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  1. Classroom management tips for new and experienced teachers

    by

    The media and entertainment industries have raised the bar on what it takes to win the attention of a crowd for an hour, let alone an entire semester. One person with a chalkboard will feel hard pressed to compete against the special effects on high-definition flat screens to which all of us have grown accustomed. Teaching methodologies and management techniques must evolve if traditional classrooms are going to survive in this age of modern technology. Have no fear, all is not lost. Going into an actual party with real friends is better than sitting at home in a chatroom. Businesspeople still spend significant amounts of time and money flying thousands of miles in order to participate in face to face meetings despite the availability of video conferencing. Similarly, going into a classroom with a real teacher and actual students can still be a healthier way to learn something than sitting at home watching the Discovery Channel. Parties, business meetings, and classrooms will never die because all the technological advances in the world will never make personal human interactions obsolete.
    The following are a few suggestions which utilize the power of face to face interactions in managing classrooms and maximizing the productivity of our precious time.
    1. Care about your students.
    Do your students have behavioral problems, or do they just need a little love and attention? Students do not need a teacher who merely delivers facts which they could have easily looked up on the internet. What students will not readily find on the internet is someone who genuinely cares for them on a personal face-to-face level. So, lavish on the praise. Use eye contact. Read their facial expressions and ask them where they are. “You look bored, is this something you already understand? Would you like me to skip over this section?” Or “You look confused. Which part of this is giving you trouble?” Proactively ask them to share their thoughts without going through the tedious process of waiting for them to raise their hand. If they know you are watching them, that you care what they think, and that you are prone to call on them at any instant without warning, they will be more motivated to pay attention.
    2. Understand the unique individual needs and personalities of those in your class.
    Hand the traditional syllabus out on the first day, but spend the first day getting to know your students. You will need to know who they are so you can lecture “to” them, instead of lecturing “at” the walls. What learning styles work best for them? What is their Myers Briggs personality type? What career are they trying to pursue? What parts of the material are they already proficient in? What suggestions do they have for you as their teacher? Let them tell you what they need, and then fill those needs.
    3. No student left behind.
    Praise students for asking questions instead of humiliating them for not knowing the answers. Then, let students answer the questions of students. Going over previous material will frustrate and alienate those who are ahead. Keep those who are ahead actively involved by allowing them to help those who are behind. Encourage those who are ahead to be patient and empathetic to the needs of others. Explain that the art of communicating ideas to a wide variety of people with diverse backgrounds and expertise is essential in all fields of discipline. Also explain that the best way to really learn something is to teach it. Tell those who are ahead that when you ask them to help out, what you are really asking them to do is learn how to effectively present ideas, and themselves, to others.
    4. No student left out.
    Do not allow anyone to be left out, or become detached. Blank stares work for TV’s and computer screens, but they should not be allowed in the classroom. People go to parties, meetings, and classrooms to actively participate. We go to movies to sit and vegetate. When we are around other people, we should interact and be aware of them rather than pretending they do not exist. The most important thing we can teach, is how to be a part of the team instead of part of the on-looking crowd. It is easy to allow the teacher’s pets and teacher’s pests to consume your attention, but make a concerted effort to notice the unnoticeable. Make a concerted effort to get everyone involved.
    5. Ask your students for advice. Let your students help teach.
    “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.” – Chineses proverb
    You might be thinking that this one sounds backwards. Teachers are the ones who are supposed to be giving the advice, not the other way around, right? Teachers are supposed to be the experts, and experts do not reveal uncertainties, make mistakes, or ask others for help. Consider this though. It is human nature to hate prideful know-it-alls. It is also human nature to rebel against those who tell you what to do. Teachers can either lay down the iron fist and force everyone into submission, or they can invite students to be involved autonomous learners. I know that it is human nature (and teacher nature) to look smart and control others, but we can not teach them to think for themselves by telling them what to think. If we can let go of our survivalist “king of the hill” instincts, we will find that a little humility goes a long ways. Try humbly stepping down from the soap box, and let others in the room give it a go. The best teachers are not really teachers at all, they are mediators who open channels for students to teach themselves.
