6 Tips For Classroom Management: It’s Not About Showing Them Who’s Boss

When I first started teaching, I thought that classroom management was about controlling students. I was told that I needed to “show them who’s boss” and “don’t smile until May.” So I doled out detentions for everything from gum chewing to uniform violations to 30-second tardies.

And then I realized that I was doing it all wrong.

I’m sure that those methods work for some—they were suggested by more than one veteran teacher. But they just didn't work for me. I’ve found that classroom management isn't about making kids do what I want, it’s about engaging them by making sure that they have the skills to do what is asked of them, and about giving them work that is meaningful and real. Fun and engaging lessons go a lot further to keep students quiet, focused and calm than detentions ever could.

What it comes down to it, a bored class is an unmanageable class, and an engaged class (almost) always manages itself.

Since those early years of teaching, I have developed a few techniques to keep my classes focused and on task. Here are my 6 tips for managing a class.

  1. Have a standard bellringer that students can jump into every day. You can read more about how I design my bellringers in this post. The key for me is to do the same thing every single day. This way, there is no explaining or questions or big to-do in the first few minutes of class.
  2. Make sure that students have the skills to complete the task at hand. During those first early years of teaching, I had lots of great creative ideas and some lofty goals. But when I asked too much of my classes without preparing them to do what I was asking, they often rebelled. When they felt dumb, they chose to act like they didn't care rather than let anyone know the ways that they were lacking.
  3. Plan lots of different styles of activities and get students used to transitioning frequently. I always plan at least three or four different elements in a 50 minute class. Sometimes the transitions seem a little tricky, but my students get used to completing many different activities in the same class. This way, if an idea flops with the whole class, it won’t last for more than a few minutes anyway. Students don't like writing? That’s okay, they will be discussing questions in a group as well. They don't respond to all-class discussion? Then maybe they’ll like the freewrite at the end of class.
  4. Spend the minimum amount of time possible talking at students. I never lecture or sage on the stage or power points of any kind. When students are passive receivers of content, they will get bored quickly. And bored students make for a classroom that is difficult to manage. There are other ways of delivering content besides talking at them, and I strive to incorporate those in all of my lesson plans.
  5. Get them to do the teaching. Cooperative learning, whether with partners or small groups, is a great way to engage students and manage the class. I can move around, checking in to see who needs help or a little extra explanation, and they don't have to be completely silent and still all of the time. Jigsaw activities are my go-to activity for getting students to interact and learn a lot of content.
  6. Plan something specific for those last few minutes of class. Leaving students to start their homework or finish up a discussion in groups is usually not enough for those restless last few minutes of class. When I see that students are all looking at the clock and making those putting-away-notebook noises even though there are still five minutes left, I pull out my last activity. It’s never something totally new, but it is always a way to connect the lesson to real life, to bring things together in a way that matters in the long term.  

My classes might not be perfectly managed at all times, but we always have fun. No more detentions for me, and plenty of smiling. Classroom management can take many forms, but I know that my students are learning and engaged, and I am teaching in a way that is much more natural for me.

Christina Gil was a high-school English teacher for sixteen years, but she recently left the classroom to follow a dream and move with her family to an ecovillage in rural Missouri. She believes that teaching creative writing helps students excel on standardized tests, that deeply analyzing and unpacking a poem is a fabulous way to spend an hour or so, and that Shakespeare is always better with sound effects. When she is not hauling water to her tiny home, she can be found homeschooling her two kids, meeting with her neighbors about the best way to run their village, or writing in her blog, Gil Teach.