Classroom Management when Time Is Short
Substitute teaching is wonderful because every moment counts. No classroom management issue can be put off, because sometimes I’m only with kids for an hour or two. Here are some recent highlights of quick moments that worked.
It’s amazing how much kids stop interrupting my instructions when I announce, “If you interrupt me, I will start the entire direction again.” After initial moans and gasps, students settle down. Anyone who blurts out is usually glared at by peers. The only thing worse than hearing directions is hearing them twice.
However, sometimes a little sugar helps the instructions be heard. I often read directions with funny voices. I love using voices in class. I manage subsequent disruptions simply by reverting to my real voice. “Okay, you’re showing me that my regular voice is better for today, not a funny one. No problem.” Again, the offending child is reprimanded by peers. The overall favorite funny voice? British accents. Kids love them just like the rest of us. (Why is that??) High pitched and low-pitched voices also keep everyone’s attention. The German accent was a flop with second graders. As soon as I pronounced, “work” as “vork” three hands went up with the complaint, “I don’t know what you said.” These kids are not watching World War 2 movies at home! (Update: a third grade class adored the German accent when I told them that second graders class hadn’t understood it.)
I’ve written about happy points before. They are now such a standard part of my teaching that kids point to me in the hallway and exclaim, “Do a happy dance!” I give points if an entire class quiets itself without my prompting. But I also award happy points for individual efforts. A few weeks ago, I had a class with two particularly loquacious souls. I offered the whole class an extra happy point if these two were quiet while I read a story. One student was excited for the challenge. He settled down immediately. The other, not to lured into submission by a substitute teacher, shrugged, “I don’t care about a happy point.” I groaned to myself, “Now what? I hope he doesn’t derail this book. I’m out of ideas.” I began reading. He was quiet. Four pages in, he raised his hand with a comment. I heard a voice in my head, “Complement the kid for not shouting out.” I smiled casually at him, “I know you don’t care about happy points, but can I give you a high five for raising your hand?” He considered. “Sure.” High five complete, I returned to the center of the room. He added, “And the happy point is okay. I’ll work for it.” At the end of my time with the class, he looked at me. “I hope you come back.”
There is no better feeling than a tricky kid wanting a teacher to return.
Then there are the kids who aren’t problems. These students are the backbone of the class community, the stalwarts who patiently pause in a lesson while the teacher reprimands someone, who do the homework even if it isn’t graded, who get quiet even if most of the class is still talking. They have thankless roles, rarely acknowledged.
I was overseeing a class during chorus. It was my job to pick a “star singer,” someone who was setting a good example throughout rehearsal. But of course other things were going on, including two chatty kids giggling to each other. I separated them, and asked one to switch places with a quiet kid. No teacher likes doing this because the good student, of course, doesn’t want to move. This child was no different. She glared at me as she crossed to where the chatter had been. I still had to pick a “star singer.” I could pick the good kid. Or I could give her some power. I stepped over to her while the teacher was rehearsing other singers. “Since I don’t know your class very well, can you pick a star singer and tell me who it is?” She smiled. I added, “Make sure it’s someone who doesn’t usually get picked.” She nodded conspiratorially. I don’t know if she actually chose someone unusual, but she solemnly walked up to me when it was time for me to announce the student. I had owed her for moving, and she was grateful to have been acknowledged. Her initial glare had transformed into a collegial smile.
Kids let me know if I’m creating a place where they feel engaged and valued. Whether with funny voices, happy points, or an easy management job, I try to welcome all kids into learning. It doesn’t always work, but overall it’s pretty rewarding.
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