Professional Enrichment

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Every student or parent remembers seeing those teachers whose classrooms looked more like a war zone than a place of learning. You could often find these educators camouflaged at their desks behind enormous piles of papers and tests. In those classrooms, empty boxes, spare textbooks, and piles of ungraded homework often littered the landscape. As far as the teacher was concerned, it wasn't a big deal but rather just business as usual. Unfortunately, when viewed through the eyes of a parent or student this environment gives the impression of unprofessionalism and chaos.

Educational research shows that there is a clear correlation between better learning and organized classrooms. The old days of having boxes stacked in the corner and drab colors on walls doesn't help to promote the type of critical thinking that teachers and administrators are desperate to build in the Common Core era. Not only can a better organized classroom develop better students, but it can also decrease the level of stress and frustration for teachers entering the profession.

It doesn't matter if you're a student in pre-school or law school – clutter clouds the mind. One of the first actions a teacher can make to impact the learning of a student is to create an environment that helps students reach their full academic potential. This is done through a careful balance of establishing an environment that is comfortable, engaging, and safe. The prospect of organizing a classroom can be especially daunting for new teachers who often start with fewer resources and ideas for a clutter free, imaginative environment.


The Basics

  • Place your own desk in an area that allows for an unobstructed view of the entire classroom.
  • Make certain that your room has enough student desks to accommodate the largest class you teach each day.
  • Always take steps to ensure that sensitive student information remains in a secure location that is not accessible or visible to others.
  • Consider lighting challenges when arranging and orienting student desks. If sunlight brightly shines onto the entire back row of student desks then students may have problems seeing.
  • Make a rule that prevents students from keeping unnecessary items on their desks throughout the class period. This way you can keep an observant eye on your students.
  • Plan for temperature challenges. Many teachers do not have control over the thermostats in their classrooms. Tell students to dress in layers if the temperature tends to fluctuate.
  • Make certain that classroom rules and expectations are clearly posted so that students and visitors can easily see them. This gives visitors and students both comfort in the fact that your room is orderly and safe.
  • If you are a new teacher and do not have the resources necessary to create the environment you want, ask administrators for help.

Creating an Inviting Environment

  • If possible, paint your classroom so that drab, muted colors are eliminated and replaced by brighter colors that are more stimulating to the students' brains. Find a balance between making the room more inviting, but not distracting.
  • Create a bulletin board that reflects the units you are teaching in a creative manner. Also develop a separate bulletin board to highlight student achievement and allow for celebrations such as student birthdays, awards, and other recognitions.
  • Make use of bins, storage boxes, filing cabinets or whatever is necessary to keep track and store important student work such as homework assignments or tests.
  • When possible incorporate music into lessons. Music has been proven to arouse the brain and help foster critical thinking.
  • Arrange student desks to make sure that collaborative learning can take place in a quick, efficient manner.
  • Display posters with inspirational, positive messages as a way to encourage student success and to help develop self-esteem.
  • Use technology whenever possible. The use of technology helps better engage students in the learning process. Technology that requires students to participate works the best.
  • Make sure that the classroom's air quality is not stale. Open windows to allow fresh air in the classroom when weather permits it. Consider using some type of aroma enhancer to give the room a pleasant odor.

Each teacher has different strategies when it comes to creating an inviting environment that helps to promote efficiency and learning in the classroom. Depending on what subject and grade level you teach your needs will likely differ. Research other information about organization by looking at websites such as teachingchannel.org and edutopia.org. Properly planning for an organized classroom can help make your transition into the teaching profession as smooth as possible.

There is nothing that strikes more fear into the heart of a new teacher than the prospect of managing a classroom full of unique and sometimes volatile personalities. Educational journals, textbooks, and bureaucrats love to talk about things like standards, methodology and assessments, but new teachers' main concerns are classroom management. Questions from new teachers include, "Will the students like me? Will I be respected? What do I do if someone acts out during my class?"

Although one solution will not solve all classroom management issues, a few tips may help new teachers in their future endeavors as secondary teachers.


