How To Get Your Class Back On Track Fast

Smart Classroom Management: How To Get Your Class Back On Track FastRecently, I got a new group of students for a high school class I was teaching.

Then a few days later, I came down with the flu.

It was awful.

It took me three weeks to shake and I missed more than a week of school.

When I returned, it was as if my new class had never met me.

They strolled into the room with zero urgency.

They chatted and giggled and met my calls for attention with a shrug.

Their body language was flippant and unmotivated. They had the look and attitude of being “too cool for school.”

In the time that I missed, the culture of the class had completely changed.

I wasn’t surprised.

It was a large class (more than 40 students) and I had only been with them a of couple days before getting sick.

I had also been warned that the substitute struggled. He battled with the students and eventually gave up asking much of anything from them.

There had been little direction and absolutely no accountability. Now it appeared that the students were in charge.

I worked my way through taking attendance, trying my best to remember names and faces, while they gabbed and payed me little mind.

But I wasn’t concerned.

In fact, I smiled inwardly because I love this kind of thing. Classroom management is my passion and I saw their behavior as an opportunity to see how quickly I could get them back on track.

I had a couple things in my favor. In the days before coming down with the flu, I laid out exactly what was expected of them, academically and behaviorally.

I set my standards of behavior, participation, and work habits high and taught in detail what would happen if they didn’t meet those standards.

There was no question they understood, so I knew I didn’t need to revisit them. There was a question, however, whether I truly meant what I said.

My other advantage is that I’m supremely confident in the principles and strategies we believe so strongly in here at SCM. They work regardless of where you teach or who shows up on your roster.

When I finished taking attendance, I decided to let things play out a little longer just to see how bad things had gotten. So, after giving a simple one-objective assignment, I sent them on their way to work in small groups.

It was a disaster.

As I watched them waste time, goof around, and give scant attention to the assignment, I thought of John Wooden. John Wooden was a basketball coach for UCLA in the 50s, 60s, and 70s.

He was remarkably successful and became a hero of mine after reading his book, Wooden.

One thing that resonated with me was his attention to small details. At the beginning of every season, he would teach his players how to put on their socks. The idea was that if they could do this one thing well, they could do all things well.

Excellence transfers.

So, after about 15 minutes, I stopped my class. I sent them back to their seats (to groans). And I taught them a lesson on how we, the class, enter the room and listen during attendance.

I was respectful and not demeaning. I was pleasant. But I was also bold and passionate. I taught in explicit detail how we begin the period and why it’s important to begin that way.

I reminded them briefly of the consequences for not meeting the standards of the class, then took attendance again.

This time they behaved as expected.

But just to make sure we were truly back on track, I gave them a new assignment. Again, working in small groups with one objective.

The difference was night and day.

Now, it’s important to point out a couple of things. First, although I was teaching a high school class, I would have used the same strategy with a group of first graders (and have).

Second, the manner in which I taught the classroom management plan and set expectations before becoming ill, had a powerful effect and allowed the strategy to work. The students just needed a refresher and a reminder that I meant what I said.

The most gratifying thing about the experience, however, and the most striking change, was their happiness and sense of calm well-being in knowing exactly where they stood and what they needed to do to succeed.

The classroom management approach we offer here at SCM, and in all of our books and guides, results in students wanting to learn, behave, and participate in their learning.

It’s clear and comforting. It’s highly and intrinsically motivational.

It’s how education should be.

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31 Responses to How To Get Your Class Back On Track Fast

  1. F/Zohra March 11, 2017 at 8:57 am #

    How nice of u to keep sending your helpful & interesting articles to me .. Thank u so much I surely will need them when I will become a teacher

    • Michael Linsin March 11, 2017 at 9:03 am #

      You’re welcome, F/Zohra.


  2. Rose Dadley March 11, 2017 at 9:01 am #

    Hello! Lovely article! Would you mind giving us some of the rules you set out on the first day, or perhaps a link to a previous article?

  3. Karen Richardson March 11, 2017 at 9:08 am #

    Thanks for this. It gives me some hope. I have a class of year 10’s of varying ability, and many with zero interest in maths, and no motivation to learn or even any belief in their ability to learn.
    When I try to get them to behave for learning at the start of a lesson, some of them make comments about being treated like primary students.
    There is a lot of disrespect, and they ruin the lesson for the rest of the class.
    Where do I start?

    • Michael Linsin March 11, 2017 at 9:26 am #

      Hi Karen,

      Please check out the high school plan along the sidebar.


  4. Linda March 11, 2017 at 9:17 am #

    I am a TA in a combo of kindergarten and first graders special needs class. I am blown away with the language that comes out of these young children. The teacher feels it best to ignore it-I wonder if consequences would be more appropriate for them. Would really appreciate your view on this as it troubles me each day.

    • Michael Linsin March 11, 2017 at 9:29 am #

      Hi Linda,

      Because it’s a special needs class, I would have to speak with the teacher and/or observe the students before offering an opinion.


  5. howwelearn March 11, 2017 at 9:30 am #

    Any suggestions for starting mid year, when routines and expectations have already been established by another teacher? Thanks!

