My father was in education for many years and before I started my first year of teaching he gave me this great advice, “Start out tough and you can always relax, but start out relaxed and getting tough becomes a game.” I always reflect on those words when a new school year starts. What does it mean to be a "tough" teacher? How can this be done without students being negative towards you from the start of the school year?
Being a "Tough" Teacher
When a “tough” teacher is mentioned I think that many people envision a teacher from the media with a frown on the face, a glare in the eyes, a snarling voice, and always telling students to not do things. This does not have be how a tough teacher is. To me a “tough” teacher is one that sets out rules for their students, provides positive reinforcement when students follow the rules, and establishes classroom routines. This allows for great classroom management and provides the students with a positive learning environment where everyone respects everyone else.
Keep Things Positive
I have found in a classroom setting that students respond better to rules stated in a positive way, rather than a negative way. For example, “Do not talk out for turn” becomes “Please raise your hand before speaking”. This also works well if want to reward students but need to accomplish some tasks before the reward. If you are going to let students go outside to play if they get their work done you could state “We will get to go outside if you stay on task and get your work completed by 2 PM” rather than “If you do not stay on task and get your work done by 2 PM will not go outside”. In my experience, this little change in words can make a big difference in how students react to the rules. Another thing that I have found is that the fewer the rules, the better. Too many rules are hard for students to remember and teachers to enforce. I usually tried to have no more than 6 classroom rules when I was teaching.
It seems so easy to follow the rules at the beginning of the school year when things are fresh in everyone’s mind. Then as the school year progresses it is easy to let little things slide and soon the rules can be forgotten. This does not mean that a teacher cannot relax a bit with the students once a classroom routine is established but it is important to keep the rules in mind. An easy way to do this is to offer rewards for following the rules. These can be little rewards for staying on task for one day, like the example above, or bigger rewards for following the rules over a longer period of time. The important thing is to be consistent throughout the year.
To me classroom routines go hand-in-hand with positive classroom rules. Students know what they should do at certain times throughout the day which means that they do not have down time to participate in unproductive behaviors. My routines were always what students should do when they arrived in the classroom, what do to with completed work, and what to do if they had extra time after completing their work. Every time students came into my classroom I had a bell ringer up on the board. This was a problem for students to work on that either reviewed concepts that we had already learned or introduced a new concept. I established a file system in my classroom where each subject had its own file. Students knew to put any completed work in the appropriate file so there was not a flurry of handing in papers and everything was organized for me to grade. Finally, students knew that if they completed their work early they could work on an assignment from another subject that needed to be completed or read quietly at their desks. These routines worked well for me and allowed my classroom to run smoothly most days!
I understand that every classroom is different and that positive rules and classroom routines do not mean that every day is going to be wonderful. Even with doing these things in my classroom I still had days where things were a bit crazy. These are simple suggestions for things that have worked in my experience. Whatever you decide to do, be consistent so that students know what is expected of them at all times. This provides a classroom environment where teachers can teach and students can learn.
If you want to learn more about classroom management techniques and other ways to help your students succeed, check out the Master’s of Education program at Concordia University, Nebraska.