The scene: a fourth-grade math class comprised of students with mixed abilities, including three students with IEPs.
9:25 a.m. – The teacher asks the students to take their seats and to begin the warm-up problems she has on the board. She tells them they have 10 minutes to complete the warm-up and then they will start the new lesson for the day.
9:30 a.m. – Very few of the students are in their seats working on the warm-up. Students are either in line at the pencil sharpener, have asked permission to go to the restroom, are talking to one another, or are talking to the teacher.
9:32 a.m. – The teacher reminds the students that they should be working on the warm-up and that they only have 10 minutes to complete the problems.
9:40 a.m. – The teacher continues to talk to students individually at her desk about math as well as other topics; students continue to ask permission to sharpen their pencils or to go to the restroom. Very few students are on task.
9:45 a.m. – The teacher tells the students they have five minutes to finish the warm-up problems. One student complains loudly that he doesn’t understand the warm-up problems and that they are too hard. He then asks permission to go to the restroom and leaves the room.
9:50 a.m. – The teacher asks the students how they are coming on the warm-up problems. Only two students have completed the warm-up. Some students have a good start on the warm-up; a few students have done no work yet. The teacher tells the students they have five minutes to finish the warm-up.
9:58 a.m. – The teacher collects the warm-up problems. Math class ends at 10:15 a.m. The teacher has 15 minutes to teach her lesson.
Who is in charge of this class?
The students weren’t loud or causing trouble, but they were distracting the teacher and wasting valuable instructional time. Instead of having a 10-minute warm-up period with 40 minutes for instruction, the class used 35 minutes for their warm-up, leaving 15 minutes for instruction. The students were managing the clock, not the teacher. And the students were, in essence, managing to avoid math class.
Things to think about:
- A class out of control isn’t necessarily loud or disruptive. A class out of control can be a class that is in control and doing whatever they can think of to avoid doing the task at hand.
- If you tell the students they have 10 minutes to complete a task, make sure you only allow them 10 minutes.
- Transition times, moving from one class to another or from one topic to another, can be challenging. Be consistent and clear about how much time students have to get settled and begin the new task.
- Use your judgment, but don’t be afraid to say, “Time’s up.” Student complaints will decrease as they learn to work within the structure you establish.
- Establish a routine and expectations –- then stick to them. Once you loosen the reins, you will most likely have a difficult time regaining control.
- Create a “stub can” to avoid the never-ending line at the pencil sharpener. Students can exchange their pencil for a pre-sharpened one in just a few seconds.
- Observe a colleague or mentor. Ask a team member for suggestions or support.
- Good classroom management leads to effective and efficient use of instructional time.
Joyce Meyer and Mary Cohen