    6. Communicate with students outside of regularly scheduled class times.
    Give them a hard time if you see them polluting their lungs with cigarette smoke on the steps of the building. Sit down with them at lunch, and quiz their friends about them. Have office hours, and night before the exam study sessions. Give them your home phone number so they call and get help when they are at their wit’s end (but make sure they have the phone numbers of at least five other students to call first to reduce the number of calls you receive). It is possible to gain a more complete understanding of who your students are through knowing them both inside and outside of the classroom. The better you know them, the more able you will be to help them.
    7. Make students work in teams and evaluate their team members.
    By making students accountable to other students, everyone will be on their best behavior not just for you, but for their team mates also. Teams give students a support study group, are a way to provide everyone with free tutors, and give each person experience working with others. The first day of class is also a good day to group everyone into teams. Throughout the semester, have everyone rate their teammates on qualities of leadership, dependability, contributions, and communication abilities. Post grades and team ratings online so everyone can see how they rank in the class. Grades and ratings can be posted under student numbers instead of names to minimize embarrassment, but post them for all to see. A little competition is a healthy motivator. Ratings and rankings can help each team-member contribute, and encourages everyone to correct personal areas which need improvement.
    8. Discourage cheating.
    Students do not need to pay attention or participate if they can get away with cheating their way through the class. One way to discourage cheating and copying on tests is to create multiple versions of each exam. It is pointless to copy your neighbor’s work if their test is different than yours. In addition to quarterly exams, weekly quizzes can be used to persuade students to learn the material habitually. Weekly quizzes also allow problem areas to be quickly identified and addressed. Weekly quizzes and quarterly exams which are impossible to pass by any means except knowing the material encourage students to pay attention, and actually work through the homework instead of just copying it from files or from team mates.
    9. Teachers and students should both come to class prepared.
    Follow up on reading assignments by asking students to come to the next class prepared to explain a specific topic. For example, at the end of class you could call on Mike to prepare a 3 minute talk on section 3.23 in the textbook and Kelly to prepare a 3 minute talk over section 3.24 to present during the next class meeting. Rotate through all the students so that by the end of the semester everyone has been assigned a few minutes in the spotlight. Utilizing guest speakers breaks up the monotony of hearing from the same person each day, and encourages the speaker to learn the material. By leaving section 3.25 open to be presented by a “surprise” guest speaker, you can encourage everyone in the class to read the material instead of just the assigned presenters.
    10. Mix it up, play games, and have fun!
    Games are a great way to break up the class time, and have an amazing power to grab the attention of students. Try a few of the following ideas, or come up with your own creative activities.
    – Come to class early, and post daily subject-appropriate riddles, puzzles, and mind teasers on the board. You do not need to say anything; rather, let everyone notice the puzzle on the board as they start filtering into the room. Puzzles and mind-teasers help everyone to think outside the box, and transition themselves into class mode before class even starts.
    – Break everyone up into teams, and let them compete with one another in solving example problems.
    – Challenge students to come up with their own problems and solution sets, and then use the best formulated problems in weekly quizzes and on tests.
    – Publicly reward ingenuity and top grades by ceremoniously presenting fancy pencils to those who merit acknowledgement.
    The above generic 10 commandments are not written in stone. Each class will have different dynamics at play and will require their own unique methodologies of instruction and inspiration. Hopefully part of the above will be of some help. The main point is that classroom management is best achieved through allowing students to manage themselves. Education is not a matter of filling buckets. Our purpose is to promote critical thinking skills, facilitate life-long learning, and prepare students to function effectively with others at work and at home. Classrooms need not be a rigid, stuffy, and monotonous affair. With a little creativity and non-traditional experimentation, our classrooms can prove to be the forum where the interest of the audience is captured.
    Jamie Turner

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