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Helping New Teammates With Classroom Management

Classroom management is probably the biggest challenge for a new teacher. When I was co-teaching an undergrad course we used students’ questions to help shape the curriculum.  Their number one question was how do I manage my class? And…who doesn’t remember his/her first day of teaching and the trepidation  felt as one faced a homeroom full of young adolescents? Many of my students hauled lobsters.  They were tall, muscular, and just a little scary.  They also weren’t enthralled with being in school in September when the fishing was still good out on Casco Bay. Turns out they were terrific kids; I just didn’t have a clue what I would do if they refused to work.  Fortunately I was on a supportive team, and they gave me some very good advice.

One in five teachers leaves teaching within the first three years.  A major contributing factor is discipline.  Even former DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee admits to having class management problems as a young teacher.  A cohesive team will coach a beginning teacher as s/he learns the ins and outs of teaching beyond knowing the content.  Brainstorming  ideas for ensuring that lessons go smoothly other than “Don’t smile until Thanksgiving” benefit the experienced team teachers as well as the neophyte.  Someone’s else’s strategy can be morphed to fit another’s particular situation.

I was reminded of the power of shared problem solving and coaching  while reading the March/April edition of  NEA’s  magazine and came across the  feature article “Help“. The question related to working with students who refused to do their work.  One of the contributors (Howard) to the column suggested four words to remember: Proximity, Praise, Prompt, and Leave.  I’m just going to quote Howard because I think his advice is succinct and very useful:

  • Proximity. Move around the room and check work of all students (not just special ed). Notice who is stymied or not attending. Approach quietly. Whisper. Establish eye contact.
  • Praise. Note something the student has done: “Hey, you made it to class today.” “You have the first part of the problem figured out.”
  • Prompt. Briefly tell the student what to do next (less than 20 seconds): “Line up the value places in the problem.” “Six times eight is 48.” Don’t bring attention to what the student hasn’t done or mistakes. Tell them you will be back shortly to check.
  • Leave. Don’t “hover and smother.” Move to another student. Keep your comeback appointment.

Imagine how helpful it would be to a new teacher if a teammate suggested this strategy and then said, “You know I think I want to fine tune my use of this approach.  Why don’t we both work on implementing it and take time to chat about our progress two times a week.  Maybe we could even visit each other’s classes.”

Mentoring a new teammate is an important aspect of teaming and a superb use of common planning time. To paraphrase an old saying, a team is really only as strong as its weakest link.  If things are going badly in one class, everyone else’s will be affected.  Attitudes, problems, histrionics that start in one class often follow the students the rest of their day.  Working together as team to create healthy, supportive climates in each classroom benefits everyone–students and teachers.

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