Keep it Quiet

Discipline, if possible, needs to be kept as private as a student's grades. If "Johnny" punches "Jimmy" in the mouth during the middle of a lecture, privacy isn't an option anymore. Severe discipline problems that disrupt the entire class and put the class's safety at risk must be handled quickly and publicly. However, slight disciplinary infractions need to be handled in private – preferably after class. As long as the problem isn't disruptive to others in the room or severe it's almost always a good idea to wait until the end of class to address the problem. If "Johnny" passes notes to "Suzy" for 5 minutes in the middle of a lecture it is really not worth making a spectacle of Johnny in front of the class. Not only will the teacher embarrass "Johnny" but they will also rob the class of valuable instructional time. Whenever possible, talk to students in a one-on-one or small group setting after class if there is a problem.


You're the Adult, so Act Like It

If you didn't heed the advice above then you have likely made things much worse than needed. You called Johnny out in front of the class for a minor infraction, didn't you? Now you've likely discovered that Johnny isn't a scared seven year-old in elementary school, but he is instead a hormonal teenager with a "reputation" to defend. Johnny will now act out in order to protect the fragile ego and reputation he has spent years building. Now a small problem is much bigger because you and Johnny are now in a delightful verbal showdown.

After this neither the teacher nor the class remembers where they were in the lesson. The class is enjoying the public showdown.

The lesson here is simple: don't get drawn into lengthy verbal confrontations with students. A screaming match between a teacher and student, especially in front of the other students, is disastrous for both parties. Johnny and you both will end up sitting in the principal's office. The principal will punish Johnny and ask you why you can't control your classroom. To avoid these situations, any severe behavioral problem needs to be addressed immediately, but in a calm, professional manner. Keep in mind that you - not Johnny – are the adult in the room.


Use Common Sense Over Common Core

Every day in schools across America teachers wish they had a reset button for classroom management. Perhaps something was handled incorrectly or they regret a disciplinary decision they made regarding a student. Whatever a teacher's reasons may be, often times these poor classroom management decisions are the result of not using powers of observation and common sense when doling out punishment or in dealing with students.

Most veteran secondary teachers can anticipate what type of day they are going to have in each class period within five minutes of starting a lesson. Students are hopefully engaged, curious and upbeat in their interactions with the teacher. Unfortunately that is not the way things always work out in a classroom. A good teacher will learn through body language or other cues if something is not right with a student as the school year progresses. Teachers should utilize cues to control classroom management. A teacher must learn to pick their battles in classroom management issues. If a student is not participating, laying his head down, or acting as if he is distracted, it may be better to leave him alone until you can talk to him in a one-on-one setting to discuss the issue. Perhaps the student had a fight with his parents that morning. Maybe the student doesn't feel well. Her boyfriend could have broken up with her the night before. If this type of behavior is abnormal for a student then the teacher should be selective when enforcing a rule regarding classroom participation. Far too many times teachers decide they are going to enforce every rule, every day, no matter the circumstances. Students are real people with real lives who may not have developed the appropriate coping skills to deal with some of their problems. This doesn't mean that chronic bad behavior should be tolerated, but the teacher should have enough common sense to notice when something isn't right with a student. Even adults need some slack when they are having a bad day.


Keep it Simple Stupid

It's great that teachers spend a lot of time on lesson plans, preparing for class, and grading papers. What is not great is spending a full week developing a comprehensive list of rules for the classroom that makes the federal tax code look like simple. Classroom rules should be based on a simple, limited number of rules that need to be enforced.

Make up very simple rules that are easy for students to remember and don't be afraid to alter them if unanticipated issues arise. Develop routines in the classroom so a long list of rules is not needed. Classroom rules exist to supplement instruction, not the other way around.

Some people argue the necessity of a rule to address every possible issue in a classroom, but remember that students on a secondary level are nearly adults. A rule that tells "Johnny" punching "Jimmy" in the mouth is wrong should not have to be posted. Part of a secondary teacher's job is to teach students about adult responsibilities. Rules should be tiered: many rules for elementary students, fewer for middle schoolers and even less for high schoolers. High school teachers should keep in mind that the students they are teaching in a few years will be sitting in a university classroom. College professors don't list "classroom rules" on their syllabus.


