The Ultimate Guide to Classroom Management in Middle School

If you’re like me, perhaps you never received any formal training in classroom management strategies. I’ve met a lot of teachers living the way I did for the first several years of my career: grinding their teeth, counting down minutes, making idle threats, and generally living for the moment that the bell rings. If any of these sound familiar to you, read on.

Why Classroom Management Matters to Me

For the first 4-5 years of my career, I struggled a LOT. I walked into my first classroom in 2012 as a 5’2”, twenty one year old southern belle. I had no idea how to command a room. “Be nice to them and they’ll be nice to you” was my entire classroom management philosophy. I’m older now, but I’m still 5’2”. I’ve experienced everything there is when it comes to classroom management, including, but not limited to:

  • Fights in my classroom
  • Inclusion fiascos of every imaginable kind
  • Blame from administrators for sending “too many” kids to the office
  • Class sizes of over 30 (bonus point if your schools splits classes when someone is absent!)
  • All boys and all girls classrooms
  • Laptops/cell phones
Me as a first year teacher. Not very scary looking am I?

For me, not succeeding in classroom management was not an option. I had to find my strategies and my style or I wasn’t going to make it. By my fourth year of teaching, I felt sick every morning when I woke up, just thinking of the day ahead. I took antidepressants. I broke down in my principal’s office. There had to be another way.

Fortunately, there is. I’m beginning this series of posts for anyone out there who is like I was. Desperate and having no idea where to begin. You can and you WILL succeed in classroom management with some new strategies and practice! Without further ado, let’s jump into the step by step guide we all needed when we started out!

Download the Ultimate Guide to Classroom Management in Middle School in PDF format here.

17 Classroom Management Strategies You Can Implement Tomorrow:

1. Entering the Classroom

Classroom management for me begins before class even begins! I teach expectations for lining up outside the classroom, and monitor student behavior in the hallway as students prepare for entry. Using positive narration helps by providing cues to appropriate behavior. Students who are upholding expectations are allowed to enter the room first. When the hallway group dwindles to the last few troublemakers, I take the opportunity to have a private chat about my hopes for the day’s classroom behaviors.

2. Positive Narration

When I finally began to take the spotlight off the troublemakers and shine it on my best students, my classroom environment changed overnight. Positive narration allows me to not only praise my best students, but it also provides an opportunity to cue the rest of the class without drawing attention to students who are off task. Now, students have to behave to get my attention, rather than misbehave.

3. Rewards

One of the most common classroom management strategies is the reward. You don’t have to fill your classroom with candy to reward students. A phone call home, sticker, or tally mark on the board will suffice. However you choose to structure it, though, giving students something to work for will definitely provide a motivation for their behavior!

4. Parent Contact

In particular, positive parent contact. At the end of every week, I pick a couple “borderline” kids (the ones that are sometimes good, but usually bad) who had a decent week and email their parents about what a great job they’e done in class lately. Nine times out of ten, that child comes back after the weekend absolutely beaming. A lot of times our kids seem like they don’t care if the attention they get is negative, but that may simply be because they’ve never had positive attention before. Once they get a taste, they’ll be hooked.

5. Get A Head Start

I always chat with the teachers in the grade below me. I ask them to point out the behavior problems that I’ll be inheriting. Instead of scowling at these children or counting down the days until they become mine, I jump start my relationship with them. It’s easy to bond with a kid when you’re not the one they’re getting in trouble with. Take advantage of your chance to be a “friendly adult” before you become a teacher to boost your relationship with That Kid.

6. Choice

Adolescents naturally look for chances to take more control in their lives as they begin the transition to adulthood. Empower your students by giving them options. The trick, though, is that both choices are things you are fine with. For example, “Would you like to continue working with your group, or can you concentrate better if you move somewhere more quiet?” is a great alternative to “Sarah! If you can’t be quiet you won’t be allowed to work with your group anymore!”

7. Clear Expectations

I should really move this one to the top. Setting and communicating clear expectations is the most important thing for getting your students to perform in the way you want them to. If they’re not giving you what you want, ask yourself first: Did I clearly communicate what I expected? A lot of time, you’ll find the answer is no. I review expectations every day for every task I’m planning to do using this presentation. Sometimes more than once a day! This cuts down on 80% of my classroom management issues.

8. One Liners

Arguing with students is by far one of the worst classroom management strategies you could possibly employ. Instead, frustrate them by refusing to engage. Try to keep a few argument ending one liners in your back pocket for conflict diffusion.

“I know you want to sit with your friends, but being in assigned seats is part of my classroom expectations.”

“I am happy to hear your side of things when your voice sounds like mine.”

9. Be Healthy

If you’re drowning in a toxic classroom environment, it’s likely that all you want to do when the day finishes is to block out any thought of your students from your mind. If your role in the classroom is leading you to drink or avoid thoughts of problems in other ways, you are merely setting yourself up for further issues. Managing 30 kids isn’t easy for a healthy person, and you will not succeed if you aren’t taking care of your body and mind.

