Post: classroom management by genghis
Posted by genghis on 5/26/04
Teaching is a great job if you can do two things:
1- Teach the students to be kind and polite
2- Manage the paperwork.
If you improve by 10% per year, in a very short period of
time you will be one of the best teachers in the school.
Take responsibility for your students.
How do you explain why some classes are orderly and others
If Patton walked into the class, do you think for one
second anyone would be disrespectful?
Norman Schwarzkoff, or Jaime Escalante?
If you blame the students, their parents, their
neighborhood or your principal for rude and disrespectful
behavior only eliminates your chance to effect change.
Many teachers like to play the blame game. They do not
take responsibility for their students' behavior, but are
quick to place blame on someone else. If you acknowledge
your own responsibility as a teacher and a mentor to your
students, you have the opportunity to change in your
All is fair when controlling 30 or 40 recalcitrant
A) Lessons from military history
B) Lessons from evolutionary psychology
C) Lessons from interpersonal relations
D) Lessons from experience
Let's take our lessons from military history.
1. Get as many students on your side as possible.
I was talking to a new teacher in the room next to mine.
He asked, "Why are your classes so calm and orderly and
mine so chaotic?"
As usual, I was thinking about war. "It is like war," I
"War? What do you mean? Aren't you supposed to be nice to
"Rule one in warfare; get as many guys on your side as
possible." What do I mean by this? If you have thirty
kids in your room, and if twenty-eight like you, your
discipline problems are over.
Always be nice to the students. Always be positive. Tell
them how much you like them. Mention their new shirts and
shoes and haircuts and any other successes they have had.
After all, how many people like you, but you don't like
them? Not many. Teenagers are the same, if someone likes
them; they are far more likely to like the other person.
Work every day on finding the good in each, and praising
it. Smiling solves many problems.
Each day is new and precious---act accordingly.
2 - Gather information.
On the first day of school give the students a personal
questionnaire. Ask about siblings, hobbies, likes,
dislikes, favorite teachers, problems with teachers. How
they would like to be addressed, class schedules,
successes they have had in school, perceived failures in
school, how they like to be taught, and problems they have
had in school.
The more you know about them the easier they are to
If you know Johnny is looking for a job, and Robert has
one and the firm where Robert works is looking for another
employee, well, you have just made a friend for life and
at least one of your problems is no longer. If you know
Johnny plays baseball, often a word to the coach can
eliminate rude behavior. If Johnny is causing problems
and you know he is smoking marijuana, an anonymous note
home to mom might get Johnny in so much trouble that he no
longer has the energy to cause you trouble.
The point is, knowing things about your charges can make a
huge difference if you are vigilant and creative in using
that information to your advantage.
Talk to counselors and other teachers that have your
problem children. Often identical students will behave
remarkably differently in different classes. If you find
a teacher who has found a way to get Johnny to be kind and
polite, ask what they have done that you haven't yet.
Often counselors have insights into behavioral problems
and can provide actionable intelligence that you can use
to your advantage.
3 - Technology
Wars are won by those with the best technology
a - cell phones
b - laptops
c - ask colleagues what they use
4 - The indirect attack
When someone is fooling around, walk up to him from behind
and tap him on the shoulder. This will send the message
that you are aware of everything and have the presence to
do something about it.
5 - Beware of Pyrhic victories. If you humiliate a kid,
that kid may shut up for that day, but there are two
problems. First, you now have an enemy and teachers do
not need more enemies; and second, you have sent a message
that the class is not a team that you are not on their
side and the mutiny is only one misstep away.
6-Always weigh the costs and benefits. Wars aren't always
won in a day. Save up and get in a good position for
7 - Speed counts. As Patton said, "It is better to have a
good plan today than a perfect plan on the day after the
8 - You don't have to win every battle every day --
9 - Do what is necessary but not more. All you want is
for the students to be kind and polite. Once they are
kind and polite, it is not necessary to impose more
punishment. It is not necessary to hold grudges. This
will just poison the class and you will have a harder time
getting the students to see that you are on their side.
10 - Focus on the goals.
11 - Be strong to fight another day. Ok you had a bad
day. It happens to the best. Figure out what went wrong,
why, and how you can remedy it. Reflect on the near
certain fact that it is going to be better tomorrow.
