How To Handle A Class That Tests You Right From The Get-Go

Smart Classroom Management: How To Handle A Class That Tests You Right From The Get-GoYou begin the school year with so much hope.

But then, not an hour after teaching your classroom management plan, your students are misbehaving.

They’re talking when you’re talking.

They’re leaving their seats without permission.

They’re calling out, giggling, and ignoring your directions.

It’s disheartening—and only natural to feel as if you did something wrong.

It’s only natural to think that maybe you weren’t clear enough, maybe you didn’t model with enough detail or communicate with enough conviction.

And although these can be significant factors in how quickly and eagerly students respond to your behavior expectations, it doesn’t mean that all hope is lost.

Not even close.

You see, it isn’t unusual to be tested upon first introducing your classroom management plan. At some schools, and with some students, it’s even expected—no matter how thorough you teach your plan.

So if it happens to you, there is no need to panic. In fact, your first response should be to do absolutely nothing.

Don’t jump in and try to stop the misbehavior. Don’t raise your voice or show your frustration. Don’t even try to enforce consequences.

Just wait. Breathe. Observe. Smile inwardly—because you’re going to fix it.

It’s important to mention that if behavior is poor from the get-go, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to have a bad year. It just means that your students don’t believe that you’re really going to do what you say.

Perhaps it’s because you’re a new teacher or at a new school. Perhaps their previous teacher or teachers were inconsistent and had poor classroom management skills.

Perhaps you’re a bit nervous, tentative, and not quite sure of yourself—and your students can sense it.

No matter.

None of it is predictive of a stressful or unsuccessful year. Nor is it anything to get overly concerned about. It’s what you do in response that’s important.

Most teachers will try to enforce consequences as fast as they can, but this is a mistake with a large group of misbehaving students because it risks inciting aggressive and disrespectful pushback.

It’s also incredibly stressful and puts you at odds with your new class. Getting angry and taking it personally, too, is a mistake that will undermine your ability to take back control and begin creating a well-behaved class.

No, it’s best just to keep your cool and watch. Let them notice you waiting unconcerned. Give it a few minutes, and in all likelihood, they’ll begin to settle down and look your way. (There are several reasons for this that we’ll save for a future article.)

If they don’t, however, if they’re hellbent on continuing to disrupt, then calmly and kindly begin shooing them to their seats while repeating a request for quiet attention.

The idea is to gently guide them from chaos and excitability to calm and agreeable. (Again, we’ll cover why this strategy is effective in future articles.)

Keep your voice soft and maintain an even keel. Continue in this vein of guiding and requesting until they’re generally quiet and looking in your direction.

Then, without explanation, immediately jump into reteaching your classroom management plan as if for the first time.

If they complain, ignore it. Do not engage in discussion or debate about what are your responsibilities as the leader of the class. Your classroom management plan, and the rules and consequences that govern it, isn’t negotiable.

This time, though, when you teach your plan, you must do it with far greater boldness and determination. You must find the strength within to give it all you’ve got.

Ramp up the detail, the clarity, and the passion.

This is your career, after all, and you’re going to be with this class for the next nine months. So teach your plan in a way that signals to every student that you’re no ordinary teacher and yours is no ordinary classroom.

Remove any doubt that they’re going to be held accountable for every rule transgression.

Model, playact, and emote what breaking rules looks and feels like. Let them visualize the experience. Walk your students through the precise steps a misbehaving student would take from warning to parent contact.

Teach the heck out of it, leaving nothing to chance and nothing to misunderstand. Because the way you teach your classroom management plan matters.

You mustn’t be intimidated or fearful.

Exceptional classroom management, especially with a tough class, takes courage. And if you’re not feeling confident, if your heart is beating out of your chest and your palms are sweaty, then fake it.

Pretend you have all the power and confidence you need to have the exact class you want. Believe. Trust. Take a leap of faith, and they will respond.

After checking for understanding through questioning, practice, and/or role-play—which can vary depending on grade level—you’re ready to begin holding them accountable.

If, however, a few days later it happens again—more than a few students are misbehaving and you’re feeling as if you’re losing control—then cancel whatever lesson or activity you have planned and teach your classroom management plan again.

And if need be, again.

Teach it until they “get it.” Teach it until they know that rebelling is futile. Teach it until they can’t wait to show you how well they can follow it.

Never, ever accept less than what is best for your students, their education, and their future.

Be the teacher they need.

And they’ll be the class you want.

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53 Responses to How To Handle A Class That Tests You Right From The Get-Go

  1. Ms. L August 20, 2016 at 8:29 am #

    Just finished week one of school and this is EXACTLY what I needed. I’m encouraged, validated, and inspired. THANK YOU!!!!

    • Michael Linsin August 20, 2016 at 10:25 am #

      You’re welcome, Ms. L.


