I have been teaching adolescent students for 15 years with high schoolers taking up the vast majority of those years. In this time, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to manage these hormone-fueled and identity-seeking creatures (not to toot my own horn, but TOOT TOOT!).
I pride myself on running a classroom that is efficient, engaging, and well-behaved. By no means has it been perfect, but I feel that I have a knack for classroom management. While the traditional methods should not be overlooked, like establishing classroom routines, being consistent with rules and procedures, and creating a safe environment for all students, there are other creative ways to keep bad behavior in check. If you infuse these four MUST-DOs into your repertoire from the start, you are bound to have well-trained high school students.
#1- Isolate the punks.
You need to sniff out potential trouble makers rights from the start. Not all punks are the same, so pick the strategy that you think will work best. Here are some that have been very successful for me:
- Make sure they know who’s boss. After Day 1 or 2, if you detect the slightest inkling of punk-ness, create a seating chart and place the potential threat in the front row. As an extra protective layer, keep friends at a safe distance. I prefer to wait until after the first or second day of school to make a seating chart so that I can determine which friend groups may cause a distraction.
- Get a single-punk’s friends on your side. Sometimes the best way to contain a class clown is too highjack their audience. In addition, if their friends like you, they are likely to behave well. The punk will likely raise the white flag, and by default, behave well, too.
- Be more witty than the punk. This may be difficult if you are not naturally quick with a response, or if your responses tend to come out as insults. Tread lightly here.
- I don’t want to gender-label students, but in my experience, if you come across a female punk- RUN! Just kidding; find something that will make them appreciate you. As a professional, I really “bring it” with my fashion. For some reason, my teenage students like that, especially the girls. Maybe they think that if I dress well, I am trendy or cool. Who knows? But if they believe this baseless claim, so be it.
#2- Don’t expose a chink in your armor.
We all have a weakness in our authoritarian identities. Maybe your delivery scares students and makes you unlikable. Maybe you are afraid to confront the student who has their phone out. Maybe you don’t actually stick to your deadlines. A least for the first few weeks or month, do not bend! Adolescents will size you up and figure out where the chinks are. Try these:
- Be consistent with due dates, rules, and routines. If your students are supposed to complete a bell-ringer for the first 5 minutes of class, direct them to the task everyday. If you have a rule about phone use, cut down the first sign of abuse. Keep doing these things until it becomes second nature to your students. Think of it like potty-training (maybe…?). Contrary to popular belief, students LIKE routines and structure.
- If there is something that you are concerned could happen at some point in the year, address it on day 1. Knowing that I bring up a lot of controversial and sensitive material in the classes that I teach, I am completely upfront about what I will and will not tolerate from student commentary. It lets them know that they cannot even have an offensive thought in my class from the get go. Clap Clap, taken care of.
- Read your audience. Are your students looking sleepy? Could they use a stretch break? Are you having a discussion that is being monopolized by one or two students? Make adjustments! Don’t give students the impression that you are not aware of obvious things. Just like you have expectations of them, they will have the same of you.
#3- Let them feel “grown” once in a while
… but not forget that you are the real adult in the room. I have come to realize that if you make these near-adults feel like they are not being babied or coddled, they appreciate that. If they appreciate your approach with them, they tend to act more appropriately. Some ways you can give them a “grown-ish” feeling include:
- Give them little allowances. For example, my bathroom/hallway pass policy requires students to simply stand up, sign-out, and take the pass to their destination. They do not have to ask for permission, and they do not have to tell me where they are going. Instead, they write it on a sign-out sheet so that I know where they went. This is an adult-like privilege. If a student abuses the privilege, they lose it. Simple as that. For some reason, students want to prove that they can use a pass like a grown person would, and they rise to the occasion.
- Hold them accountable with work turn-in. Part of being an adult is having a strong work ethic (well, an effective adult anyway). Use this adult characteristic to trick them into doing their schoolwork!
- Discourage immature behavior by calling it childish or Middle School-like. NO high schooler likes to be seen as a Middle-schooler!
- High schoolers get VERY excited to talk to an adult about their new car or their job, so let them! Use this as one of the few times where you do NOT lecture them- that means to not tell them how to drive or what appropriate work hours are. You lecture them on social studies. Let this just be a side item that they want to relate to you with.
#4- Be a human.
When you were a student, did you ever have a run-in with a teacher outside of school and it was the WEIRDEST thing?! I have! We tended not to think of them as anything more than a teacher. Well… we are the “weird” teachers now, and we need to remind them that we do leave the classrooms and may even have family and friends. I tend to be a bit more private about my life outside of school, but I do make efforts to remind them that I am more than just a teacher. I am a human.
- Start by showing interest in their interests. If on the morning announcements, one of your students is mentioned for an accomplishment, ask them about it! Do you see a new tattoo on their arm (btw- that’s when you know you teach high school), acknowledge it! Starting a conversation about their interests increases their buy in.
- Share by relating to them. I had a student who came in with a cast because of a broken arm. I began to share with this student how I had broken my arm in middle school…. and suddenly the room was silent. Everyone was listening! They like to know that you have gone through things that they have. They also are reminded that you were once their age, as a human.
- Be your authentic self. This may be the most important behavior of them all. Students will sniff you out. Are you a bit nerdy? Nerd-out! Do you love cats? Show a slide show of your favorite pics! Did you have a sleepless night because you were binging Stranger Things or Cobra Kai? Tell them! Again, they will see you as a human.
- It’s okay if you screw up. I have had to apologize to students for putting them on the spot. I’ve had to correct an error about a fact or historical detail that I’ve made. I’ve made grammatical errors on PowerPoints and presentations that were pointed out by the students. It’s okay! Own your mistake and maybe even make a self-deprecating joke. If you are honest about your imperfections, they will… Say It With Me… see you as a human!!
It’s very easy to get caught up in the whole “don’t smile until December” theory, or to try too hard to be liked. With the start of the upcoming school year, implement these 4 Must-Dos from start, and you will have a classroom that is run like a well-oiled machine 😉