Classroom Management: A Culture of Respect

I will never forget my first year as a teacher. I got a job late – and when I say late, I mean 3 weeks after school had already started. I was lucky though – a friend a knew a principal who was looking for a teacher, and that helped me get an interview. It turned out that the job was a split position – the morning at one school and the afternoon at another. It was one of the hardest years of my teaching career – even harder than the year I taught 36 4th and 5th graders in one room while having a sub once a week while I was mentoring teachers in my building. Well, ok. Maybe they are tied.

Anyway, the main reason I made it through that first year and even considered continuing as a teacher was the amazing support I got from the instructional coaches in both buildings. I know that not every new teacher is so lucky, so today I’m happy to be able to pay it forward (many moons later).

If there is one thing I feel like I handle pretty well in my classroom, it is management. My classroom is (usually) a good place to work, take risks and feel supported. (I think my students would say they feel this way.)

I have done a lot of the usual classroom management things: clip charts, flipping cards, and even points on the board, but I have found that none of these things are particularly effective unless you have some underlying classroom foundations. And that’s where my tip comes in:

When I was a new teacher, I didn’t really understand this idea. In fact, I don’t think anyone ever talked to me about it. I thought respect meant that I was the only person in the room that got a say. I thought it meant classroom control. I thought it meant that everyone was quiet all the time. I remember feeling really panicked if kids were talking at all in my classroom during my first couple years of teaching. I felt like if I let anything go that I would lose complete control of the class. Boy, was that exhausting! (Side note: You know those back to school dreams you start having around this time of year? Mine are ALWAYS about an out of control class that I can’t seem to get to listen to me!)

What I learned was that in order to get respect, you have to give it. I know that sounds simple. But it changed how I ran my classroom.

1. Let It Go
From the very beginning, I let my students know that I am not the only one in charge of things. Kleenex box empty? Grab a new one. No paper in the basket? Open up a new package and fill that bad boy up! Stomach growling for your irresistible snack? Go ahead and eat it. I started to let go of the little things – the things that don’t disrupt others and let kids have the feeling that they can control parts of their day.

This doesn’t mean I don’t have boundaries. It just means that I respect them enough as people to take care of things. I have very clear boundaries. For example, they know that my Teacher Toolbox is for my teacher tools! They have their own supplies, so mine are off limits. But feel free to get in the kid friendly cabinet if you need new glue sticks for your table. They know where the line is because I tell them. No sense in making those things a secret!

2. Get To Know Them and Be Real
The other, even more important part of giving and getting respect is getting to know your students.  Older kids especially are masters at knowing how much you care – or how much you don’t.

Get to know them. Talk to them. LISTEN to them. Understand them. Let them know that you are all on the same team and you have their back. It doesn’t hurt to show them your human side – they love to know you are a real person. Silly, sad, happy, funny…

Fake mustache optional

Sometimes this is simple – lots of kids love to make connections with their teachers. But sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes there’s that kid (or kids) who doesn’t trust adults or doesn’t want to make connections. Guess what? Those are the same kids who need great classroom management the most. They can be your biggest ally or your worst enemy. By making the effort to show those students how much you respect and care about them, you will be improving your classroom culture a million percent. I always find that once they know you they will do just about anything for you, if you just ask. (Side note: This, for some reason, does not apply to asking them to behave for a substitute. I have not figured that one out yet.)

This year, I had that student. Every teacher before me told me how hard he was, and how much trouble he would cause our classroom. I got to know him. I enjoyed his sense of humor and I think he recognized that I wasn’t judging him based on his past. Now, I’m not saying we didn’t have our tough days, but he knew that I had a lot of respect for him and he returned it. The ultimate compliment came at the end of the year. He was sitting at my table working on a project and talking to a friend. He said, “The teacher never likes the class clown.” (He meant himself.) I looked at him and told him I was a little offended by that. He made a face and said, “Well, not you. Regular teachers. You’re not just a regular teacher.” It made all that hard work to get to know him worth it.

As a new teacher, it can be difficult to give up control of those kids in the desks. It can be really hard to get to know the high-flyers who make your life hard. But if you can keep some of these things in mind, you might find that your classroom runs more smoothly!

If you have ideas about classroom management for new(ish) teachers, please add them in the comments!


This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    I totally agree, Nichole. I teach three classes, so I get to know 75-80 kids. The kids know very quickly whether or not you care about them. Some teachers feel it's more important to keep some distance between themselves and the kids. I don't. I know about new puppies, grandparents that died, parents that are divorcing, auditions or tryouts that went well or not….those are the things that show kids trust you.
    Now, don't get me wrong. Some days – I feel like I want to draw a personal space bubble around myself. But in the long run, I'm much happier with the mutual compassion that we've established.

  2. ithappenedin3rd

    Great post! I've found that once you have the respect of the students there's no need for stop lights and clip charts!

  3. Rachel

    I totally agree with everything you said. It seems we have very similar teaching styles. I'm all about the respect piece and I truly believe it is the key to success. The "tough ones" usually end up being the ones I have the softest heart for, too! We had a similar jump in to teaching. My first position was taking over a fifth grade classroom in April! The man who was teaching decided it was time to go back to the post office and he just couldn't wait! It was pretty crazy, but those two months taught me a ton!

    Mrs O Knows

  4. Thanks, Melissa! It was quite a day with that thing on…we were doing a fundraiser! LOL

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