Thursday, March 24, 2011

To Manage a Classroom: Sober, I Mean

How the Hell Do I Run This Show?

The hardest part of teaching is administration. The hardest part is running the room. I wish I were kidding. That’s the part that seems easiest--a grade book, a roster, instructional materials, blah, blah, blah---but when there are technical difficulties, complications, outbursts, sudden changes of any kind (“Miss O’, it’s snowing!”), the whole teaching planet is upset if not destroyed. The whole thing has to be organized and thought-out BEYOND thought-out if it is to work of a piece, to create a moment and more of sublime experience; and if it’s not on the mark, even great intentions turn to disaster. Best Analogy Award: Broadway’s Spider-man, Turn off the Dark. (I love Spider-man--I'm embarrassed to say how much--musicals, U-2, and the work of Julie Taymor, so I cannot begin to tell you how totally devastated I was that all of this failed to come together to make a beautiful thing. As of this writing.)


            You, Professor, have been modeling teaching all your adult life. Now is the time to be metacognitive: You walk in, drop your briefcase, get out your laptop, take attendance, look out over the student teachers in your course . . . and I am willing to lay serious money that by mid-course, and even at the end, you still cannot put a name to a face for half your students. I was in a second course with a professor before she could call me by name, and only then because she’d seen me in a play. I took no fewer than three courses with another education professor and he looked right through me on a near-empty campus one day.

            College of Education Professor, let’s face it: You are really not called upon to “manage” let alone decorate a classroom at the university level, and that’s got a lot to do with why you want to teach there. I don’t blame you a bit. You pay for that breather with all the committee junk, and the pressure to publish. But your charges WILL have to manage (and decorate) their classrooms, and you have to teach them how. You have to MODEL it.

            REAL LIFE EXAMPLE ALERT: Teachers are very often not supported well, or at all, at the schools where they go to teach. They aren’t supported or helped or even much acknowledged by principals, department colleagues, or parents. Go know. That’s probably the second biggest reason they quit, after the feeling unprepared thing. It’s certainly a part of my story. You don’t want to tell your teachers that this will be the reality, and I agree. DON’T TELL THEM. Instead, prepare them.

            We assume that teachers quit because they cannot “handle” the kids: all those personalities, stories, voices, names, needs--flying around a new curriculum, to boot--thrown at teachers all at once, is wild and terrifying. It is a shock. After all, teachers imagine a world where everyone just listens. How do they come by, and maintain, this unrealistic view? Because when they did college class presentations, their fellow students were attentive; when they were student aides and practice teachers, the kids were often polite because their real teacher was watching. And those teacher-mentors were hand-selected in the first place. Few practice teaching assignments are like the real deal.

            Then the teacher gets her own job. It’s she and they: and she is alone.

            But it really isn’t the kids’ fault. The blame lands 1) at the feet of the school leadership, and 2) it lands at the bases of the pedestals on which the instructors of preparatory college education courses rest their big, fat laurels.

            Listen, Professor: Their principals are busy. Their colleagues are busy. Everyone is busy. You, professors, are a distant memory. “Good luck, kid.”

            So what can you, the College of Education do, to ameliorate this situation? YOU provide support. YOU show her or him how to manage a class.

            Classroom management is often given absurdly short shrift: One professor put us in a seating chart, which we more or less forgot about. One day she said, “Do you notice how I take roll quietly while you are writing?” Fine, as far as modeling goes. Yes. But why the surprise approach? Why can’t you really teach classroom management?

            I have found that even at the professorial level, teachers hate to give away “secrets”! One feels they sort of want you to go out there and fail, just the way they had to. Perhaps they want to appear mysteriously brilliant. It’s stupid. And doubtless a lot of young teachers think they themselves have all the secret answers and so will resist being trained. They are assholes and deserve to fail. (I just hate for it to be at the expense of the education of actual children.) But whatever the intangibles of great teaching, what follows is a basic way to introduce student teachers to the teaching system. I think it can even save a few assholes from themselves (the ones (douches) who would begin a required English 9 class with, “There are no rules here” and “Sit where you want”).


Objective: Students will understand techniques for the effective management of a classroom, including room arrangement and equipment use (e.g., Interactive Whiteboard, or IWB, and laptop), instructional preparedness, rule enforcement, and problem-solving

Materials: A digital or paper School Packet to include copies of a variety of documents: school handbooks, school diagrams, contact sheets, class schedules, school calendar, room assignments, course overviews, rosters, blank student information sheets, attendance report forms, guidance department referrals, disciplinary referrals, seating chart, hall passes; a Sampler CD or Interactive Program with computer gradebook, computer attendance, school website, e-mail

1. Provide a (paper or computer) model of an elementary, middle, or high school set-up for your student teachers, including floor plan and grounds plan, a “contact list” with names of people in the administration and on staff, just as in a real school. They will use this model as a frame of reference. (In my memoirs to come, I use “Luxe High,” so create a school name, too.) NOTE: If you have already scheduled where your student teachers are going to do their practice teaching, BY ALL MEANS give them the information for that school. That would be awesome.

2. Provide each student-teacher with a personalized school schedule, class schedule, lunch schedule, fire drill schedule for the school, and a school calendar of activities, vacations, etc. Standardize it, if you wish, for the class, but each teacher should see her or his name on the sheet, to make it feel official.

3. Assign your student-teacher a  “room” (ideally on a computer, and with avatars!) with a room number, a floor plan, a number of desks (30 at least—keep this real, I’m begging you), a file cabinet, bulletin board, lectern, IWB, etc., as well as the textbook or other instructional materials he or she will be expected to use for the fictional year.