    • Michael Linsin March 11, 2017 at 12:42 pm #

      Hi howwelearn,

      I’ll add this topic to the list of future articles.


  6. Louise March 11, 2017 at 10:00 am #

    Hello Michael.

    I appreciate your articles and used your advice in my classroom of 7/8 year olds and it worked. I had a dream class. Problems only began when a new boy with servere behaviour problems started in the class. He makes noises most of the time and wanders about the classroom as soon as my eye is off him, for example when I try to help another pupil. The biggest problem is that when he displays the behaviour, I loose the rest of the class. The few times he is ill, I have my dreamclass back. The others remember all the expectations and we have a super day. The consequence of informing home does not seem to work. His mother blames the other children for the behaviour and does not Enforce the class rules at home and the other parents blame him and excuse their children rather than backing the behaviour plan. Do you have any advice about how to help parents understand their role or any alternative consequences other than informing home that you can suggest?
    Thanks again for your regular newsletters that really do give super advice.

    • Michael Linsin March 11, 2017 at 12:44 pm #

      Hi Louise,

      There is a lot here, too much for me to respond in this forum. I encourage you to spend time in the Difficult Student category of the archive, where you can find the very strategies I would recommend.


  7. Maria March 11, 2017 at 11:08 am #

    Hi Michael,

    My questions is – how do you get them to hear you? You said you stopped them after 15 minutes – how do I get them to hear me? I am losing my voice all the time… they just talk over me and get out of their seats and wander around…

    • Michael Linsin March 11, 2017 at 12:47 pm #

      Hi Maria,

      I’ve covered this topic extensively in several areas of the archive. When you get a chance, please check out the Listening & Attentiveness category. Also, you may want to pick up a copy of The Classroom Management Secret to get a solid overview, as well as specific strategies, of our approach.


  8. Lbug March 11, 2017 at 12:01 pm #

    What exactly are the consequences? Where I work it is very inconsistent from class to class.

  9. Dexter March 12, 2017 at 1:08 am #

    Is there an article on what consequences you use? I know warning, time-out and contacting parents or principle. Are there others?

  10. Rusty Albertson March 12, 2017 at 5:23 am #

    Love your stuff! I always forward your emails to my staff and have purchased several of your books for them as well! Let me know if your ever up for a Google Hangout it Skype with our staff!

    Thanks and God Bless,

    Rusty Albertson
    St. Mark Catholic School
    Indianapolis, IN

    • Michael Linsin March 12, 2017 at 7:48 am #

      Thanks Rusty! Will do.


  11. Cindy Hudson March 12, 2017 at 8:24 am #

    Don’t know if this is directly related to this article, but was wondering if you had any insight about what to do when a class is well managed when the regular teacher is there but falls apart when there is a substitute for a day here and there?

  12. Linda Flynn March 13, 2017 at 6:41 am #

    This is just what I need to hear! I have a new student who is a fireball and I was wondering if I’d be able to get him to follow our rules and expectations. Now I have the confidence I need! Thank you, Michael!

    • Michael Linsin March 14, 2017 at 8:11 am #

      You’re welcome, Linda.


  13. Lee March 17, 2017 at 8:10 pm #

    Hi, Michael! Which one of your books would you recommend to a middle school teacher who’s looking for help? Thank you, in advance.

    • Michael Linsin March 18, 2017 at 7:41 am #

      Hi Lee,

      I recommend The Classroom Management Secret. You may also want to check out The Smart Classroom Management Plan for High School Teachers.


  14. Lindsay March 20, 2017 at 4:54 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    I’ve read two of your books and I love reading your articles. I read this one because in the last few months of the year, I find things getting only worse and worse. One class in particular finds a variety of creative ways to get class off track.

    The problem is, as a first year teacher, I didn’t do a good job setting the tone of class from week one. I know what to do next year, and I believe next year will be worlds better, but I don’t know how I’m going to make it through the end of this year.

    My principal has little hope for me that things will get better at this point. I was humiliated recently when she walked in the room and the kids were literally howling over a prank a student had pulled. I recently worked with a TOSA to “hit the reset button” but things are now bleaker than ever. Can I gain control of a class that has had little respect for me to begin with?

    • Michael Linsin March 21, 2017 at 8:13 am #

      Hi Lindsay,

      Yes, you can. However, it takes a big change in how you’re currently doing things.


  15. Sarah March 22, 2017 at 8:47 am #

    Hi Michael,

    What do you do if you have kids who just don’t care about consequences?
    Parents are contacted multiple times, but there is no improvement in the student’s behavior.
    Detentions are given, but the kids don’t mind going to detention (because they’re so used to it).
    And these 8th grade kids don’t care about their grades either because they’ve already been accepted to a high school.
    I’ve tried being strict, consistent, calm, kind, warm, developing a relationship….everything. But some kids seem to insist on still behaving very disrespectfully.

    • Michael Linsin March 22, 2017 at 9:14 am #

      Hi Sarah,

      A big part of classroom management is making your consequences matter to students. As for how to do that, much of this website and the better part of all of our books address this question.