Behavior Management a Critical Skill

"Behavior Management may be the critical skill you did not learn in your teacher prep courses," notes MTA New Member Committee Chair Ryan Hoyt.

Ryan Hoyt, Waltham"Every teacher has his or her own recipe for dealing with student behavior in the classroom. For some, the recipe is strong and arresting, like Five-Alarm Chili or Shrimp Fra Diavolo. For others, it is mild and smooth, like a recipe for Pumpkin Pie or Creme Brulee," according to Hoyt, a fifth grade teacher at Northeast Elementary in Waltham. "Whatever your flavor intensity, here are some ingredients to include for a recipe that works time and time again."

1. Establish a Routine. Your students should know exactly what to expect from the moment they enter your room. Should they have their homework on their desk or pass it in? Are there notes to be taken? Is there an assignment to begin? Breaking a class routine can lead to chaos, confusion, frustration and lost time. Routines make children feel comfortable and secure; when our students feel this way, we've established an environment that fosters learning.

2. Lead by example. I don't allow my students to interrupt me when I am speaking, so I make sure to extend that courtesy to them. When I get up from my desk, I push in my chair. I say "thank you" when collecting assignments from students and expect them to say the same when I hand them something, whether it be a replacement pencil or an MCAS exam. When I am wrong about something, I admit this to the students and expect them to do the same.

3. Be firm. As a child's teacher, you are not his or her friend. I am respected by my students because I levy consequences when they misbehave or fail to do something that they should. Furthermore, I follow through with these consequences. I often see teachers become angry with a student and immediately take recess away from them. The problem is, the teacher often forgets about the punishment, or realizes that a conflict arises during recess time and they simply can't keep the child inside. Think carefully about the consequences you impose, because follow through is a must. As soon as a student realizes that you don't intend to follow through with your punishment, you become the teacher to walk all over without fear of any consequence. Other students will notice and any respect you once had with your students will slowly erode.

4. Be fair. Think about the consequences you impart and if the punishment fits the crime. If a child forgets his homework, is sending him to the office appropriate? Should the student miss an entire lesson as a consequence for his forgetfulness? If you catch a student cheating, is loss of recess suitable? When students are talking in class when they should be silent, the consequence should be a silent lunch, not a trip to the office.

"Every supportive colleague or teacher self-help book underscores the fact that establishing classroom expectations in September is necessary, said Hoyt. "But what if you're not starting out in September? What if you've discovered that your expectations are not, well, what you expected them to be? Well, it's never too late to wipe the slate clean and prepare your recipe from scratch again."

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