My first year in the classroom I had a lot of fantastic ideas. I had an undeniable energy, will, and desire to ensure my students learned everything I could muster to teach them. It was going to be a good year. I was ready.
My first year of teaching was one of the worst years of my life. It was absolutely brutal. I knew my content, I knew my theory, and I thought I knew what I was doing. The problem was I get dealt three classes full of very challenging students and I was not ready to meet the behavior challenge. All my content knowledge did not matter, all my fantastic lessons did not matter, and all my caring and hard work did not matter. I could not manage the classroom and my students did not learn.
For the transition from my first to second year I focused on one simple thing - classroom management. When that second year started I was ready. And the learning went up in my classroom ten fold and not because I had a better understanding of the content, not because I planned better lessons, and not because I was a better strategist. It was because I figured out how to successfully manage a classroom.
For pre-service teachers and teachers who are just starting, take heed of this advice. Learn how to control your classroom and make this a priority. I will not go into detail in this article about how to do this as there are plenty of books out there and most likely teachers in your building that are doing it well that can hopefully give you advice. If you need more specific advice, please leave a comment or shoot me an email and I would be happy to go into more detail for you.
I will however give you the most important tip I self discovered. How you start your period is the most important piece. If students are not expected to do math as soon as they come in your room then you are creating issues for yourself. My first year students came into the room and began checking their homework - or at least they were supposed to. This seems fine in theory, but when you have a plethora of students who did not complete homework while I am walking around the room to check and while different students finished at different times etc. It just made for some bad situations. The solution to this is to have work ready for your students as soon as they walk in the room.
I realize that this is essentially bell work. There are a lot of ways to do bell work and your district might even have a solution that you must abide by. Personally, I found that having students pick up a physical piece of paper on the way into class gave them an instant connection that they are expected to do something. I also called it a "Walk-In Quiz" which I think gave them a sense that this was an important piece of paper that they needed to get done right away. There are a ton of other ways to do your starting class work, and probably better, but for the time being I am married to this as I believe this was a big piece of the puzzle that put me on solid footing in the classroom.
For experienced teachers it is important to make a mental note to not forget the importance of classroom management. It is easy to get comfortable in everything we do and sometimes slack in our control. Each year is a new story and you never know what students you will get. It is always easier to start off strong then to start off weak and attempt to gain strength of management when you need it. Always be ready heading in a new year to take complete control of the classroom.
Once again the key is that without control in the classroom your students will not learn. It does not mean that lessons and content do not matter and if you have classroom management then your students will automatically learn everything they need to know. I am simply saying that without solid classroom management it does not matter how good everything else is.
The good news is that lessons like those found here at MakeMathMore.com are another piece of a good classroom management plan. Engaging lessons aid in classroom management. If your students are engaged in what they are learning then they will be much less likely to create disturbances or cause issues in the classroom. So keep your students engaged! I must point out again that engaging lessons alone will not guarantee your students stay focused and under control. You must have a good classroom management plan and stick with it.
So get ready! If you are a new teacher then start getting that classroom management plan in place and start practicing it. If you are a more experienced teacher then go over what you do and make sure you are ready for any surprises that will come your way… because there are always surprises that come your way when your teaching. But you probably already know that.
Let me know if you need any ideas in the comments or feel free to share any ideas as well!