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Classroom Connection

Managing with Class

Kristen Loschert

Student Program alumni offer tips on effective classroom management.

Maddie Fennell’s first year of teaching would have challenged even the most experienced educator.   

Her class contained 28 special needs students, the school psychologist died a month after school started, and Fennell’s principal planned to retire. How could she possibly manage her classroom under such daunting circumstances?   

“It was because of my contacts in the Association that I could call and say ‘help’ and they came and helped,” says Fennell, who served as chairperson of NEA’s Student Program from 1988 to 1990.

“They helped me address classroom management from a proactive rather than a reactive point of view.”

Even if they don’t face the obstacles Fennell encountered, new and student teachers often feel like they’re on their own when it comes to classroom management. 

Colleges “have so many other requirements to meet, they don’t teach it. They build it into other classes,” says Fennell, a sixth-grade teacher at Franklin Elementary School in Nebraska. 

 And many universities have sidelined that meager bit of instruction to add more content courses, partly in response to the No Child Left Behind Act.

In the best of all worlds, teachers would walk into the classroom on their first day armed with a “bag of tricks” for managing student behavior, says Fennell.  Fortunately, Fennell and fellow Student Program alumnus Andrew Hasty have a few tips to start your collection.

Set the Right Tone

Too often, beginning teachers try to befriend their students, undermining their authority, says Hasty, music specialist and choir director at Sauk Rapids-Rice High School in Minnesota. Teachers should outline their expectations from the beginning, he says, and be clear that they are not students’ peers.

“I hated hearing that you aren’t supposed to smile until Christmas, but it really is true,” says Hasty. “That first week to two weeks really will drive the rest of the year for a teacher.  So the rules and tone need to be dictated right off the bat.”

Fennell solicits her students’ input on classroom rules, procedures, and consequences, and even enlists their help enforcing them.

“By empowering the kids, then it’s ‘our room,’ not ‘my room,’ and there is a sense of shared ownership,” she says. “There will be peer pressure when students aren’t living up to the class expectations.”

Use Other Teachers

Hasty says he collected his best classroom management strategies by watching other teachers in action, and he still borrows ideas from his mentor and other teachers at his school.   

Similarly, he encourages new teachers to discuss their classroom management plans with a mentor or other trusted teacher during the summer so they have time to adjust their strategies if necessary.  

Fennell agrees that supportive colleagues often are a new teacher’s greatest resource.

“Too often we are afraid to ask for help,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to ask other teachers who have worked with a student for input about that student’s behavior or how to handle it.”         

Communicate with Parents

Just as teachers need support from their colleagues, they need support from parents.  Fennell calls her students’ parents during the summer to get acquainted and even organized a barbecue to meet them in person.  For  Hasty, who has taught as many as 94 students at once in varsity choir, calling parents individually can be challenging. So he sends home a quarterly class newsletter to keep parents informed and uses e-mail to stay in touch.

However you do it, make sure your first contact with parents is positive.

“Think of communication with parents as a checkbook,” Hasty says. “You want to build up positive things in that bank account before you make any withdrawals. You want to build up a rapport and outline your expectations to the parents before you have to report home on something negative.

Keep Your Tools Handy

Staying organized feels like an uphill battle for many educators, and it can be particularly tough for fledgling teachers. Creating lesson plans, grading assignments, and figuring out why little Johnny can’t stay seated can drive even the savviest teacher into a state of disarray. Here to restore order is the NEA Teacher ToolKit.

Organized by several “tool” categories such as “Curriculum Tools” and “Classroom Tools,” the ToolKit is a virtual expanding file going beyond simple attendance logging. 

This online resource is a valuable aid in charting student classroom behavior, providing resources to align lesson plans to state education standards, making test and quiz banks for future use, and much more.

Available to advanced Toolkit users are online courses, complete with streaming video lessons on topics such as incorporating technology into lessons and helping students with learning challenges.

Take advantage of this 12-month trial offer: NEA Student members can access the advanced NEA Teacher ToolKit for only $7.95 (the regular annual ToolKit subscription is $72.95).

A First-Class Project

Wisconsin  Lutheran College ’s Future Teachers’ Education Association (FTEA) won the outstanding C.L.A.S.S grant award at the June 2006 Student Leadership Conference in Orlando.

 The chapter used the grant to create “Our Classroom Village,” a four-day unit for fourth-grade classrooms in two Milwaukee schools. The unit aimed to teach the children about diversity in the world as reflected in their classrooms. 