4. Assign each student-teacher his or her “Courses”* with rosters for his or her students (*For elementary teachers, assign 30 students; and for middle- and high school teachers, add one other “prep”--another grade level or course type—for a total of two preps, with a total of five sections of 30 students each). The names should vary in ethnicity and gender. Also include a “duty period” and assign various duties, such as hall duty, bus duty, or cafeteria duty. Assign a “planning period.”

5.  For the student teachers you have, explain how schools (elementary or secondary) function, from morning until afternoon. Begin from the moment they park in the lot to the last bell. Discuss administration set-ups, committees, the various departments, and meetings, as well as the uses of media centers, computer labs, and the like. Talk pep rallies, mascots, music programs, etc. Model the “beginning of the year” talk that a principal might give.
6. Model how to begin the set up of a classroom, from desk arrangement to seating charts, to equipment arrangement and other furniture placement. (See my essays to come in this blog that include Materials lists and the like for models.)

7. Have students pull out once again their state standards documents, their lesson plans (year, semester, 9- or 6-weeks, and unit plans, including delivery outlines) and teach them how to build curriculum notebooks, either on paper or on the laptop. (See Part II for more information on this where I show teachers how to set up Curriculum Notebooks and select supplies.)

PART I of the course involves, you, the Professor, modeling for student-teachers ways of setting up a room; locating and interpreting all the school documents they will need; taking roll; creating a seating chart; learning names; making a calendar (including when grades are due, when you need to average); setting up a paper-grading schedule; how to handle discipline (what to fix, what to ignore, quiet conferences, moving forward after a public mental breakdown, etc.), making home contact, guidance contact, etc. Build this. (See my essays and Theater Production documents in this blog-book later for models.)


1. Learning Names: Teach techniques for learning kids’ names using seating charts. QUIZ: Each day for a week, make them write the names of at least 15 students, first and last name, in a different section of a class they are “virtually teaching” (high school), on cells that represent their desks on a chart--and build to ALL; do all students for elementary. This sounds insane, especially without kids to associate with names. I suggest making an Avatar Classroom. Why not?

2. Daily Chore and Room Organization: Have student teachers try out desk arrangements in your room. Model how to set up a homeroom on the first day, such as pre-placing all the “school information items” in a folder on each student’s desk, thus saving valuable class time. Model how to write up course objectives, prepare needed materials, hand out information, use Interactive Whiteboards, chalkboards, overhead projectors, or any other kinds of equipment they might use to begin class, teach a lesson, or complete a lesson. Have student teachers PRACTICE THIS. Let a different student begin this class each day to practice--give them what they’ll need, and let them do it. Give them feedback. Give them a grade.

3. Projects: a) Teach them how to set up small-group learning situations in each class, using seating charts. Have them select a project from their plans, and share the requirements sheet, a presentation schedule, evaluation forms, etc., in a presentation. Ask, How will you keep the other students focused on the presentations? Model how to do this.

            b) Have student teachers write course introduction letters to their classes, course expectations (including materials, syllabus, grading procedures, etc.), and student surveys. (See my Theater Production section for models.)

            c) Have student teachers review the School Handbook model you supply, learn school rules, etc. Then have them write the quiz they might give to students on these rules, and make a key. Then have teachers take their own quizzes. Grade them using the teachers’ keys.  (Teachers had better be able to pass their own quizzes.)

            d) Have student teachers write out a typical 45-minute session from soup to nuts: bell to bell: from taking roll to assigning homework. Have them refer to their Lesson Plans from the previous courses. Have them do this prep each day as a warm-up. Give them ten minutes. When they finish, throw in a daily monkey wrench: 10-minute fire drill; SCA assembly; picture-taking; field trip; three excused absence forms to sign and make-up work needed; a student death; a snowstorm.  Have them revise their days accordingly.

            e) Have students build a curriculum notebook for one quarter. (See further explanation in a later entry of this blog-book.)

4. On Discipline: Recount to student-teachers various unpleasant scenarios that could occur in a class. Have veteran teachers and principals provide real-life examples. Model ways to deal with each problem. Some of these have legal implications. You really do need to talk about liability, and here is where to mention it. Do guided practice, discussions, and practice with scenarios in class. EXAMPLES: chronic tardiness; falling asleep; throwing up; getting off-task during reading time/individual work time; using a cell phone; deliberate pen-clicking; gas-passing; joke-telling/laughing; chronic hand-raising for attention; sighing for attention; a verbal fight; forgetting of materials; unexcused absences; cutting class; refusal to do classwork or homework; acting out; physical fighting; asking absurd questions; lying; cheating; chatting. If possible, get your university’s Theater Department involved in role-playing. TEST: Provide written scenarios and ask teachers to write how they would approach the problem. (Be open to the answers.)

5. Remind student teachers, always, that the keys to good management lie in good instructional planning, good time management, student involvement in the class, and a good sense of humor. MODEL all of these.

PART II of the course occurs when teachers are student-aiding, prior to student-teaching. Ideally, they will aide for more than one teacher at the sponsor-school. (And seriously: A shout-out to the county schools that surround universities with education departments and get hit up to “help”. You guys rock.) You can use this part of the Classroom Management Course for students to discuss what they are seeing in the field vis à vis what you have taught them in class. What is working? What isn’t? How would they do it differently? What do they see that is surprising, both good and bad? Have them write reviews. Have them interview students in these classes. Have them interview teachers and administrators about teaching. This will really be their last chance to ask stuff, simply because they will be really, really busy very soon. Kisses.

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