When you’re tired, frustrated and stressed out, it seems impossible to put an end to constant fights and arguments.
I’ve been exactly where you are now
My principal often told us at our staff meetings that the reputation of our school was “blood and guts”.
It was true. The students were tough, many of the parents were single mothers trying to make a living, housing was often overcrowded.
On the standard testing, the school consistently scored below the district and provincial average.
After 24 years of teaching, I was burnt out, stressed out, and seriously thinking about leaving the teaching profession.
I took a self-funded leave of absence for a year to review my options.
During this time I did a lot of reading of best educational practices, I personally attended workshops, enrolled in online courses, read lots of blogs, websites, and forums.
During my year off, I learned all kinds of great teaching ideas.
I was pumped, armed and ready with an arsenal of teaching tips. I was also rested, rejuvenated and re-energized.
It was going to be my best year ever. I was going to show everyone at school that my new ideas and new found knowledge were going to produce the best behaved class in the school.
I was also going to significantly raise the sixth grade test scores, which were traditionally abysmal.
Or so I thought.
It didn’t turn out that way.
It was the worst year I ever had.
My biggest mistake was assuming that all these ideas would effortlessly change my students.
Boy was I wrong.
What can you learn from someone who hasn’t been in front of students day in and day out for years, or decades?
These ideas came from education “gurus” who left the classroom early in their teaching careers.
They had a “one size fits all” for dealing with behavior issues.
I learned the hard way.
To paraphrase Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina “Happy classes are all alike; every unhappy class is unhappy in its own way.”
Every class is different. Every school is different. Every district is different.
This class I had after my year off was certainly different.
What every teacher needs is a toolkit of teaching tips, strategies, a “bag of tricks”.
If one idea doesn’t work, not to worry. Go into your bag of tricks and pull out another strategy.
Even if the strategy you used didn’t work, it could be the class, it could be the timing, it could be the environment.
Its failure could be due to a number of factors.
Put that strategy back into your toolkit and use it again later in the year or with another class.
I kept reaching into my toolkit for teaching tips and kept coming up empty.
I was getting desperate.
Nothing was working.
All my years of experience were being given the ultimate test.
I tried bribing students with treats, or promising them free time on Fridays or a party if only they would behave.
It didn’t work.
I tried lecturing them, applying consequences, phoning their parents.
That didn’t work either.
They weren’t listening to me.
They were rude and disrespectful.
The worst part was they were fighting among themselves, constantly bickering and bullying others.
There were moments when I stood in front of the entire class, watching helplessly while all this misbehavior was going on.
It was a horrible, depressing feeling.
At this point, every morning before school started, I would head off to work with a pit in my stomach.
You probably know what I mean.
I didn’t want to be there.
I didn’t want to face them.
I was getting frustrated and stressed out.
But, I had one untried strategy left.
It was one that always worked.
I was hesitant, because I knew what it would involve.
It would take away time from my curriculum and my goal of increasing class test scores.
When used the correct way, this strategy works.
If not used correctly, it can backfire on you.
The sure-fire, easy to use strategy to take control in your classroom is the class meeting.
There are a number of different types of class meetings.
I am going to describe one type of class meeting that is simple to do and produces very effective results.
Here’s how it works:
The key is in preparation.
You will have a minimum of 3 meetings.
A week before your meeting is the time to build up support and anticipation.
Your first meeting is to talk to your key student leaders.
Include both boys and girls that you have a good relationship with.
If possible, enlist the support of one or more of your “top dogs”.
If you need more support, ask a trusted colleague, an administrator or a consultant from your district to attend the pre-meetings and the actual meeting.
Food is a great motivator.
Prepare this ahead of time as one of your lessons.
I would often make crepes in my French classes or hummus during one of my lessons on Egypt and the Middle East.
Fresh fruit and dessert are also great motivators.
Use the food as a reward for the end of the meeting.
It becomes a distraction if students are eating during the meeting.
You need to have an agenda that focuses in on exactly what you want to do.
Here’s what you want to do in your first pre-meeting with your key students and in your second meeting with the entire class.
You want to keep it simple and ask the following 3 questions:
What do you like about our class?
What’s not working in our class.
How do we make our class better.
Ask the student leaders to give the class their suggestions as examples to get the discussion going.
Listen to the suggestions without interrupting.
When you believe students understand what to do, hand out a piece of paper for them to write down their thoughts.
Make sure students put their name on their papers.
This makes them more accountable for their suggestions.
Collect their suggestions, read and evaluate them as soon as possible.
You don’t want to lose the momentum.
Take the best suggestions and make posters out of them.
Present them at your third meeting, preferably the next day. Hang them up in the class.
If the class is starting to feel out of control, point to the posters.
Refer to them as often as possible.
As well, at your third meeting, you can personalize and praise suggestions from students (ask students before the meeting if they would like to be acknowledged.
Some students may not want to be recognized.)
If possible, use suggestions from one of your tougher students.
Why it works:
This strategy engages and empowers all students.
It gives all students an equal opportunity to voice their opinions in a very safe environment.
Shows students that they can make a difference.
Shows students a practical method on how to solve problems in an orderly way.
Gives students ownership of their class.
Demonstrates to students that you listen and are able to act positively without yelling.
You’ve shown your students that you respect their decisions.
In turn, they will respect you.