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Ideas for Avoiding Classroom Management Mistakes and How to Deal with Parents

Dr. Bob Kizlik

Beginning teachers. New teachers. Either of these terms often conveys a sense of helplessness and vulnerability, but that need not be so. If you are reading this page, it is probably because you are a beginning teacher, or are planning to be one. In every single class I have taught to future teachers, their greatest fear concerns problems they envision that are connected to classroom management and relationships with parents. For many, these imagined problems can be overwhelming and often border on terror - not a good thing. While there is no shortage of advice in books and on the Internet about how to manage a classroom and deal effectively with parents, here are some of the best ideas I have gleaned in my career. They come from a variety of sources including my own personal experience as a teacher and parent. Make of them what you will.

-- Classroom Management Quickies --
Mistakes New Teachers Often Make, So Don't

New teachers often -

Have not figured out what exactly they want and don't want - a root cause of much of what follows.
Overpraise students for doing what is expected.
Don't know the difference between praise and acknowledgement and when each is appropriate.
Fail to do effective long-range and daily planning.
Spend too much time with one student or one group and not monitoring the entire class.
Begin a new activity before gaining the students' attention.
Talk too fast, and are sometimes shrill.
Use a voice level that is always either too loud or too soft.
Stand too long in one place (the feet of clay syndrome).
Sit too long while teaching (the posterior of clay syndrome).
Overemphasize the negative.
Do not require students to raise hands and be acknowledged before responding.
Are way too serious and not much fun.
Are way too much fun and not serious.
Fall into a rut by using the same teaching strategy or combination of strategies day after day.
Ineffectively use silence (wait time) after asking a content question.
Are ineffective when they use facial expressions and body language.
Tend to talk to and interact with only half the class (usually their favorites, and usually on the right)..
Collect and return student papers before assigning students something to do.
Interrupt students while they are on task.
Use "SHHHH" as a means of quieting students (one of the most annoying and ineffective behaviors).
Overuse verbal efforts to stop inappropriate student behavior - talk alone accomplishes little.
Settle for less rather than demand more.
Use threats to control the class (short term, produces results; long term, backfires).
Use global praise inappropriately.
Use color meaninglessly, even to the point of distraction (I know you've seen this happen).
Verbally reprimand students across the classroom (get close and personal if possible).
Interact with only a "chosen few" students rather than spreading interactions around to all students.
Do not intervene quickly enough during inappropriate student behavior.
Do not learn and use student names in an effective way (kids pick up quickly on this and respond in kind).
Read student papers only for correct answers and not for process and student thinking.
Ask global questions that nobody likely will answer.
Fail to do appropriate comprehension checks to see if students understand the content as it is taught.
Use poorly worded, ambiguous questions.
Try to talk over student noise (never, ever, do this, because when you do, you lose and they win).
Are consistently inconsistent.
Will do anything to be liked by students.
Permit students to be inattentive to an educationally useful media presentation (this happens a lot).
Introduce too many topics simultaneously (usually the result of poor planning).
Sound egocentric (if you have to get your jollies from your students, there might be a problem).
Take too much time to give verbal directions for an activity (an inability to focus and explain effectively).
Take too much time for an activity (usually the result of poor planning).
Are nervous, uptight, and anxious (if this is persistent, you need help).
Overuse punishment for classroom misbehavior - going to an extreme when other consequences work better.

The Dreaded Parent Teacher Conference - Staying Alive

I remember going to quite a few parent teacher conferences with my wife, who is also a teacher. We always went to conferences with the idea that some form of communication was required to help further our son's education and development. I don't recall ever getting into a shouting match, or anything of the sort. However, relations with parents is one of the fundamental, yet troubling components of teaching that new teachers must learn to manage. Often times, it is obvious that regardless of the circumstances, the perception of the parent is that the teacher is wrong. This can lead to some serious problems.

What follows is some good, sound advice from Lee Canter.

Suggestions for Parent Conferences

The following list is an excerpt from Parents on Your Side provided through
Lee Canter and Associates, 1991

Make sure you have contacted the parents regularly about problems before you call them for a conference.

Be flexible in setting up the meeting time.

Be sure you have documentation about the child's behavior for referring to specifics during the conference.

Greet the parent warmly.

Don't have the parent sit on a student-sized chair while you sit in a teacher's chair.

Be sensitive to the parent's feelings throughout the conference.

Maintain eye contact.

Call the parent often by name.

Say something complimentary about the student early in the conference.

Be a good listener.

Don't do all of the talking. Allow the parents to voice their concerns.

Ask the parent for his input regarding the student.

Explain problems in observable and clear terms.

Don't dredge up old incidences from the past, which have already been dealt with.

Don't overwhelm the parent with too many problems. Stay focused on key issues.

Do not discuss other students. If the parent tries to shift the blame to others, stay focused on the major reason for which the conference was set up.

Make detailed notes of what was discussed. NOTE: If possible, have another teacher or someone from the staff be present as your witness.

Consider giving parents some concrete ideas for behavior management at home.

Tips for Packing Up Your Classroom Quickly and Efficiently

  • Pack in Zones: Pack everything that goes in your desk in one box, everything that goes on the bookshelf in one box and everything that goes in your technology center in one box.  Seems like a simple concept, but a lot of exhausted teachers just toss everything into boxes and end up with a huge organizational milestone when back-to-school hits.
  • Plan Ahead:  Set aside all of the things you’ll need first when school starts again—scissors, your stapler, your computer password—and put them into a box.  Place that box in an easy-to-find spot so you’ll see it first thing when you come back to school.
  • Really Plan Ahead:  If you’re really on top of it, put copies of all of the worksheets, papers and lesson plans you’ll use during the first week of school into a binder and put them in your aforementioned box.
  • Save Your Kid’s Work:  Don’t toss the art projects and reports that your students leave behind.  Instead, save them in a big box and you’ll have built-in decorations and examples for next year.
  • Toss What you Don’t Use:  Don’t be afraid to toss or donate old projects, old lessons or old books that you don’t use anymore.  A cluttered classroom is a disorganized classroom.
  • Get the Appropriate Storage Containers:  Invest in a poster storage box or a sentence strip box so that you can be assured that your stuff will be safe over the summer.
  • Get Your Students Involved:  See if a couple of your students will stay in afterschool to help you pack (treat them to pizza or a popsicle if they do!) and you’ll not only have some last-minute bonding time with students, but get packed a lot faster.
  • Get things fixed now:  If something is broken or not working, send a work-order to your summer maintenance staff now.  It may seem easier to put it off until later, but come August, you’ll appreciate the fact that everything in your classroom is in working order.