from students on what can be improved, changed, or revisited.
||Bring relevance and excitement to the classroom by using technology for writing assignments or extension activities. Students may be more likely to behave better if technology use is an incentive.
Most English language arts teachers go into education with the idea of teaching their content to the best of their abilities to create literate students, proficient readers, exceptional writers, and avid critical thinkers. However, poor classroom management puts a damper on this. Teachers must exercise good classroom management for student success and their own success alike. The English language arts classroom is a place of writing, thinking, speaking, listening, reading, and researching, all of which can be used to incite enthusiastic engagement to encourage on-task behaviors. This is especially true when teachers couple these with genuine care and consistency. It is possible to be a great teacher of English language arts content and be able to teach without classroom management issues. On the other hand, students know that teachers are not robots programmed to do everything with the push of a button, although I'm sure students think that would be nice!
Benson, J. (2016). The power of positive regard. Retrieved from
McDonald, E. (2010). A quick look into the middle school brain. Retrieved from https://www.naesp.org/sites/default/files/
Sharonica Nelson, Ed.D. is visiting assistant professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Education.
Published in AMLE Magazine
, August 2019.