Behavior management in classes

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The current trend in education is going away from “discipline” and toward “management,” and for good reason. Discipline implies the old-style of teaching in which the teacher lectures and students listen and absorb material while being quiet and sitting in their seats and get punished if they disobey. The move toward more class discussions, hands-on learning, and inquiry-based learning means a teacher must manage the class, or facilitate learning through keeping the discussion or activity on task. A few simple steps can make a classroom easier to manage and reduce the need for punishment and “discipline.”
1. Have simple rules
If a teacher has a lot of complex rules some are just not going to be enforced, reducing the respect for all the rules. Three rules are all a teacher really needs, especially in secondary school. While the specifics of the rules must be decided by the individual teacher, one rule usually should be some form of respect for the class including both other students and the teacher, while secondary school students also usually need some sort of “don’t touch each other” rule.
2. Have procedures
Rules are for behavior, procedures are for business. Students should know what to do when they get to class, where to sit, how to turn in their assignments, where to write their name on their papers. If students know how to do the everyday tasks of the class, the teacher does not need to have a rule about them, just standard procedures.
3. Have a sense of humor
Students appreciate teachers who are not serious all the time. Teachers should be able to laugh at jokes that do not contribute to an unsafe atmosphere in the classroom or distract too much from the business of learning. Teachers can also use humorous examples to elaborate on the day’s topic. None of this means, of course, that teachers need to be comedians to keep their students entertained, but humor and not taking oneself too seriously is a part of building relationships with students, which helps gain their respect, which in turn helps with managing student behavior.
4. Know where to draw the line
Although jokes can be fun and entertaining, teachers need to be appropriate and not worry too much about how much the students like them. A teacher’s job is to get through a certain amount of material, and this must be the first priority. Students generally respect that they are at school to learn. Also, teachers must know where to draw the line with student jokes. If a joke is made at the expense of another student, especially that student’s sexuality or another hot-button issue, the teacher must come down hard on the joker with no apologies. The students look to the teacher to see what is appropriate and to set a respectful tone in the classroom, and will not appreciate an unkind atmosphere, even though they may laugh at inappropriate statements at the time.
5. Show an interest in the students as people
Congratulating the star of the football team on his touchdown is obvious. But how about the girl’s soccer team? What about the student who practices gymnastics five hours a day, or who has his photography in the local art show, or whose parents are going through a divorce, or whose mother just had a new baby? While teachers cannot know every detail about every student’s life, knowing more than the popular kids who have obvious talents that benefit the school helps again to build relationships and increase a teacher’s ability to manage the behavior of the class. Even better, occasionally attending extracurricular events, even just the first 30 minutes of the girl’s JV softball game, makes the students feel the teacher cares about them and makes the softball player much more willing to give the teacher their attention and respect in class. Although it is a big time strain, if a teacher can also get to non-school events such as art shows or plays of the students, they will be so impressed with their teacher’s commitment to them they will be much more willing to cooperate. One caveat, however, is to try not to play favorites, but to spread out attendance where it will do the most good.
Managing a secondary school class is much easier and more fun than discipline. Building a relationship with students and having a few easily enforceable rules will help a teacher be successful in keeping the class on track.
Molly Froerer


  1. smitamittal

    February 15, 2012

    Very relevant and helpful indeed!!

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