Behavior Management Tips

One of my most enjoyable classes this school year is actually my most frustrating. I teach five sections of seventh grade science. Each class has its own character. This one, in particular, is marked by some students who love science and others who do not necessarily have a strong interest in the life sciences I teach. Further, there is a small core of girls who, a couple of months ago, exemplified what one might picture when thinking of seventh-grade girls -- whispering, snickering and snarky comments -- that began to create a poisonous atmosphere. I found myself increasingly frustrated with the behavior of this class. I had tried seat changes, one-on-one discussions of the behavior and its causes, engaging the students in thinking of solutions, clear consequences and positive reinforcement with little progress – and still I had trouble. My frustration changed my demeanor, which, in turn, contributed further to the negative atmosphere in the class.

At the height of my frustration I decided to rearrange the seating plan of the whole class.

I spent the next week or two enforcing a very strict, very consistent form of the discipline practices I always use – including the loss of “class action” points for talking out of turn and the addition of points for positive participation. I relaxed only when I was convinced that the students were back on track. Since that time, all of those students have come in ready to focus, ready to listen to what I have to say, ready to listen to each other’s contributions, ready to complete the assignments I give with little or no distraction or issue (on most days), and ready to ask really good questions.

This situation has exemplified for me all of the best practices that I have been taught and learned through experience regarding classroom management:

  • Positive reinforcement of desired behaviors.
  • Clear consequences for poor behavior.
  • Empowering students by engaging them in discussions of their performance.
  • Consistency in discipline.
  • Avoidance of power struggle. When one seems to be developing, take charge of the situation as I did by changing the class’s seats.
  • Remember that you are the grown-up. Act accordingly. Even if it means tough love, the kids will really appreciate it in the end.

Tips from Laura Vago, seventh grade science teacher, Salemwood School, Malden. Laura sits on MTA's New Member Committee.

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