Most teachers enter the profession completely unprepared for all the complexities of running a classroom. I think at some point, we’ve all been faced with an unforseen challenge and wondered incredulously, Geez, I never knew I was supposed to plan for or anticipate this issue: how am I expected to have a solution for a problem I didn’t know existed? Personally, I’m astounded by the sheer number of basic classroom management lessons I had to learn the hard way:
-Communicating effectively with parents requires a concerted effort and a much greater time investment than I’d assumed. Once I carefully scheduled eight parent conferences back-to-back and stayed at school until 6 pm (by myself–which was perhaps the dumbest part of the whole scenario) and was furious when every single parent was a no-show. Why the poor turn out? Because I’d scheduled the conferences two weeks prior and didn’t know I needed to provide forty-seven notes, emails, and phone messages as a follow-up reminder. Now that I’ve learned to send notices via every form of communication except sky writing and smoke signals, my no-show rate has become much more reasonable.
-Letting third graders keep scissors in their desks is generally a bad idea. It took the following catastrophes for me to reach that conclusion: one child’s impromptu trimming of her own bangs without the benefit of a mirror; a boy’s decision to snip two braids off a girl’s elaborate and expensive style that took five hours to create; and a third child’s unexplainable propensity toward slicing the file folder centers I spent three weeks making. That was all in one semester. After that, I decided to keep the scissors in one communal area and distribute them only when needed (which was as infrequently as possible with that group, believe me). Even now, I still have to be extra cautious during scissor activities, and have a responsible kid do a scissor count after they’ve been collected. Failure to do so may result in some little sneakster using his scissors to either trim textbook page edges, sharpen pencils using the blade edge (!!), or carve the word ‘fart’ into his desktop.
-Photocopies MUST be made as far in advance as possible. There is nothing more disappointing than getting a brainstorm and working all evening on a fabulous activity for the next day’s lesson, only to be stuck assigning something boring from the textbook because there’s either no paper or all the copiers are down, AGAIN. I once had an amazing math activity with Halloween candy that I couldn’t get copied for FIVE WEEKS. I busted out the worksheet on Valentine’s Day and told the kids to replace the words black and orange with red and pink and change all the pumpkins into hearts. Needless to say, the kids weren’t buying it. Although, since their behavior was top notch the whole day in anticipation of eating the candy afterward, all was not completely lost. And I picked out my Cinco de Mayo activities the following morning.
So tell me: what classroom management lesson did YOU learn the hard way? Your story can be short or long, funny or serious, embarrassing or matter-of-fact…just share the true tale of a mistake or misunderstanding you experienced while trying to manage a classroom.
Leave your story as a comment on this post. I’ll select a winner on Wednesday, August 5th, and send out a free copy of my book The Cornerstone: Classroom Management That Makes Teaching More Effective, Efficient, and Enjoyable. Inside, I explain all the stuff I had to learn from trial and error–managing small groups, organizing materials, getting kids to follow basic procedures, handling test pressure–so that you can learn specific steps for creating the learning environment you’ve always wanted. It’s a practical guide that will show you how to construct a self-running classroom that frees you to TEACH.
The book will ship via Priority Mail so the winner should have it in plenty of time to read before the new school year begins (unless you’re in one of those schools that’s already starting back, in which case, I can only offer you my deepest sympathy).
I’m looking forward to your stories! Thanks for sharing!