10. Positive Framing

This strategy made a huge change for me. I use it in several areas of my life. When classroom management is getting you way down, try to reframe your thoughts. At 3am when you’re up with anxiety about what That Kid is going to do tomorrow, instead of constantly replaying dreadful scenarios in your mind, try a slightly more positive mantra. Instead of “I don’t know how I’m going to get through tomorrow,” try “Tomorrow I’m going to implement one new strategy and just see how it goes.” Instead of “I suck at classroom management,” try “I enjoy finding new solutions to classroom management situations.”

11. Build Relationships

Take time to chill with your students. Talk to them. Ask them about their day. Sometimes, it’s important to take a small break from curriculum to make time for relationships.

Read more on how I use coloring time to relax with my students.

12. Cherish the Child

By nature, children are

  • Valuable 
  • Vulnerable 
  • Imperfect
  • Dependent (needing and wanting)
  • Immature 

Our role is to guide our students towards becoming a functional adult. Punishing or blaming a child for acting their developmental age results in later dysfunction. 

13. Setting Boundaries

Set boundaries with our students. Be clear with them how close you’re willing to stand to them, how much of your nights and weekends you’re willing to give up, and (especially) how you’re willing to to be spoken to.

When a student crosses a boundary, DO

  • (first time)Calmly describe the expectation that was broken
  • Consider apologizing if that expectation wasn’t clearly described
  • (second time) take them down. Quietly, firmly inform them of their consequence
  • Follow through


  • Entertain the class by teaching them a new way to get a reaction out of you. Show no emotion! 
  • Expect students to know expectations you haven’t taught
  • Launch a passive aggressive campaign insisting that the child figure out what they did to upset you and fix it 

14. Provide Consequences

In general, the only real consequences are the ones that take away something that a child wants very badly. If you’ve been teaching in schools as long as I have, you know we don’t really have the legal right to take away any of those things… Or do we? There’s one consequence you can always administer that hurts the most: taking away your approval. But first, you must be the kind of person whose approval the child desperately wants to earn. You can do it!

16. Feedback Loops

A feedback loop develops when the outcome of an event begins to inform the beginnings of the same event next time. Pay very close attention to what kind of feedback loop you are in with your class and with individual students.

A negative feedback loop looks like:

I hate this class; they always misbehave > Yep they did it again, just like I knew they would. > Dreading the class for tomorrow already.

A positive feedback loop looks like:

I love Ms. Hill; I want to make her proud of me > I did well today. Ms. Hill gave me a sticker! > I’m can’t wait for science class tomorrow!

Students will never be the ones to shift your loop from negative to positive. This is your responsibility, as the adult. The sooner you start, the better the rest of the year will go!

15. How to Win Over the Bad Kid

Sometimes, I feel stuck in a negative feedback loop with a kid. There’s just nothing they do that gives me any reason to smile! How can I turn these situations around?

3 suggestions:

  1. Ask that child for a favor. For some psychological reason, we like people who need our help. Make it seem like an important favor that only that child can accomplish. When they do it, you have your first foothold towards a positive loop.
  2. Turn a slightly blind eye to their misbehaviors, just for a little bit. See if you can catch them doing something (anything) good. Lavish them with praise. Begin the positive loop.
  3. Give an inch. In private, strike a deal with this child. I once changed a formative mark for a child from a minus to a plus. He knew I did it, and it saved him the shame of having ALL minuses for the quarter. Crucially, I later used this favor as a bargaining chip. You can too.

17. Praise Publicly, Criticize Privately

A very important closing note is the reminder to praise publicly, criticize privately. When we embarrass a child, we not only crumble their fragile self esteem, but we also can create an enemy. Be mindful of how you correct behaviors. Try to get on eye level with the child, and speak to them away from any friends they may want to impress. These techniques will be the stepping stones to a more positive relationship with That Kid, rather than a constant battle for control.

This is an ongoing series of blog posts covering a variety of classroom management strategies. The posts which are complete are linked here. Those that are incomplete are summarized. If you’d like to stay up to date with newly added content, please consider subscribing below.

I am compiling all the blog posts in this series in an E-Book. If you feel that PDF format will be easier to read, or you’d like to donate to my efforts in supporting new and struggling teachers, please:

Download the Ultimate Guide to Classroom Management in Middle School E-Book.

If this blog post was helpful to you, or if you think anyone else could benefit from these classroom management strategies, please consider pinning the following image to help me expand my reach.

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Read more posts about classroom management here.

Laney Lee
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Published by Laney Lee

I'm an American expat in Abu Dhabi seeking new ways to support teachers. I currently teach grade 7 science, run a Teacher Pay Teachers store, and am writing a book on classroom management.

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