Ahh, classroom management.

Many of us tend to equate classroom management with discipline (and for that matter, to equate discipline with punishment, but that's another story). I see classroom management as the processes and procedures that are in place to mitigate the need for punishment, leaving discipline to cleave to its roots of "to follow." Anything else is not classroom management. It’s damage control.

Classroom management starts, for me, with very clear expectations, and firmly established procedures. I begin the year (or semester, now that I'm on a 4x4 block) with a more formal, regulated tone, and have so far been able to end each year and semester with an atmosphere of relaxed mutual respect. I value students’ self-control over my being in control.

Room Arrangement

One of the goals of my room set-up is to minimize non-instructional interaction. This sounds a bit impersonal and harsh, but its intent is to keep students on task, give them consistency in behavioral
expectations, and to minimize their attempts to derail my teaching. Everyone benefits.

There are clear procedures written on the whiteboard behind my desk for absentees, make up work, and getting extra help. There are FAQ signs about work being for a grade, the temperature, whatever all around the room. I try to maintain a predictable schedule so students

Organization and clear expectations greet students at the door. The duck and snail are my hall passes.

know what's expected of them during each part of the 98 minutes we spend together each day -- and don't have to ask. The agenda and objectives are on the board behind my desk. (I balked at this requirement during summer school, but have found that it allows students to know what's expected of them. They do look at it, and are quick to ask questions about the items I post that are intentionally ambiguous.)

I have a peninsula table at the entry where students find the IN BOX, where all work is turned in (I never accept a piece of paper into my hand. It has to do with chain of possession and organization.); the DAILY NOTES binder containing each day's lesson and copies of notes; the ABSENTEE FILE, where copies of handouts -- with absent students’ names -- are filed each day along with any work that was handed back while they were gone.

I don't use the traditional 5x5 or 5x6 rows. I have sets of 3x3 or 3x2  blocks facing in perpendicular directions. It allows me to move more freely in the room and I'm never more than three seats away from a given student, and facilitates group work. It also eliminates any sense of a clear back or front of the room.


The day before the state English test, students worked in groups to match important terms with examples on little slips of paper. Quin, Skylar, Tyrell, and Keyosha got a beat going, and I was lucky enough to catch a bit of it. Could this have happened the first week, or even the first month, of school without the class falling apart? No way! But this is the payoff for being tough in the first weeks. Other groups continued to work, and this group was one of the first to finish the activity because they got right back onto task. 

(We were in the chemistry room because my room was being used for other testing, so excuse the messy background.)

Students are given assigned seats; I call them Mr. and Miss by their last names. The last names began as a way to make it easier to remember names (oh, those Delta names!), find them on the roster and grade book, and file papers. It turns out, though, that it helps establish the boundaries between teacher and student; classroom and non-instructional time. When I see students outside the classroom in the hall, at games, or in town, calling them by their first names switches us instantly into a different mode. It also contributes to the general mood of respect in the classroom. In a way, calling a student by their first name bestows a level of respect, not unlike the granting of first-name basis by your parents’ friends. It brings the student a little closer equal social standing in that particular context.

Procedures, Privileges, and Rewards

My goal with these is to minimize how much I have to keep track of, while giving students as much control as possible over their own decisions about behavior and privileges.

Like many other MTC teacher, I use a ticket system of rewards for participation, critical thinking, vocabulary usage, weekly attendance, and whatever other event or behavior I might deem worthy.
Tickets can be used to buy supplies such as pens, paper, or tissue; bathroom privileges; test questions; and candy. [A word about tissue: When I had tissue available, everyone had a runny nose and constantly needed to step out to use the tissue. Now that they exchange two tickets for two pulls from the roll I keep behind my desk, the immune rates are much higher, and interruptions are few.] Students are responsible for their own tickets. The hidden benefit of the ticket system, besides f

On the board: Yes, your work is for a grade.

reeing me of having to keep charts and tables of rewards, is that they also can help teach students that nothing is free. Every (material) thing in my room is earned, not given. The actions required to earn tickets are minimal and achievable by every student. I make sure of that. They whine and complain about the high price (10) for candy, versus the low price (5) for pens, and I tell them to shop somewhere else. They accuse me of making money. I remind them that I buy both the supplies and the tickets. It’s been a mini-lesson in economics and accountability.

Bathroom privileges are a thorn in the side of every teacher in critical needs schools with chronic behavior, cutting, and absentee issues. The official school policy is that students use the bathroom between classes. I  give each student a 3x5 card with two Emergency Bathroom Pass stamps on it at the beginning of the term (as soon as my roster is relatively stable). Bathroom passes are for the
students to keep track of. They can sell, trade, or lose them. Once they are gone, they are gone. They can buy additional passes for 20 tickets.

The Leave Me Alone pass is one of my favorite privileges, and I owe the seed of this idea to MTC alum Melissa Smith, my first summer session mentor. Each student gets one pass, printed on bright card stock with various counterfeit-detection design elements. (Again, they keep track of them, or not.) They can use the pass on a day they just want to put their head down and not deal with class. LMA passes cannot be used on a test or quiz day. As you might expect a few use them in the first week, but most students never pull them out. A handful will place one on their desk and then

End of the term cash-out.

slip it back into their binder when they realize the day's activity is actually interesting or fun. This is one of those things that is so small in the scheme of things, but goes so far in helping students feel empowered and in control of their classroom experience.

Oh, yeah: And unused tickets and passes are cashed out for extra credit and excused quiz grades at the end of the year or term.

When All Else Fails

It happens. The inevitable n'er-do-wells and knuckleheads whose main objective is to disrupt the class. I use a combination of copying assignments, detention, and parent contact. Each or some combination will usually resolve all but the hard core discipline problems, allowing class dynamics to sort themselves out to an acceptable level. Of course, students skip detention, but meticulous record-keeping and relentless follow-up with administration helps them realize the consequences of skipping are worse. Detention means either copying a 500-word essay or cleaning my room. This is a good time to mention meticulous record keeping. In a parent or principal conference, there is no greater weapon than my carefully documented roll book, discipline records and incident reports.

For me, the key to effective classroom management has been to maintain consistency and relentlessness from the first day of school. The lessons of raising a child to successful adulthood weren't lost on me. Toddlers and teens have more in common than not: They're at a transitional stage in which they are testing limits, learning boundaries, and trying on personalities. Once they learn the specific boundaries and consequences of my classroom, most are grateful for the atmosphere of safety and respect in my classroom. It’s still a daily struggle, but the amount of time I’ve spent focusing on damage control has been minimal during the school term.

Does all this mean my room is a sweat shop where students feel repressed, dragged down and not able to express themselves? No. It means that the students who are there to learn have an environment where they feel safe and able to be themselves. We have running inside jokes. And peach cobbler. I do loads of group work, peer teaching, and self-guided activities that can only be effective in a class with seamless management.

My classroom is a place where students feel safe.