Association members volunteered to help students learn about diversity, first by teaching them from a book called If the World Were a Village: A Book About the World’s People.

They divided students into groups, and each group created a page about group members’ language, food, and culture. “It was amazing how many different languages they all spoke,” says Abigail Fehr, FTEA’s grant coordinator at the time.

“There were children there who were trilingual, and it was great to celebrate that. We also talked about the challenges that people of different ethnicities face.”

Community Learning through America ’s Schools (C.L.A.S.S.) grants help NEA student members address a specific community need in support of public education. The grants of up to $1,000 help fund projects such as book drives and fundraisers, or classroom projects like FTEA’s.

According to Mandy Plucker, one of this year’s judges, the college association’s project was unique. “They had an amazing portfolio and wonderful lesson plans that reflected so many of the qualities we were looking for, from the focus on the community to teacher quality,” she says. This group scored high marks on every judging criterion, including the extent to which goals were met, impact on the community, and future or continuing efforts.          

Fehr says the award has increased the group’s visibility on campus.   “We’ve been nationally recognized for excellence, and that not only feels good but it helps attract new members.”  

Fehr also notes that the project was important because it made students aware of how each culture is special. “They learned not only about others, but also about their own cultures,” she says. “It was also helpful in getting future educators out into the field, where they could get real classroom experience, because many of them didn’t have that. It helped us build connections with teachers and schools.”

C.L.A.S.S. Grant deadlines are August 31 and January 31.    

 —Mishri Someshwar

Stand for Safe and Friendly  Schools

Two years ago, NEA launched a training program to help educators address the challenges that their students and colleagues who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) face in schools.

Former NEA Student Program chairperson Mandy Plucker attended one of the workshops in March 2006. The experience inspired her to sign up to become a trainer; she now teaches the workshop to others. “Thousands of GLBT students stay away from school because of the bullying,” she says. “That’s just not acceptable.”

The goal of the program is to help educators protect students, not to force teachers to change their own beliefs, she says. “Every person has their own belief system and the program is not trying to change that,” she says. “However, educators have a responsibility to stand up for students, and protect them from harassment and bullying.”

The program consists of three workshops, running between one-and-a-half and two hours each. They use a combination of video clips and activities to help educators understand how GLBT biases occur in schools and learn strategies for preventing or dealing with them. Plucker, who has already taught the workshop several times, says that the exercise on gender stereotypes was especially helpful.

Plucker says she didn’t learn much about GLBT issues during her undergraduate studies. “I think it’s the same for most students studying education, regardless of whether they’re in rural areas or big cities. There just isn’t much talk about it in classes. When I was an undergraduate, we just did a quick breeze over it in one class and then we stopped talking about it all together.”

NEA offers the following GLBT resources:

  • Strengthening the Learning Environment: A guide for working with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) students or colleagues (second edition).
  • FOCUS ON Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Transgendered Persons: A brochure that examines our understanding of the achievement gaps for this vulnerable population.
  • Safe schools for everyone: An interview with Kevin Jennings, founder of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network.
  • The safe zone: Links to bullying resources, a brief glossary of bias terms, and a downloadable poster.

—Mishri SomeshwaR


From the NEA Professional Library

Expert Advice

In The First-Year Teacher, veteran educators weigh in on how to survive your first year. What advice do teachers have for surviving the first year? 

Authors Karen A. Bosch and Katherine C. Kersey compiled the following list:

  • Get to know the custodian and the secretary well.
  • Choose extra-duty assignments that you want and can handle.
  • Don’t correct papers or do lesson planning at faculty meetings.
  • Stay away from the teachers’ lounge.  It may be a negative place.  Find a quiet spot to recoup.
  • Don’t complain, as misery finds too much company.
  • Start class as soon as the bell rings.
  • Plan activities for students who finish their work before others.
  • Anticipate the behavior of children before and after holidays and long weekends, on field trips, and when evaluators come into the room.
  • Decide what kind of homework to assign and how much.
  • Don’t give up!

It has been said that teaching is the only profession where the beginner is expected to do what the veteran does and with equal success.  Many beginning teachers have expressed the need for one more college course or text to prepare future teachers for the transition from campus to classroom.  It is our hope that this book will provide the missing link between teacher preparation programs and first-year teaching performance.

From The First-Year Teacher: Teaching with Confidence (K-8) by Karen A. Bosch and Katherine C. Kersey.  Order your copy or call 800-229-4200.

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