Give a Pat on the Back

Teachers are under a lot of pressure to produce high test results. To do that a teacher needs an orderly, efficient classroom. However, orderly and efficient shouldn't mean a classroom is emotionally sterile as well. Students are not numbers on a standardized test; they are human beings with feelings and emotions. Perhaps a teacher naturally has great classroom management skills but cannot get the best academic effort out of her students. This may be because students think the teacher is an unfeeling teaching machine devoid of any human emotion. Students may believe this because the teacher never asks them how they are doing or what is wrong. The teacher may never tell them good job on anything that isn't academically related. The better professional relationship a teacher develops with their students, the fewer classroom management issues she will encounter. If a teacher follows this advice they may hear other teachers ask why "Johnny" doesn't give the teacher problems when he is a nightmare for them. Don't be afraid to show a human side of yourself and grant praise to students. This shows students that the teacher does care about them. If a teacher adopts this philosophy, they will likely notice a much more pleasant classroom environment for the students and themselves.

Veteran teachers have long sought a way to increase parental involvement in their classrooms. These educators have known something for decades that modern research has confirmed: students whose parents are active participants in their educational and social lives tend to be better students and citizens. Unfortunately there is not a one size fits all approach to increasing the level of involvement that parents play in their child's education.

Various research studies (Henderson & Berla, 1994) conducted during the last 30 years conclude there is a positive correlation between higher student achievement and higher parental involvement. Many of the positive effects of greater parental involvement include not only higher academic achievement in students' whose parents play a larger role in their lives, but also consistently fewer behavioral problems and higher levels of motivation.

To understand how parental involvement improves the factors mentioned above, new teachers need to understand what parental involvement means. Most educators simply want parents who are inquisitive and active participants in their child's education. However, numerous research studies show that for parental involvement to truly pay dividends it must go beyond taking an interest in a student's education. Parental involvement means not only asking questions about school, checking homework, and attending parent-teacher meetings, but it also means providing a safe, stable home environment where parents provide intellectual stimulation that helps develop a curious mind. For teachers to see the full educational benefits of such involvement, parents need to be continually involved throughout the school year. Parents who simply show up for the beginning of the year open house and are not heard from again until final exams will likely not help the development of their child.

Below are some helpful tips that should make the classroom a more inviting place for parents to visit.

  • Improve communications – One of the primary reasons that most teachers do not have higher levels of parental involvement in their class is because they haven't asked for it. Many parents want to be more involved, but sometimes do not wish to overstep their bounds by intruding in the teacher's classroom. Teachers need to be clear about their desire for parent involvement. For example, send out a monthly email or newsletter to parents highlighting important events in your classroom and school. Ask for assistance with certain activities if help is needed.
  • Dont't Monopolize Parents' Time – If a student isn't performing well or is having a problem with a particular concept, don't keep parents in a meeting for two hours. Develop a plan of action and include parents in that plan, but don't make parents sit through a meeting longer than 30 minutes.
  • Start Off Small – If you want more parental involvement don't scare parents off by asking for too much too quickly. Asking parents to spend an entire Friday supervising your fall festival may not go over well. Ask parents to pitch in together for big events and make sure they aren't overwhelmed by your requests. Also, teachers need to make sure that they do not solely rely on the parents who are easily accessible for help. This kind of behavior creates jealousy and bitterness between parents. Teachers need to make an effort to contact all parents for help.
  • Notice Parent Involvement – If teachers want to continue to receive parental support they need to offer praise to parents for doing their part in their child's education. If a student improves academically and the parent played an important role in that then thank the parent. If a parent went above and beyond in helping, include a big "thank you" in the monthly newsletter. Let the parents know you recognize and appreciate their efforts.

References
National Committee for Citizens in Education. (1994). A New Generation of Evidence: The Family is Critical to Student Achievement. Washington, DC: Henderson, A. & Berla, N.