B) Evolutionary psychology
1 Students learn from peers, including how to
behave. If you get most to be kind and polite, others
will fall in line.
2 Fitting in. Most teenagers desperately want to
fit in. If most students are kind and polite, they will
have influence on the rest.
3 Stand out. Through out the ages some young males
have gained status by challenging the alpha male (You).
The teacher has to make it clear that no matter what, you
are in a position to make that child's life worse.
4 Students want to help. Have chores for as many
students as possible. Get them to do things for you.
5 Students were not designed to sit and listen to
old geezers talk. You will have less trouble if you talk
less. You need to find a way to get the students involved
and doing something - not just listening. In general,
well-focused, motivated humans can actively listen to a
monologue for no more than twenty minutes, and few
teenagers can be described as focused and motivated. So,
you need to reduce monologues even more.
C) Make friends
1 Find out who the best teachers in the school are,
and do what they do.
2 Almost every good teacher likes to be asked about
tricks of the trade.
You should always ask these people how they handle
specific problems. (no book, tardy, rudeness, bathroom
policy, writing referrals, etc).
3 You should always ask general questions about how
they conduct class, handle papers, give tests/quizzes,
give grades etc.
4 Make friends with those around you. Often they
can provide a great deal of support. Many teachers won't
mind if you send a problem student to their class once in
a while. You can always reciprocate.
5 Make friends with those in your department. Often
if you are teaching the same class the same period, you
can trade problem children. Problem children are only
problem children because of their environment. Change
their environment and you drastically change their
6 Make friends with those that are having problems
and want to change. This support group can give
you an opportunity to vent and talk about more effective
strategies to use in the future. Bounce ideas off others
and get a different perspective. Think of more effective
7 Make friends with those in administrative offices
(counselors, deans, assistant principals, security
personnel, janitors, clerks). Make sure every one knows
you are doing everything in your power to improve. Also
ask for their support and guidance.
D) Body language
A huge percentage of communication is non-verbal. Kids
can smell fear and trepidation.
You must look competent and confident.
1 Presence and proximity matters - you will have
fewer problems if you walk around the room. You will have
more trouble if you sit at your desk. Not very many bank
robberies are committed in front of the police.
Here is how I actually run my classroom on the first day--
my own tricks of the trade, so to speak. Contrary to
intuition, or common sense, I never tell students the
rules. Instead I present a glimpse into my position. I
invite their empathy. "I have a very difficult job," I
say. "I am not complaining. I only mention it so you'll
understand: If you do anything in this room to make my job
more difficult than it already is, God help you. . . In fact,
not even God will be able to help you."
Kids understand this immediately. They know right off
that you are serious about maintaining standards in the
You must find a way to make it very unpleasant for
I tell them that I have three rules:
1- I went to University of Southern California. I love
that school! I especially love the football team. If by
chance they lose, do not say anything to me about their
loss. Not "tough loss", or "they almost won". Especially
do not laugh about it. Because if you do, I will hate you
and you will not enjoy this class
2 - I will be in this room at lunch, nutrition and after
school each day for you to get extra help. The only
exception is Fridays when I play golf. What does this
mean? Golf is very important to your teacher! So do not
come here after school on Friday. Any other time is fine.
3 - If I say anything that you don't understand, raise
This takes about five minutes. Next I tell the students a
story that helps them
memorize 20 words:
There was this fifty-foot ice cream cone, out popped an
eight-foot long skunk ran down the ice cream cone and
sprayed your best friend. Why was he your best friend?
Because he has a big heart, as big as a purple balloon.
The balloon went up, a nail came down (kaboom). The nail
went into your hand, and out popped a flower. On top of
the flower was a fork. The fork went into your belly
button and out popped a worm. (hey, it could happen so
don't try this at home) The worm turned into a brown
horse. What was special about the horse? It had pink
high heels and blue Elton John sunglasses. A finger was
coming out of the sunglasses. It went straight into a
lamp (kish) and turned into hamburger. The hamburger was
eaten by Mickey Mouse riding a skateboard on his way to
I tell this with a great deal of embellishment and weird
sound effects. I break it into four groups of five
words. The first row must repeat the first five words,
the second row must repeat the first ten words, and the
last row does all twenty.
While I am telling the story and calling on students, I am
studying the seating chart.
