This can be a great strategy when followed by the question “Why do they do that?” But failure to ask the second question can lead to a plethora of myths: a major obstacle in classroom management.
New teachers need to be aware of classroom management myths, question them, and decide how they personally feel to align policies with personal beliefs. To illustrate my point, I’m sharing five myths that have been most relevant to my student teachers:
Myth 1: Good Instruction Eliminates Discipline Problems
The keyword here is “eliminates.” Most of my students feel that good instruction is important to effective classroom management, but a strong, well-taught lesson plan does not necessarily eliminate all misbehavior.
As I went through my teacher preparation program, I heard this particular myth perpetuated: if your lesson plans are good, you won’t have to worry about misbehavior.
If only it had been that easy! Most teachers recognize that while a strong lesson plan reduces discipline problems, it doesn’t eliminate them.
Myth 2: Don’t Smile Until Christmas
When I share this belief, I always see smiles on the faces of my student teachers. They unanimously claim that they don’t believe this is an important classroom management technique. No one could possibly believe this theory, right?
As our student teachers and interns return to campus each fall, many report that their mentor, cooperating teacher, or a veteran teacher across the hall shared this counsel on how to be successful as a teacher: “Never smile until Christmas.”
As we discuss this, many realize that they have a similar belief: it is easier to relax your expectations later in the school year than it is to start the school year casually, tightening expectations later. For most of us, this is a firmly held belief. And from this comes the “never smile until Christmas” counsel.It's okay to have fun during the learning process. Click To Tweet
To me, one of the greatest rewards of teaching is the personal joy that comes through student-teacher relationships. One of the ways I develop those relationships is sincere smiles. That’s why I could never accept this counsel as part of my own classroom management philosophy. And you don’t have to accept this myth in your own classroom management either.
Myth 3: The Best Way to Solve Discipline Problems Is to Make the Punishments Stiffer
Most student teachers quickly disagree with this belief. But doubt starts to creep in as I share that several laws are based on this belief. DUI penalties are more severe than speeding penalties. Penalties for murder are more severe than those for theft. The whole concept of capital punishment is based on this belief.
Some students counter that although this may work for society, it doesn’t work in schools. But many educational practices are based on this theory. We’ve illustrated two examples below:
One of the most commonly accepted practices is the docking of points for late assignments: 5% for 1 day late, 10% for 2 days, and so on. Isn’t this an attempt by a teacher to increase the punishment? Teachers claim that stiffer punishments aren’t the best way to solve problems, but the practices they adopt are often based on that belief. So teachers can either change their beliefs or live in a state of disharmony where their beliefs and practices don’t match.
Another common example is the recent attendance issues policies. Students can miss a certain number of class periods in the term and still earn an A grade. Many schools have chosen to “solve” this problem by allowing teachers to give a NC (no credit) grade to students who miss a certain number of days. Again, this practice conflicts with most educators’ beliefs.
After watching many great teachers over the years, my own belief system is that offering something meaningful during the class period is the best way to get students to attend. Soon they’ll realize that they can’t miss class because they know it will affect their understanding of the material. All of us have had classes that we knew we could miss without really missing anything. The classes that are really motivating to attend are the ones that don’t count participation points or days absent; they’re the ones we simply knew that we needed to be there to succeed.
Myth 4: Your Current Practices Regarding Classroom Management and Discipline Are Mostly a Reflection of Your Former Teachers
This statement usually draws mixed acceptance, where many student teachers agree and others disagree. As the discussion proceeds, we try to identify what factors can impact our classroom management beliefs and practices. Some factors include how you parent, how you were parented, books or classes on the topic, school rules and procedures, fellow teaching colleagues, and societal expectations.
Most students readily respond to the prompts, “When I teach I want to _____ like Mr(s.) ______ did when I was a student” or “When I teach I will never ______ like Mr(s). ______ did when I was a student.” These ideas form a major foundation of how a new teacher approaches classroom management.Classroom management practices that conflict with your belief system just won’t work. Click To Tweet
These foundational ideas are refined as new teachers reflect on what other teachers do and what they want to do. But be cautious! When you see a teacher use a classroom management strategy or procedure, ask yourself, “Does this match my beliefs?” If it does, then start implementing it. If it doesn’t, either reevaluate your beliefs or find another approach.
Myth 5: 90% of Classroom Management Occurs Before a Student Ever Acts Out
On this issue, my students generally feel that prevention is much more important than reaction in effective classroom management.
Harry Wong states:
The effective teacher manages a classroom. The ineffective teacher disciplines a classroom.
This emphasizes the proactive part of classroom management as compared to the reactive part.
In the Educator’s Guide to Preventing and Solving Discipline Problems by Mark Boynton and Christine Boynton, they identify four crucial components of effective classroom management and have assigned percentages to each of these components. Their final component is given 10% of the total and deals with solving discipline problems. The other 90% is focused on proactive components, including student-teacher relationships, clear expectations (rules and procedures), and monitoring.
Do What’s Right By You
As teachers reflect on different techniques, it’s crucial to identify what he or she believes about classroom management and student behavior. With this as a basis, rules, procedures, and consequences that are based on personal beliefs can be created, rather than following another teacher’s philosophy.
A very simple example of this would be determining the procedure you will use to regain students’ attention. Many authors cite this as the most important procedure a teacher must determine and teach to students. There are dozens of strategies for this, from waiting for the students to quiet down to ringing a chime to get their attention.When a teacher can explain the “why” behind rules and consequences, that teacher is well on their way to managing a classroom well. Click To Tweet
The procedure I once used in class was the five-finger countdown. My belief behind this was that I respected my students. I didn’t expect them to stop mid-thought or mid-word when I asked them to return their attention to me.
There is a belief connected to every procedure. For an effective teacher, each rule that is created, each procedure that is established, and each approach to deal with a management issue is based upon a firmly held belief. When a teacher can explain the “why” behind rules and consequences, that teacher is well on their way to managing a classroom well.
Want more tips on classroom management? Read 3 Classroom Management Techniques You Need to Adopt.
Wong. “The Well-Managed Classroom.” Professional Reference For Teachers.
Smith, Dearborn. Conscious Classroom Management II.
Boynton M, Boynton C. “Educator’s Guide to Preventing And Solving Discipline Problems.”
Glen recently retired after 11 years on the secondary education faculty in the Utah Valley University School of Education. Prior to teaching at UVU, he served 9 years as a junior high school science teacher and then 20 years as a junior and senior high school principal in Utah. Glen also served on the National Association of Secondary School Principals Board of Directors and on the National Disney Teacher of the Year selection committee. He has been married for 42 years to his lovely wife, Jan, and they have four children and nine grandchildren. Glen enjoys reading, gardening, swimming, and traveling.