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Classroom Management


Q. Our fifth-grader's teacher made the whole class hold a popsicle stick sideways in their mouths all day, because they had been "noisy." We agree that a teacher should be able to command student attention, but we feel that this was inappropriate and did more to ridicule and humiliate the students instead of teach them how they should behave. So we are angry. We met with the principal and he said it wasn't that big of a deal and there was nothing he could do. We felt like he let us down. Now we have no leverage with the teacher to induce her to try to stay in better control of the class. What should we do?


Recognize that the teacher is under duress, and probably has personal problems. If the principal doesn't volunteer any way to come to an agreement on what is an appropriate response to student misbehavior, you should let your feelings be known to a school board member.


Then get together with other parents and set up a meeting with the teacher to constructively discuss this situation, instead of just sweeping it under the rug. You may learn some things you can use to coach your child to be better behaved, as well as how your child can learn to work with people a lot better than this. You may also help the teacher by sharing your observations and concerns in a courteous, professional manner, and expressing basic parental expectations. Examples:


n       What are the classroom rules? There should be a small number of clear, simple expectations for proper behavior. Out-of-control classrooms often develop when kids are overloaded with rules. Do the students know the rules? Could they be simplified to be more clear?


n       How consistent is the enforcement? If the same misbehavior gets a strict reaction some days and just a smile other days, or if some kids can get away with misbehavior while others can't, the kids will "act out" their feelings about injustice.


n       How well-matched is the curriculum to the abilities of the kids? Curriculum is set to the norm for every given grade level. Therefore, by definition, curriculum is too easy for half the kids, whose abilities are at or above the norm. In suburban classrooms in which curriculum is benchmarked to a statewide norm, the curriculum might actually be too easy for 90% of the kids. That's a recipe for behavior disasters. The more "dumbed down" the schoolwork, the more negative "noise" there will be in a classroom. Differentiation of curriculum and teaching style may be in order to match the kids' abilities to their activities more closely.


n       Does the teacher use daily planning to minimize "dead time" during the school day? Poor teachers do not. Result: student anxiety, lethargy and chaos.


n       Does the teacher focus on "do" messages and positive reinforcement? Or does she ignore positive behaviors and zero in on what they're doing wrong? Negativity breeds negativity.


n       Kids need self-control techniques more than artificial rewards. Good teachers remember the adage, "Kids need coaches more than they need critics."


If things don't improve, set up another meeting with the teacher, but this time, consider including officers of your school's parent group, a school counselor, a school board member, central-office personnel, and the principal.


Homework: Fun, practical ideas for classroom management may be found on


By Susan Darst Williams Discipline & Safety 03 2008


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