I talk to myself. first row
Joe, Sally, Maria, etc.
I remember three girls sitting in a row. Their names were
Michelle, Alice and Pamela. They all looked alike, I just
thought of MAP, and got their names right in seconds.
Tricks like this can make the process more efficient.
I do this until I can say each student's name without fail.
The story takes about twenty minutes.
After the story I teach them how to prime factor the first
twelve numbers. Their first assignment is to prime factor
the first one hundred numbers. I walk around the room and
correct the papers while they are doing the problems at
With five minutes left in the class, I pull out a one-
dollar bill and say, "would anybody like to bet that I
don't know his or her name?"
Robert raises his hand, and I say. "Probably not a good
decision Robert. "
Then I go around the room and correctly say everyone's
So what was accomplished the first day?
I learned all their names, the class got to laugh and
smile and have fun. I told them a little bit about how to
improve their memory and how the brain works. They
learned that most of the class is about solving math
problems and the teacher is very helpful. I conditioned
them to expect to take out a sheet of paper, copy the
board and start doing what you can to solve the math
problems. This is what they are going to do every day.
Conditioning is very important, once they get into the
habit of walking into the classroom, copying the board and
start working, most of your problems are over. I learned
which students have learning problems. (If you can't
remember the words from the story, there are going to be
problems), who is going to have trouble with the math and
who will be my problem students. I start designing
strategies to deal with them right away.
a - Bathroom- the first time in the semester this
happens, I tell them did you ever notice that in some
classes 5 people per day have to go to the bathroom and in
others hardly ever?
Well man must ask himself three questions
What do I want?
What is the price?
Am I willing to pay the price?
The price of going to the bathroom is 10 minutes at lunch.
Invariably the student says, that's ok; I don't have to go
I say, next time, it costs 10 minutes to ask. Very few
ever even ask.
When this happens and I have some time to teach another
lesson, I say let me show you a trick. Stand up. Put your
hands on your head. Now hop for 5 minutes. Yes it is
funny. No I have never had a student that did this, but
they get the message, it is not wise to ask to go to the
bathroom in my class.
b - Not having the proper materials - if you come to
class with no book you stand in the back of the room.
- Pencils on sale for a quarter.
- - Paper on sale, 5 for a quarter
- c- Out of seat
I just never have this problem. The first day, inevitable
someone will get out of his seat. I SCREAM. The class
reacts like a puppy doing something bad. I then say, "I
am sorry, but I get very nervous whenever someone leaves
his seat. You see, what happened about ten years ago, a
kid was going to sharpen his pencil, and then he stabbed
me. I would show you my scar, but there are ladies
present. But he made a terrible mistake. Whenever you
knife someone, always turn, this damages the vital organs
and the victim will die. That kid forgot to turn and I
survived. What happened to the kid? He disappeared.
Just flat out disappeared. The police investigated and the
CIA, but not one ever saw him again. So, please, please
never leave your seat." No one ever does. (Sometimes being
a little crazy helps.)
d- Throwing things- My first year I
was writing on the board when an orange whizzed
past my head. I thought, geez, they didn't talk about
this in Teacher College. I had no idea what to do. I
went home and thought. The next day I walked in, told a
sweet pleasant girl to go to the board and write
everything I told her on the board. I walked around in
the back of the class and dictated the lesson. Problem
solved. I don't know how much they learned that year, but
that class sure was quiet the rest of the year.
Recently, I heard a projectile whiz past my ear again.
This was a wonderful class with one bad apple. After the
lesson was complete, I took a few kids from the back of
the class out into the hall and asked who did it. No one
said anything. I then took the bad apple out of the
class and said three people said you throw that thing. He
said, "Well, I was mad."
I called the dean (who is my best friend) and we arranged
a confession and a permit to go to another school. Make
- e - Talking out of turn
This is the most serious problem you will face in your
teaching career. If you can solve this one, it is all down
First- what not to do. Never give warnings, ever under
any circumstances. They have to realize that the first
word out of their mouths will have consequences.
Argue. If you are arguing with a student, STOP! You are
doing something terribly, terribly wrong. Calmly ask
Johnny to come in at lunch (or after school). Johnny
immediately asks, why?
