Do you want to escape from the rhetoric and laugh about some real-life situations and some real-life advice -- that I’m not pretending you don’t already know?
You’re not alone.
Have you sat in college classes and asked the question: how do I control an unruly student who just refuses to work? Were you frustrated by the answer: “If you plan engaging lessons, students will never misbehave and you don’t need to worry about such problems?”
You’re not alone.
Are you a first year teacher who has one class, one student, one co-worker, or one administrator who just will not do what they’re supposed to do? Have you already asked your colleagues and been frustrated by the answer: oh yea, that’s just how he is, but you can’t do anything to change it because insert useless excuse here prevents us from doing anything to help him?
You’re not alone.
For some reason, the trend lately seems to be ‘research, research, research, expert, book company, private consultant, research, best practice, new acronym for an old strategy.’ Does it seem strange to you that all this research seems to treat human students as if they are dependent variables? Teacher input = student output. What? Does it seem strange to you that all this research is produced by people and corporations that watch teaching happen as opposed to people who actually teach? Is there any other field in which the people considered the foremost experts have little or no actual experience?
If you doubt the validity of the previous paragraph, think back to that idiot in all your college classes who guffawed through all the discussions with ‘text-based statements’ taken straight from an online summary. To put it more interdisciplinarily, I guarantee there are other people who hold your position, share your income level, or have the same level of degree of you that make you question whether there is any meaning to life.
So if the concept of students as dependent variables is in fact a myth, and if students are actually human people with thoughts, motivations, and actions that won’t necessarily be placated by an assignment as the timekeeper in a cooperative-learning group, how do we as teachers, parents, or administrators, control them?
(Let’s be honest, how is ‘timekeeper’ always a job? Unless someone’s curriculum is very focused on watching seconds tick by, that’s the silliest, least authentic job ever, not to mention that today’s students can barely read the analogue clocks with which most classrooms are equipped.)
New Research Proves that Students Succeed 100% of the Time Regardless of Background with this One Perfect Teaching Method that you already Knew but we’ve Renamed and are Selling Back to You!
According to any of the articles, studies, seminars, or textbook series that are published with some iteration of the above, familiar headline, the preceding “promises” will definitely describe your classroom as long as you follow their program to the letter. All it takes is insert their newly renamed, but well established teaching method here. ...and all that for the low, low, price of just the equivalent of three teacher’s salaries per classroom set of materials. Not only that, the program is guaranteed to work by all the researchers who were paid by the company who created the program to do the research that proves that the program works! And that’s not all! The company that paid for the research will even send you a 23 year old professional “staff-development specialist” (who had two student teaching placements, one long-term substitute teaching job, and was even one of the top three candidates for a part-time, short-term grant position in a rural district once) to conduct two, three-hour professional development sessions for which most of your staff will declare a mental-health day!
If you’re reading this and you’ve been teaching awhile, you’re probably laughing because you’ve taught through at least three such programs that promise the Earth and stars and delivered...nothing noticeable. The inevitable excuse: the program was written for 47 minute lessons, and your schedule has 43 minute periods, so teachers couldn’t use the program “with fidelity.” If you’re reading this as a college student before student teaching, you’re probably thinking: but wait, my professors said that as long as I plan smooth lesson transitions, there’s no reason that a classroom can’t run perfectly -- anyone who’s class doesn’t run like that just hasn’t built a good, friendly relationship with their students!
If you’re a first year teacher, or a student teacher reading this who’s noticed that the real-life students don’t necessarily react as perfectly to all your lessons as your professors and mentors might have led you to believe, you’re probably a little frustrated that your classroom isn’t running as smoothly as everyone said it would, and you might be questioning if you can deal with ‘these kids’ for the next thirty plus years. If you’re a retired teacher reading this to reminisce and share with your dinner group, you’re probably laughing at all of us. Congratulations, you’ve earned it. Heck, maybe you’re a parent, or babysitter of an unruly child and you need help controlling the little monster.
Regardless of which of the above describes you, you’re not alone. A zen classroom isn’t entirely impossible, but it requires more than just instructional strategies. It requires a teacher able to rule with an iron fist that is as unyielding as it is flexible. There has to be concrete structure with enough space for students to grow and develop. There has to be no freedom for failure, but limitless freedom for success. Most importantly, your classroom management cannot depend upon administrative support, nor can it be hindered by administrative interference. Administrators come and go; classroom teachers last three decades. Successful classroom managers succeed despite administrative interference, not due to administrative support.
Is any one strategy or program going to create a zen classroom? Nope. Pretending that there’s a magic bullet is silly. Will the storied classroom described ALWAYS run that smoothly? Not on your life. All it takes is one adolescent crush to shatter a carefully sculpted community of learners. If it’s virtually impossible to achieve fleeting classroom management perfection, then what is the purpose for reading this blog?
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So much of the writing published about education is published by people who don't teach. I figured it was time for a teacher to write about teaching. I've been proud to teach 8th-grade ELA in Dunkirk City Schools since 2007, and to serve at Fredonia State University as an adjunct professor, teaching educational technology since 2017.