Classroom Management: Managing with Class

A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.
-Coco Chanel

I hope I have the 'fabuliss' part down but I try to be classy. Essentially that means raising my standards. This applies to me personally and professionally. Classy goes a long way, even in the education world. Part of being classy is being prepared- you don't just act out however you feel. Being prepared is something any teacher can relate to.

Classroom management is a hot topic for every teacher. It's something to be prepared for and something you can never prepare for. You can never control the actions and responses of other people. But you can control your own. The best plan is to at least have a plan. In the next few days, I'm going to devote some blogspace to my teacher friends so they can come and share their wealth of knowledge on this topic. This is not a manual on how to perfect it, more like a cookbook that has something for everyone. Think of it as a menu: sample what you want and leave the rest for somebody else. (I can relate anything to food!)

First up is from Kate Nowak (@k8nowak), math teacher at a large, American Northeast, suburban high school. She is in her fourth year of teaching and writes a great blog at http://function-of-time.blogspot.com/. Here are four of her most used principles.

1. A bored kid is a disruptive kid. Every kid should be aware of what he should be doing - a task that is non-trivial but within his capabilities - pretty much the whole time he is in your room. During a typical 43 minute lesson for me, kids are working on a warm-up question, then looking over their homework, then having a discussion and maybe taking a few notes, then completing an activity, then completing a short wrap up question. When someone gets distracted, and ignores the Ugly Eyeball I throw him, I invoke the classroom management magic bullet: I rest my hand on his back, lean in close to his ear, and say quietly, “You know what you should be doing right now.” Sounds a little creepy, I know, but it works.

2. I am not a great lecturer. If you are a great lecturer, this post isn’t for you. I don’t know how you do it. But me, no kid wants to listen to me yommer for more than 5-10 minutes. (Isn’t “yommer” a great word? My mom says it all the time.) I try to plan so that I don’t have to do all the talking for more than about 10 minutes, maximum.

3. Whoever is doing the work is the one learning. Not only does no kid want to listen to me yommer for the whole period, but they learn very little that way. I don’t need to do 10 different dramatic performances of the Law of Cosines. I already know how to use the law of cosines. So what are they doing instead? A variety of things. I write about many of them on my blog. They are brainstorming ways to solve an unfamiliar problem. They are practicing with repetition in a small group or partner structure. They are working multistep problems in a roundtable. They are playing a vocabulary game. (Wow, I just got, like, 4 ideas for new posts I can write.) What do I do this whole time?

4. Take every opportunity to inspect their written work. You need to sit down and put eyeballs on the work they are producing, as they are doing it. Come to terms with the reality that some of them smell better than others. Find yourself a rolling chair, make everyone get his backpack out of the aisle, and LOOK. (The rolling chair is less intimidating than standing over them, in my opinion. Also if you are at their eye level and unpredictably scooting about, they will put the cell phones away. Sometimes Authority Figures will glance in your room and think there is no teacher there, and walk in the door. That’s okay. Shoo them away.) [Backpacks and cell phones aren't allowed in the classroom at my school. Ha Ha]

Whether it's throwing the Ugly Eyeball, less yommering, or a creepy whisper, everyone has their own style. It's not important that you exactly imitate Kate [that rhymed] but that you think and plan ahead. Do what works for you and what you feel comfortable doing. Students can sense the fakeness a mile away and they don't fall for it. Ever.

To learn more about Kate's teaching methods, check out the following posts:

What She Does All Day
Things It Took Her Way Too Long To Learn
How to Become a Teaching Expert
Why Her Students Know More Than Bill Gates

Thanks to Kate for contributing and stay tuned for tomorrow's edition!


  1. Backpacks aren't allowed? How are students supposed to carry the 30 pounds of books and notebooks that most schools require?

  2. Backpacks are allowed at school but not in the classroom. It's a small school so students don't have far to walk and go to their lockers between each period.

  3. My son is at a small school also, but definitely needs his backpack to keep his books, papers, pencils, calculator, ... together to get from his locker to his class. What is the reason for prohibiting backpacks in the classroom?

  4. Safety reasons. They aren't allowed to have heavy coats, backpacks, purses, or bottled drinks. I think it's a good idea- less clutter in the aisles, less things to worry about being lost or stolen, less chance of them hiding cell phones or cheating. I went to the school myself and we've never had backpacks in the classroom. No need when you're locker is right outside the door.