At that point in a loud voice, "BECAUSE I ASKED YOU
Then I say, you have a choice, but 8000 students have said
you can't make me come in at lunch. And 8000 students
have been wrong. But, hey, maybe you are special, I wish
you well. If they do not show up at lunch, I have a
referral slip already filled out for them as they walk
into class the next day. It just says "Student is
confused as to how to behave in class, please send back at
lunch. Welcome back any time."
The Dean says if you don't show up for detention, you will
At lunch - I always ask "why are you here?" The student
invariably says, "I don't know." At which point I go back
to reading the newspaper and say "when you figure it out,
raise your hand."
Five seconds later the hand goes up. The student says, "I
was talking when I should not have been." I say, "Yes you
were. What are you going to do to make sure this doesn't
happen again?" "Well, I am not going to talk any more in
If contrition is sincere, I let him go.
The next time that same student is in at lunch. I have
him take out a piece of
paper and start to write about how he is going to behave
in class. After a few attempts and his pain seems to be
sufficient I let him go.
If there comes a point with a student when this is no
longer effective I bring them in at lunch and say, "this
doesn't seem to be working. It seems we are going to have
to go to phase 2. Phase 2? Yes I will call your mommy,
you will go to the dean's office and you will not be
allowed back in class until you, your mommy, the dean and
I sit down and figure out a way for you to be kind and
polite in class."
I wish I could tell you that phase 2 is effective, but I
have never actually implemented this myself. On a very
few occasions I have threatened to go to phase 2, but once
the student hears about phase 2, I have never had any more
Remember: it's amazing what a student will agree to at
Most problems occur at the beginning and end of the
class. So take particular care to establish effective
routines at the beginning of class and at the end.
1 Beginning of class - when they walk in have
something for them to do. A quiz, copy from the board,
read something so that each student knows exactly what to
do when you take roll and pass back the papers.
2 End of class - you must establish precedent that
books are not put away until the bell rings. They can
work on their homework, they can read, but they are not to
talk. If they don't comply? That is why God invented
Pay attention to when there are problems. In the vast
majority of classes, the more complicated the instruction
the more problems.
So if things are not going well, simplify the instructions.
The more interesting the lesson is the fewer the
problems. This is just a fact and needs to be dealt with.
1- Not having something for the students to do, when they
walk through the door. It could be a quiz, something to
read, a worksheet or something to copy.
2 - Treating each student the same. Students like
everyone else are different and must be treated
differently. After all, if everyone is treated the same,
what is the incentive to be good? If a good kid makes a
mistake the penalty should be much less than if a problem
child commits the same act. Bad kids always ask, "Why do
you always pick on me?" I always say, "I just pick on the
When they say, "other people were talking." I reply, "I
am not concerned with any one else. I only care about
you. You do not have detention because someone else was
talking, you have detention because you were talking."
3 - keeping grudges. Once you have meted out the
appropriate punishment, it is a new day - act accordingly.
You win wars when you have more friends, not more enemies.
Smiling solves many problems.
4 - arguing. Many things happen when you argue - none of
them are helpful.
Reasoning with recalcitrant teenagers is fine during
detention; it leads to disaster when done during class.
5 - not having enough work for the students to do. Humans
are social animals. We like to talk. If they have nothing
to do, they will think of something to occupy that time.
Most of the things they think of doing are not conducive
to good teaching so make sure the students always have
enough to do. Have extra work for those that finish
quickly. It is always ok to have the fast ones read at
the end of the period.
6 - not asking others for help. You always tell them to
ask for help when they are stuck, because you want to
help. Each school has many people that would like nothing
better than for you to be a better teacher. Find these
people and ask.
7 - talking too much. How much do you remember your
teachers telling you?
Virtually nothing you say will be remembered by lunch by
most students and certainly nothing you say will be
remembered after the next exam. People learn by doing
things, so have them do things.
Remember- if they stop listening, stop talking.
8 - Not going after the ringleaders. Every group has
ringleaders and followers. If you go after the followers,
you will still have problems. You must go after the
ringleaders. It is an exercise in dominance. If you don't
handle it you are not the alpha male and class is one step
from chaos. Once the ringleaders have been subdued, the
followers will not cause any trouble either.
9 - Trying to reinvent the wheel. Study people that have
achieved the success that you hope to have and duplicate