    • Martin Fitzpatrick August 22, 2016 at 12:23 pm #

      In the past I have problems with this type of situation, but years has past, and I have learn how to deal with behavioral management isssues in a non- stressful way. It is just
      monitor and just adjust to the situation.

  2. Jane Overholt August 20, 2016 at 8:40 am #

    Thank you so much for this. This plan is so simple and I love how the seeming assumption on the teachers part is that the kids just don’t get it. It’s hard sometimes to keep from getting frustrated at misbehaviour but if I have a plan like this that is logical and non-punitive then I will be able to keep my cool and the kids won’t get a rise out of me. A positive classroom culture that prioritizes kindness and learning is so important to me and if the kids don’t buy in right away, it’s time to resell it! I think I also like to make sure my classroom meetings are participatory and make sure the students get their feelings heard. I am there for them not me and a positive classroom affects us all.

    • Michael Linsin August 20, 2016 at 10:26 am #

      You’re welcome, Jane. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  3. James August 20, 2016 at 9:01 am #

    I’m going to be faced with six new classes (4.5 hours each per week) teaching English as a second language to grades 4, 5, and 6 Portuguese and French speakers. I won’t have access to the classroom setup because I move from class to class. And I’ll have to teach the management plan six times, which means I’ll get better with practice I hope.

    I’ve had nightmares about what happens in less than two weeks.

    My takeaway from this blog post: fake it ’til I make it

  4. melissa sokol August 20, 2016 at 9:31 am #

    Your advice has helped me so much. It is truly Best Practices. I am a veteran teacher and have tried all kinds of strategies. Yours combines the best of all of them.

    I would simply add that there are several moving parts and you have outlined one of the parts. The two other moving parts that go with this are careful planning and good pacing. -Melissa

    • Michael Linsin August 20, 2016 at 10:28 am #

      Great to hear, Melissa.


  5. Leigh August 20, 2016 at 9:44 am #

    Thank you, great article, as always a great reminder of our responsibility to be the teacher our students need.

    • Michael Linsin August 20, 2016 at 10:28 am #

      Hi Leigh,

      I’m glad you like the article.


  6. Sue August 20, 2016 at 10:03 am #

    The timing for this post is impeccable! This is exactly the encouragement I needed! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

    • Michael Linsin August 20, 2016 at 10:29 am #

      Great! So glad to hear it.


  7. Beth August 20, 2016 at 10:22 am #

    So I had this class for 5th grade last year… The problem is that they have been together in 2 classes since pre-k and left all of their teachers in their wake. ALL OF THEM!! They either retired or changed schools or grades!!!! What I discovered was that this was their MO. Previous teachers spent the bulk of their time on discipline and classroom management. ALL of the students were below grade level. Five were very capable and wanted to learn but over half of the students were SERIOUS behavior problems so the 5 students that would have flourished in another setting are suffering and will continue to suffer the consequences. I taught from bell to bell as much as I could and I did see tremendous growth but the year took a lot out of me. We need to find a way to effectively deal with challenging students that impact the learning and ultimately the future of students that want to be at school and want to learn. These are the students that are not serviced. I know money would fix the problem. It’s cheaper and easier to educate than rehabilitate.

  8. Barbara Phillips August 20, 2016 at 10:35 am #

    It would be so awesome to see a youtube video example of this in practice. We started school 2 weeks ago, and my 3rd grade students are definately at the testing stage. I have taught and re-taught my classroom management plan and am trying to think of ways to model and re-teach again. Like many of my students, I am a visual learner, and would love a video!!

    • Michael Linsin August 20, 2016 at 3:16 pm #

      We’re considering it, Barbara.


  9. Julie August 20, 2016 at 11:28 am #

    This was very reassuring. I am a music teacher. For my first class (4th grade), it took half of the class time entering quietly over and over again until they got it. There was giggling, “flicking” the poster instead of tapping it, and other little things that added up. I stayed “unruffled”, but then we didn’t get to the exciting part of the lesson plan that would make them “love” the first class. I know you say it’s important to give them something they would look forward to that first class, but we never got there because of me teaching the management plan. These are students I had last year, so they already know me. I was also unsure about giving them their point for entering class quietly since it took 7 times, but they finally did it. So I chose to give it to them since they did eventually master it. I’m wondering if I should only give them the point if they do it the first time. There was still small multiple incidences throughout class, but they would happen so fast, I couldn’t keep up with who to give consequences to. I’ll just keep explaining my plan in more detail until they get it. I’m just concerned they will get so behind and miss things. My other 2 classes of the day were new to me and did awesome.

    • Michael Linsin August 20, 2016 at 3:21 pm #

      Hi Julie,

      When the time is right, I hope to write a series of articles on how to make teaching the plan a lot easier—especially with more challenging classes. In the meantime, I think it’s fine to give them a point to acknowledge initial learning.


