Classroom Management Tips for Student Teachers

What’s Here

Are you looking for tips on managing kids’ behavior as a student teacher? You might be wondering what it’s like to be a student teacher, or how you’re supposed to dealing with management issues during student teaching since it’s not technically “your” classroom. On this page, you can read about what I learned about classroom management from my experiences as a student teacher and from having my own classroom. You’ll also read about establishing authority in the classroom as a student teacher and figuring out your own unique teaching style.

My student teaching experience: the good, the bad, and the ugly

During my first student teaching placement, my school was in a high-poverty neighborhood. The teacher was not only exceptional but also extremely calm and even-tempered. The kids were used to responding to quiet requests from her and followed the classroom routines as second nature, so when I showed up in January, the hard part was already done for me. I learned so much from that wonderful kindergarten teacher, and she shaped my teaching practices in tremendous ways. It was a fantastic experience that made me so excited to get my own classroom.

My other student teaching experience was in a very affluent school. It was a third grade placement and I thought it would be a piece of cake compared to corralling needy kindergartners in my previous school.  I was so wrong! The mentor teacher was a second career teacher with only a few years experience, and her personality was so mild-mannered that the kids ran completely over top of her. It was so bad that I asked my college supervisor for a new student teaching placement. She agreed that the placement was not ideal and offered to let me finish my student teaching at a different school. However, I had a change of heart and opted to stay and take on the challenge. I immediately took the initiative to implement a simple behavioral system with group points. My mentor teacher was fine with that and was thrilled with the behavioral improvements in the kids. Things got better, but I still cried almost everyday on the way home. It was such a shame because the students were actually very sweet: they just needed some boundaries which the teacher wasn’t able to provide and I was too intimidated to try since it wasn’t my own classroom.

Lessons learned from student teaching

I don’t share this with you to scare you, but just to let you know that even a bad student teaching situation won’t last forever, and if anything, you’ll learn what NOT to do! You can survive whatever you’re handed during those few weeks of student teaching which seem to last forever but are actually just a drop in the bucket compared to the long teaching career you have ahead of you.

Brainstorm solutions to the problems you encounter even if you can’t implement them so you have a full arsenal of strategies when you get your first classroom. Talk with other student teachers about how they’re dealing with similar situations, and see what’s working in other classrooms. Some of my best learning came late at night in the dorms, chatting with other STs about what had happened during the day.

Looking back, I actually wouldn’t change my student teaching placements for the world. The first experience taught me what a real classroom community could look like and gave me something to aspire to. The second experience fueled my passion for classroom management, inspired me to research everything I could about it, and made me far more equipped to handle the crazy situations that arose when I had my own classroom. Just like the rest of your college experience, some aspects of student teaching will be very helpful and enjoyable, and others…won’t.

The challenges of managing student behavior when the classroom isn’t yours

I can say that I was MUCH quieter and more reserved during my student teaching. A lot of that was my age–I was 20 then, and I’ve done a lot of growing up and have become more confident in myself as people usually do with age. I also got more ‘withitness’ as I’ve been in the classroom. There just is no substitute for experience! I am sure that you’ll look back a few years from now and marvel and how much you’ve grown as a teacher.

Some of what I learned was trial by fire, too. When you’re a student teacher, I think you have to accept that you will not be able to practice classroom management as much as you probably need to. It’s very normal for you to be  more subdued when you’re a lab student or student teacher because you feel like you’re in someone else’s territory.

Of course, that’s why most new teachers go into shock when they get their first classroom and suddenly have to handle so many things by themselves all at once! But don’t worry about that. I think you’ll find that a natural tough instinct will start to kick in once you have your own classroom. Don’t base your confidence in classroom management on your student teaching because it’s really not a direct comparison. Many student teachers spend most of their time trying to please the cooperating teacher and/or college supervisor and don’t have the opportunity to really think about how they would prefer to run the classroom if it were theirs.


Addressing student misbehavior as a student teacher

It can be tricky trying to implement someone else’s behavior management plan, especially when you’re still in the early stages of a student teaching placement. Instead of relying on rules and consequences to manage student behavior, I’d recommend focusing on the energy you project. Wear professional clothing that feels like “you” (even if it takes a while to figure out how that works!), carry yourself with confidence, and speak with authority. Make eye contact with the kids and try to give off a vibe that says “I am comfortable here, and I like being here” even if you’re still nervous.

When the kids do something they shouldn’t, say their name softly, look them dead in the eye, and shake your head. If that doesn’t work, follow up by saying, “I don’t like that. You need to ___” or “I need you to ___” or “Please ___ so we can continue with this activity.” They’ll get the message that you’re paying attention and holding them to certain expectations without making a big deal of it.

Establishing authority in the classroom as a student teacher

I also think it’s an excellent idea to talk directly to the classroom teacher about management issues. You could say, “I’m looking for some ways that I can convey to the kids that I am an adult in charge just like their regular teachers. Do you have some suggestions for me? Would it be okay if I __? How would you prefer that I handle it when ___ happens?” Opening up an honest dialogue will probably make you both feel more comfortable about sharing a classroom, and if nothing else, you’ll have a better idea of what the teacher expects from you.

You might notice that whenever the kids have a question or need something, they tend to go to the classroom teacher first instead of you. I think that’s pretty normal, so don’t feel bad about it! When I got my own classroom and was a mentor to student teachers, the exact same thing happened in reverse–the kids always came to me instead of asking the ST for help. It can be helpful to have a quick discussion with the class about what sorts of things they can come to you with. You could say, “I notice that most of you like to ask your teacher when you have a question. That’s fine! But we want you to know that you can ask me for help with your work, too. You can also ask me if you need to go to the bathroom, or sharpen your pencil. If I’m not sure what to do, I’ll check with your teacher.” Remember that you’re not the only one feeling awkward–it’s just as awkward for the kids to suddenly have two teachers and not be sure about who they should go to with which problems!

