With January and the beginning of the second school semester just around the corner, it is the time of the year when preservice teachers begin thinking about student teaching. Who will be my mentor? What district and school will I teach at? What grade level? Do I have effective lesson plans? Over the past decade, I have had the opportunity to observe and mentor student teachers and I have found that the biggest obstacle they face is not having classroom management skills.
When teachers talk about classroom management, a common misconception is that it only involves discipline. Classroom management is your whole day and you need to expect the unexpected at all times. Preservice teachers need to start planning now in order to have a management plan in place for their first day of student teaching. My management plan consists of four objectives that I would like to share.
Begin your management plan by researching the school where you will be student teaching and as a possible employer. Volunteer as much time as you can and make yourself visible to the school administration, teachers, staff, parents, and students. If you know who will be your cooperating teacher, spend as much time as you can with them to learn the class routines and to familiarize yourself with the students. Visit same grade level teachers and observe their management skills and ask questions. Most teachers I know are willing to share their expertise with student teachers. Most importantly, conduct yourself in a professional manner at all times. Once the public realizes that you are interning as a teacher, all of your actions have the potential to affect you in a negative or positive way.
Before you arrive on campus to begin student teaching, make sure you familiarize yourself with the district’s policies and procedures. Don’t put yourself in a situation where your answer will be, “I didn’t know.” Just as the school district wants you to follow policy and procedures, you will want your students to do the same. Post your procedures in the classroom and read them together with the class leaving a space at the bottom where all the students, including yourself, can sign the document and no one can say, “I did not know.” Being organized and having everything in its place is the key, which will help with your time management. For example, have designated areas for graded and non graded assignments and try to have the week’s assignments copied and ready to go. A great time saver is to have digital files. Although it is time consuming at first to scan your masters, it becomes second nature once you become familiar with the process. Document, document, and document. Keep a note pad by your desk and keep index cards in your pocket and document all conversations, no matter how insignificant they might seem at the time, that take place in person or on the phone that might become a concern later on.
When planning your lessons, integrate your lessons with real world experiences so that students can make the connection when they ask, “When will I use what you are teaching in real life.” For example, in math class students figure out how much lumber the class will need, so every student can build a native bee box. Another motivator is to have a weekly student helper who is in charge of lining up the class, turning computers on and off, and reinforcing the classroom procedures. At the end of the week a letter can be composed thanking the helper and informing the parents of the helper’s leadership skills.
If you enforce and are consistent in your procedures, discipline takes care of its self. Practice and model your procedures, so that students understand what is being asked of them and continue to practice when it becomes necessary. Also, if you tell a student that they will receive a consequence due to not following a procedure, follow through with your consequence or the student will quickly learn that you don’t mean what you say. When you deliver the consequence, don’t give the student the opportunity to argue. Quietly remind the student of your procedures, state the consequence, say thank you and walk away.
With a classroom management plan in place for the duration of your student teaching, it will create an environment where the teacher and students can learn and have an enjoyable experience.