  10. Lavinia Pirlog August 20, 2016 at 12:18 pm #

    This was exactly one of the questions on my lips. Thank you for clarifying that!

    • Michael Linsin August 20, 2016 at 3:21 pm #

      You’re welcome, Lavinia.


  11. Sandy August 20, 2016 at 12:20 pm #

    What if the class I teach is composed of varying students each week? I teach a 20 minute Bible lesson to 3 rotating groups at our wed. night childrens church. I want to give them the best lesson God has given me, and I do love these kids.
    But I do get frustrated that they dont settle down and listen quickly, and they do chit chat during my lesson. Do I teach the “rules” each week, because different students drop in?

    • Michael Linsin August 20, 2016 at 3:27 pm #

      Hi Sandy,

      No, you certainly don’t want to teach your rules every week. The alternative is that there are ways to get the most out of your students despite not having a plan to lean on, which include the way you speak and the tone you set. But this is a big question that I don’t have time to address here. I will, however, put it on the list of future articles. It’s a valuable topic.


  12. Joni Moore August 20, 2016 at 3:10 pm #

    this is terrific advice; thanks so much 🙂

    • Michael Linsin August 20, 2016 at 3:31 pm #

      Thanks Joni! You’re welcome.


  13. Nici August 20, 2016 at 3:33 pm #

    I have been the K-8 music teacher at my school going on 5 years in September. I’ve had the same students (except for Kindergarten) for four years now. There are a group of students in each grade (grades 1-8) who have acted negatively for the four years even though they know the classroom rules. They know me, I know them and their parents. Classes have music once a week (if nothing else is scheduled) so spending more than the first day of music class with each class on classroom management is all I can do because of the first quarter test in 10 weeks. After 22 years of teaching, I know classroom management is important. However, in general, the school community does not find music to be important – just a “free” period. What should I do to get this group of students finally on board?

    • Michael Linsin August 20, 2016 at 5:59 pm #

      Hi Nici,

      You can find my best advice for your situation in the book Classroom Management for Art, Music, and PE Teachers. In the past, I, too, have taught the same students for a number of years in a row, and it shouldn’t (and must not) affect you, what you do, or how you teach in the least.


  14. Wendy August 20, 2016 at 5:26 pm #

    Thank you so much for these amazing articles! I look forward to them each week. It’s so nice to know that there are so many others that feel the way I do about classroom management. A structured classroom with a firm classroom management plan helps to make an enjoyable school year for all. Thanks again!

    • Michael Linsin August 20, 2016 at 6:00 pm #

      It’s my pleasure, Wendy. You’re definitely not alone.


  15. Rach August 20, 2016 at 10:15 pm #

    ‘Be the teacher they need. And they’ll be the class you want.’ This is gold, Michael! You’re the Michael Phelps of classroom management 😉

    • Michael Linsin August 21, 2016 at 7:25 am #

      Ha! Thanks Rach.


  16. Teresa Hatcher August 21, 2016 at 4:24 am #

    Tomorrow is my first day as a teacher. I’ll be in an elementary room with students who have been removed from other classrooms. My students have already been labeled as challenging. I have been reading your articles and have used you suggestions while substituting. I plan to continue following your lead to make my first year great. Thank you.

    • Michael Linsin August 21, 2016 at 7:33 am #

      Good luck, Teresa! Stick to what works, keep your cool, and you’ll do great.


  17. Joyce Blunt August 21, 2016 at 10:17 am #

    Thank you for this uplift article. This is just what I needed for my first week back to work. with a few challenging students.

    • Michael Linsin August 21, 2016 at 10:32 am #

      I’m so glad you like it, Joyce.


  18. Sarah M. Mercer August 21, 2016 at 12:29 pm #

    Dear Michael,

    Is there anyway you could make a video of what teaching the rules looks like? It would be so helpful to see it in action. Maybe you could put something on u-tube or, if there are any other teachers who have done this, perhaps you could make a video.

    • Michael Linsin August 21, 2016 at 5:56 pm #

      Thanks for the suggestion, Sarah. I’ll consider it.


  19. Karen August 21, 2016 at 6:22 pm #

    Thanks for th e reminders about not over reacting snd just keeping cool (by keepin em busy) 🙂

    • Michael Linsin August 22, 2016 at 7:08 am #

      You’re welcome, Karen.


  20. Suzanne August 22, 2016 at 3:05 am #

    This is is day 1 today and this newsletter is giving me some amazing tools to help. Consistency has always been my problem but today I am walking in with “new armor” to be the leader I need to be. Thank you. Keep up the good work.

    • Michael Linsin August 22, 2016 at 7:09 am #

      You’ll do great, Suzanne.


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