By my calculation, a student in my World Geography class spends approximately 133 hours in my classroom completing the course. That’s 177 school days (instructional days required by Louisiana) and having a student in my class every other day for an hour and half. For middle to high school students, those 133 hours have the possibility of being filled with interest, enthusiasm, care and ultimately joy. But it can also be 133 hours of disdain, disinterest and even fear of total classroom annihilation. No student or teacher EVER wants the latter, however many a classroom has met this demise, including my own!
My first couple of years teaching were very tumultuous. I struggled to get classrooms focused and under control. As much as I wanted to get to know the students and teach, there just wasn’t time between all of the reprimanding, consequences, calls home, and completing write-ups. Everything was just negative, and there was no room for anything else. After my first two years, I realized something. If I wanted to continue with the job I thought I was going to love I was going to have to bring that love into the classroom. I was always so worried about administration coming by or sitting in my classroom and seeing asleep, disengaged or off task students. I began to see some students as trying to get me in “trouble” (and maybe they understandably were) and I started to not want certain students to show up or be in my class. I had to reevaluate my philosophy of teaching every student because I was lying now. I needed more positivity in classroom and refused to start my third year without it. Here are some of the strategies I use that have helped create the positive, enthusiastic, loving, and caring atmosphere that I feel I have today. I consistently rank very high in our teacher evaluations for having a caring and safe atmosphere.
1. Student of the Month – for each of my 6 classes, at the beginning of the month I pick a student who exhibits exceptional work or growth. I feature their name above the door so other classes can see. They get one item from the teacher lounge vending machine and a call home. Frankly, the thing they want the most is the parent call home. I can’t tell you how many parents have squealed with excitement when I tell them their 9th grader got student of the month. Don’t underestimate the power of public recognition.
2. Classroom “bucks” – This is not for everyone, and I understand when some teachers say that an “A” in their class IS the prize. However, this system helps me to identify positive interactions and exceptional work quickly, and all I need to do is flash a brightly colored piece of paper that can be spent at the end of the week on classroom supplies or a couple pieces of candy (jolly ranchers mostly). Students observe each other all the time and if someone on task and focused gets a buck, many students follow suit, and I don’t have to say a word. I was a very talkative student who meant well and no disrespect, but boy I hated to have my name called out all the time. A visual reminder and example are often all that is needed.
3. The Doorman – During morning arrival or passing periods I always make sure I am at my door, greeting students as they come into the classroom. I make sure I say hi to every student and show enthusiasm for their arrival. I also check to see if any student seems a bit off and will stop at their desk to ask if they’re okay and/or need anything. They know I care and are less likely to act out.
4. “The universe decides”. I put all students’ names into a baggie, 1 for each class. When it’s time to answer a question, read something aloud or partner-up I pull names from the bag and say, “the universe chose you!” and that’s that. I start this immediately at the beginning of the year, so EVERY student can get used to the fact that they will have to contribute to the class and interact and that this is a safe environment to do so. Special cases do exist, so as not to isolate a student with a ton of anxiety.
5. No “fussing”. If you want to quickly aggravate a student, keep saying their name over and over again attached with “get to work” or “put your head up”. The student gets mad and will say “Why aren’t you yelling at Jane, she’s hiding her phone! You’re always yelling at me!” Negative overload and you’ve just made matters worse. When it’s time to get to work and sit down, I’ll say “I am looking for 5 people to sit down….now 3 people to sit down…..1 more person needs to sit and then we’re ready to roll!” Replace “sit down” with “get to work” or “put their heads up” and you’ve got the whole class doing the right thing and you didn’t use a single name.
6. It is okay to laugh! You are the adult and know when something is inappropriate or not, but if a student says something funny, a pun, an observation (the pronunciation of Djibouti), share in the laugh! I am no longer scared of my administration busting into my room and pointing out all the misbehaviors, because I rarely have any! I wake up each morning excited for another day and to see my amazing students.