Now You Are Their Teacher

You will probably want to spend the first few minutes telling them something about the class. No doubt you will have to cover procedural details such as what to bring and how you administer tests and homework. But keep this to the bare minimum as they will retain little of what you say right now. If you feel you must cover these things now, and they have paper and pencil, it is usually a good idea to have them write down the important points. If they aren’t writing, they aren’t listening. Many teachers also discuss classroom rules and standards of conduct. On this I disagree. By the time they are 13, they know the basic rules of polite and civil behavior. Listing such rules implies that you distrust them and that you will exert control through a restrictive environment. To dictate the obvious is for you to deny their new found maturity. If someone behaves otherwise, the silent stare should be all that is necessary. Never underestimate your students’ capacity for maturity and fairness.

Reciting a litany of rules; when to talk or not talk, how to be nice to others and on and on will only bore them to distraction. Teenagers don’t care what rules you say you have.  Good classroom management doesn’t depend on a body of stated rules.   It depends on those rules you enforce. Perhaps you don’t like one student interrupting another’s answer. Don’t say anything about it until it happens. Then politely ask the second student to wait until the first one is done or just hold your upturned palm to the second student to indicate he should wait. This approach has the added advantage of giving you the opportunity to show that you are not afraid to correct students. Rules of procedure, testing schedules and homework guidelines can wait until they are actually needed.

On this first day of school, and for a few after that, you must accept nothing less than perfection in their behavior. Not only will you expect all to be quiet before you begin talking, but you will expect all eyes to be on you. I promised you would be tested in the first 90 seconds. The first test comes when a student looks away while you are talking. Don’t overlook this. Stop in mid-sentence and just stare at him using your “non-judgmental” stare. Resume your presentation the moment you regain his attention. No comment is necessary, nor is any overt indication of displeasure. You may be sure that the others have noticed.

I said in “A Lesson From Summer Camp” that punishment has to be certain, immediate and mild. Indeed, the purpose of punishment is not to be odious or to embarrass. The only purpose of punishment is to demonstrate that you are not afraid to recognize inappropriate behavior and to correct it. The value of the nonjudgmental stare is that it is a punishment without pain. Therefore it is easy for you to apply and obvious to all when you do. If you apply it for the very least infraction, eg., loss of eye contact, you’ll be far less likely to have to deal with more disruptive behavior. You’ll be seen as a leader, not a disciplinarian.

If you feel that following this advice will make you seem too strict, rigid and distant, you’re right. Once you have established a quiet, attentive and disciplined classroom, it’s very easy to relax and bring your students to a level of ease and comfort that suits your personality and teaching methods.  Indeed, it is a natural course of events.  But, if you start off being too lax, it will be very difficult, or nearly impossible, to regain control.

Go to Your First Lesson Plan

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    • Rayan on September 19, 2012 at 11:26 am
    • Reply

    I’m an ESL teacher, and tomorrow will be my first day with Grade 8. I have been warned that they’re very disruptive and caused teachers so much trouble last year.
    What you’ve written is very interesting and unlike what I intended to do. Will try it tomorrow. Hope it works out!!

    Thank you..

      • anekal semirg on November 19, 2015 at 5:50 am
      • Reply

      OMG How did it go? What worked? What didn’t?

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