Plan for Effective Instruction
The more carefully you plan for engaging and meaningful activities, the less likely you are to see behavior problems. Find an authentic purpose for what you’re asking students to do in a lesson or have the content of the lesson connect to them and their lives in a meaningful way. Students who are interested and engaged are much less likely to act out or challenge your authority; seek to create “flow” experiences for your students (Csikszentmihalyi). Likewise, if you develop meaningful objectives and properly scaffolded instructional activities, students are more likely to feel successful in your classroom, and students who feel this way are less likely to act out.
Have Clear Expectations
Establish a few clear rules and expectations for behavior in the classroom (less is more in this case—too many rules may seem draconian). List these rules somewhere in the classroom and in your disclosure document, refer to them early and often in the year and make sure students are fully aware of your expectations for behavior.
Students need limits and the way they see those limits is through consequences that are imposed upon them. With your cooperating teacher or mentor, develop a series of consequences for misbehavior. As an example, you might start with a verbal warning or reminder about appropriate behavior, then move to a quick meeting after class, then on to sitting out in the hall or in another teacher’s classroom, then on to a conference with parents if the behavior doesn’t improve. Having an escalating series of consequences that you can impose on students who aren’t correcting their behavior will give you confidence as well as establish clear limits for your students.
Establish Routines and Procedures
Establish a systematic way to deal with turning in work (including late work), taking roll (a seating chart is really the only way to go), passing out new papers and assignments, dealing with students who are absent (where will they go to find out what they missed? where can they find handouts or worksheets they need to pick up?), getting into groups for collaborative work, and so forth. Train students in these procedures and rehearse them as a class so that students know what to do and so you can give them feedback on how well they’re doing. If these procedures become routines, you’ll have far fewer questions and hassles as class is getting started and you can focus more on instruction and management of student behavior. With these routines in place, you’ll find far less “down time” during instruction when students tend to find a reason to go off-task or act out.
Be Assertive and Authoritative
You must develop an assertive body posture and tone of voice (a crusty “glare” is a good idea, too). Practice these things in front of a spouse, fiancée, roommate, little brother—work on being able to deliver “corrective” feedback while making eye contact and asserting your authority through your posture and vocal tone. Don’t smile while delivering corrective feedback and don’t let a pleading tone enter your voice. Authoritative doesn’t mean cruel, and you don’t have to be a screaming banshee to enforce appropriate behavior. But you must act and speak with authority (and a calm, direct, confident approach works best). Watch how you ask students to do things in class: avoid structures like “Would you please …?” or “Who would like to …?” but rather say “John, read the paragraph on page 31 please” or “Susie, I want you to find a metaphor in ….”
You must be consistent in enforcing the consequences of breaking the rules. Young people are highly sensitive to perceived injustice or unfairness, so even if you like the student who misbehaves or he/she rarely misbehaves, you must strive to enforce the rules as consistently as possible.
Be Aware of Behavior
Realize that during the first two or three weeks of your intern/student teaching experience you are “teaching” behavior expectations as much as (or even more than) you are teaching the content of English. Part of your attention while you’re in front of the class always needs to be dedicated to watching out for rule-breaking behavior and then correcting it. This means you’ll need to plan carefully and rehearse your daily plans so that you have attention to spare. You mustn’t be afraid of calling kids out on their behavior (although you can and should find subtle ways of reminding most kids to get in line—stern looks, a hand on the shoulder, etc.). If you’re timid about confronting them, they will continue to push the limits and you will ultimately regret not addressing the problems when they were more minor.
“Own” the Room
Don’t be afraid to move anywhere in the room—between rows of seats, into the corners of the room, along the back wall. Your proximity can prevent a number of behavior problems, and kids are less likely to misbehave if they know you’re watching and will act on their misbehavior. If you’re stuck up in the front of the room and rarely penetrate some invisible barrier between you and the student, they’re likely to feel more uninhibited in their behavior. If you feel tied to the whiteboard or overhead, have a student write on the board for you (choose one who won’t take advantage of the spotlight and “perform” behind your back).
Be Sensitive to Students’ Attention Spans
Good planning can prevent a number of discipline problems. Realize that young peoples’ attention spans are about as long as their age—so a seventh grader has a span of maybe 12-13 minutes, a senior maybe 18-20. If you’re teaching junior high, plan activities that appeal to different modes of learning (discussion, writing, group work, listening, reading, etc.) and switch activities every 15-20 minutes. For high school, you can get away with slightly longer amounts of time between activities, but realize that the more you try and push something, the more likely you are to see control slipping.
Be Prepared for Challenges
Your authority as rule-giver and rule-enforcer will be challenged. Expect it, prepare for it, rehearse the way you’ll deal with it. The more you prepare for this eventuality, the more natural (and authoritative and effective) your response will be when the real thing happens. Also, you need to develop a thick skin so that you don’t take misbehavior and challenges personally; as much as possible, you should appear calm and rational when enforcing your behavior expectations. Losing your cool is not an effective way to discipline.