When confronted with a difficult class—whether a new class in the beginning of a school year, a class you’ve had for a while and lost control of, or one you see once a day in your subject area—the best thing you can do is slow things down to a glacial pace.
Too many teachers have the opposite reaction to unruly students.
They get stressed and excitable, and they speed things up. They talk louder, get frustrated, demand, yell, and show their anger.
When you head down a negative road like this, the only way you can gain control of your class is through intimidation; being mean enough and threatening enough to cause students to cower and relinquish control back to you.
If you choose this course, however, every day will be a battle.
The Slow Down Strategy
The moment you’re confronted with an out-of-control class, what works best is to slow everything way down. Follow the guidelines below, and you’ll gain control and respect from any classroom.
- Start from the beginning. As soon as you see your students, first thing in the morning or when they arrive at your door, stop them and don’t let them proceed any farther until they’re quiet and attentive. If it takes 10 minutes, so be it.
- Move deliberately. Slowing down has a calming effect on students. You will also discover that, surprisingly, both you and your students will get more accomplished.
- Speak softly and slowly. Make your students have to strain slightly in order to hear you. You can even tell them that you’re going to whisper your instructions to see how well they can listen.
- Decide that, no matter what, you will not talk over your students or move on with instruction until they are quiet and attentive.
- Use short, direct sentences, and offer simple instructions that incrementally get students to do what you want. (“Place your math book in the top corner of your desk and stand up.”) Increase complexity gradually.
- Pause often and a beat longer than feels comfortable. This technique has an almost supernatural way of drawing attention to you and what you have to say.
- At any point during the day, if your students aren’t giving you exactly what you want, stop them immediately.
- Don’t transition to a new activity until every student understands your instructions. Give them the signal to begin only after a long pause.
- Take your time, but never be boring. You can still be happy and enthusiastic in front of your students while at the same time taking things slowly.
- Relax and enjoy your day. If it feels stressful, then you’re doing it wrong. Classroom management doesn’t have to be difficult to be effective. Moreover, your peaceful disposition has a profound effect on students.
- Once your students are calm and you have established yourself as the leader of the classroom, teach your classroom management plan over again, as if it’s the first day of school.
It’s important to point out that the slow down strategy is just a starting point, a way to get your class under control. You can increase the speed and complexity of your instruction as your students become more attentive and more responsive to you, but being unhurried is always a good idea.
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