Advice on successfully sharing a classroom with your mentor teacher

Though having a student teacher is often very rewarding for the cooperating teacher, it’s also a lot of extra work. It can also be very uncomfortable when the student teacher has a different management style or personality type, especially if the classroom teacher is used to being a “one man/woman show” not having other adults in the room frequently. Some teachers are not even asked if they would like student teachers and are just assigned them, so mentoring might not even be something they’re currently interested in taking on.

That said, most mentor teachers will be happy to have you in their room and you’ll be able to learn a lot from them. I think it’s good to be direct about what you need from your mentor but phrase things kindly. For example, if your mentor teacher isn’t giving you enough feedback on your lessons, ask a specific question such as, “I feel like the kids got confused when I ___. How would you teach that skill? Do you think I could have done something different at that point in the lesson?” If you feel uncertain about how you’re doing in a certain area or are worried about overstepping your bounds, you could say, “Earlier today, ___ happened. I’m not sure I handled it the way you would have liked me to. Do you think I should __? What would you do in that situation?”

Figuring out your teaching style and dealing with differences in teaching styles

It’s really important to be yourself when you’re teaching (or more accurately, your professional self, or your teaching self.) There is no one right way to teach or to reach all students, so if your style is very different from your mentor teacher’s style, that’s okay! You should not pressure yourself to emulate your mentor teacher exactly or to adapt methodologies that don’t feel right to you when there are perfectly fine alternatives that fit more with your own style. Don’t take your differences personally or interpret feedback as criticism just because you have a different way of doing things.

Of course, it does take awhile to figure out who exactly you are as a teacher, and your style will evolve over time. There will be some things you do now that will make you look back and cringe in five years! That happens to ALL of as teachers. It’s perfectly okay–you’re learning and growing as a teacher, and each step of the way is an important one.

Student teaching will allow you to observe different teachers in different teaching scenarios: you can take the bits and pieces that resonate with you and leave the rest. Build upon who you already are as a person and your own teaching philosophy, and add tips and tricks you pick up along the way. My current teaching style is a reflection of dozens (maybe hundreds) of teachers who have influenced me all along the way.

You are just at the start of your teaching journey. This is a really exciting time! I hope that you enter into the experience ready to learn and make lots of mistakes. Don’t let your shortcomings get you down! Each day you re-enter the classroom, you’re better equipped to handle its challenges. Stay focused on your passion for teaching and helping children. You can do this!

A new blog post is up with tips and tricks from other educators on having a great student teaching experience!  

Please share your experiences, questions, and advice in the comments!

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Angela Watson was a classroom teacher for 11 years and has turned her passion for helping other teachers into a career as an educational consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has published 3 books, launched a blog and webinar series, designs curriculum resources, and conducts seminars in schools around the world. Check out the free teacher resource pages for photos, tips & tricks, activities, printables, and more.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Melissa January 18, 2013 at 7:25 pm

My first day student teaching, my lead teacher told me if I could teach those students at that school, I could teach anywhere. Boy was she right! This is my 9th year teaching, and I have never had a class or a situation that horrible. Luckily, another student teacher and I drove to the school together every day, so I wasn’t alone. We would vent and cry and swear we were going to do something else with our teaching degree…..social work, day care, counseling, marry a rich guy so we wouldn’t have to work at all…… lol

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2 Eliza January 19, 2013 at 4:29 am

I just finished my ST in December. I really wish I had seen this article before starting that semester. A few things that I learned by trail and error: Make sure they know you are a “real” teacher, you can write them up and give them detention, ect. from the very first day( and do not be scared to send someone to the office if you feel it is necessary). The students are more scared and worried about who you are and what it means to have 2 teachers, than you are worried about them.And when they are doing individual work walk around and check on the students that are struggling and the ones that have questions, even if your mentor is also walking around. This really helped me connect with the students, and I could tell that how the different classes responded to me had ended up being dependent on how much time I had spent helping them on their individual work.
Good luck!

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3 Angela Watson January 19, 2013 at 11:35 am

Eliza, this is FANTASTIC advice! I especially like the part about walking around to help students. It’s a great way to make a personal connection with kids and let them see you as a “real” teacher.

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4 Carolyn March 6, 2013 at 9:34 pm

I am student teaching right now and classroom management is definitely my weakest area. I feel like I didn’t start off with the authority and expectations that I should have and I am struggling to develop that now half way through the semester. My kids are great when my cooperating teacher is in the room while I am teaching and sometimes when I am there by myself, but other times it is a different story. Do you have any suggestions for developing a more in control role when the students have already learned that they don’t have to treat me the same way they treat my cooperating teacher?

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5 Angela Watson March 7, 2013 at 10:29 am

Hi, Carolyn! I would be very blunt with them. Have a conversation and explain that you’ve noticed some problems in the classroom and talk about what the solutions will be. That’s a chance for the kids to go over the rules and consequences, and if you’re going to be enforcing things differently, for you to explain how (and why). If you need help figuring out exactly what to say, check out this article: http://thecornerstoneforteachers.com/2012/01/changing-routines-and-procedures-mid-year.html. From that moment forward, stick to your new rules. Be kind to the kids when correcting them (“The rule is ___ from now on, remember?”) but be consistent. You can do it! :)

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