I have learned a lot in the last several months at Beurling Academy about managing classrooms, both from my day-to-day classroom management and by substituting for a Cultural, Social and Technical math class several times.
It is difficult to summarize my thoughts on how I approach my classrooms, as it is so context-dependent and I have taught in many different contexts. I did my best in an essay for my Classroom Practices class at McGill, which you can read as a PDF: McCarthy Classroom Practices Essay.
I organized my thoughts around classroom management into three areas of inquiry:
- Student-teacher rapport: a saying I picked up from Shad Valley sums up my approach to rapport well: “be friendly but not friends” with the students. I believe it is necessary to connect with students on some personal level so they see me as someone there to help them learn, setting up a collegial learning relationship rather than an adversarial one.
- Quality instruction: classroom management is hugely influenced by the quality of instruction. My overall approach to instruction is to balance student engagement with ensuring they are exposed to all the curricular material. I hope to explore some instructional approaches such as flipping the classroom which have the potential to further improve my classes.
- Discipline: I don’t pretend that all student behavioural issues can be addressed by rapport or engagement alone, and I have found that students appreciate a structured environment which allows everyone to learn without major disruptions. My discipline plan follows three major guidelines: (1) rules are in place for a reason which students should understand, (2) consequences follow logically from actions where possible, and (3) enforcement of discipline is consistent and escalates reasonably.
I end the essay with a note on student individuality:
However much we can learn from generalizations, though, students in some ways remain wonderful mysteries that remind us that we are teaching unique and growing people rather than ticks on our attendance sheets. I was reminded at lunch today that a teacher can never quite know what will motivate a student by a boy in my grade 10 math class. This student is part of a very engaged group who often come in to discuss the math homework at lunch, but he usually plays video games on his phone rather than joining the discussion. Though he is friendly and not disruptive in class, his test marks haven’t been so good. Today, as I have mentioned, I gave the class a situational problem which frustrated many students. To my surprise, this boy was so engaged by the problem that he was not only discussing it with his friends at lunch, but leading the discussion—an animated and passionate display that was a surprise and an absolute pleasure to watch. I shared a smile with my cooperating teacher; I had notched up one more small success.