Classroom Management Strategies: Getting A Head Start

We all know that teachers talk. More importantly, though, we know that the conventional wisdom recommends that, for your own good, you do everything you can to avoid staff room gossip. But, honestly, who isn’t up for a little vent sesh? Throughout my career I’ve sat around the lunch room table with the 6th grade teachers (I teach 7th.) and listened to stories about the terrors coming my way in the next school year. If there’s a particularly bad kid, I’m going to know it well in advance.

One year in particular the sixth grader teachers really had me shaking in my boots. I saw them cry over this class. I knew the names and faces of the students who caused the bulk of the problems. Just hearing the stories was enough to overwhelm me, and I even went to my administration and said that I might have to quit. There was no way I was going to inherit that class.

In short, I overreacted. We all need a chance to blow off steam with adults. Particularly ones who can sympathize with the unique struggle of teaching middle schoolers. Our coworkers become our cheerleaders, our shoulders to cry on, and sometimes our misery’s company.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time here addressing the type of culture that your school has or the way that teachers you spend time with choose to talk about children. I will briefly say, though, that if there’s a generally negative “vibe” coming from the people you’re spending a lot of work time with, I’d recommend that you make a change. It’s going to be very difficult to create the kind of classroom that we’re hoping to build if you’re surrounding yourself with negative energy.

That all being said, sometimes the teachers in the grade below have some really helpful tips. Those key hints are what I’m going to focus on here.

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

What to do When you Know You’re Inheriting Bad News

When your fellow teachers tip you off to a rather challenging child or group coming your way, don’t despair! Think of it as a favor. To continue my story, I didn’t quit. I eventually chose a wiser path. I started to get to know the students who were causing trouble. I’d sit at their lunch table or toss a ball with them at recess. I began developing my relationship with these students before they entered my class, so that when they did find themself in a desk in my room, I already had something to build on.

It’s been well established that the core of classroom management is based in relationships. I think it’s also fair to say that relationships are a lot easier to build when you’re not directly responsible for the discipline of the other parties involved. Be proactive! When you get a tip about some exciting personalities coming your way, get a head start. Here’s some things to remember as you do so.

  1. Avoid developing biases.
    The first and most important reminder I can give you is to avoid bias. A student who gives another teacher grief could, and may very well be, an angel in your class. Different personalities clash and compliment in unpredictable ways, so avoid jumping to conclusions. When you get to know the child, assume that they’re going to be your best student. Start the relationship in a positive feedback loop by coming forward with positive energy and assumptions.
  2. Build on mutual respect.
    Treat all students with respect. Sometimes our students who have the most behavior problems are the ones who are craving respect the most. They aren’t getting it, and they likely don’t know how to get it. Jump the gun and give them your respect before they earn it, and it’s much more likely that they’ll be willing to work to keep it.
  3. Take advantage of your role.
    I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of fun with my students when I get to just hang out with them and play. I love having the opportunity to spend time with them as a mentor/friend and not a disciplinarian. It might be difficult to get these chances with your current class of students, but it’s very possible to have these moments with the students in other classes or grades. Spend time with the student and developing your relationship before you have to start seriously dishing out consequences.

Benefits to Getting a Head Start

All in all, it’s a good thing that we have other teachers who can lend an ear when we get overwhelmed. We can all make a greater effort to keep our gossip positive and solutions oriented, too. When it comes to classroom management, though, do your best to avoid the pitfalls of developing a negative attitude towards students you’ve barely met. Instead, take the initiative to be the adult in the situation. Become a friend to the kids you’ll eventually teach. Show them the side of you that likes to have fun. It won’t take a huge amount of time or effort to build a solid foundation of mutual friendliness that can really go a long way for you in the future.

Remember, classroom management is a delicate psychological dance between you as the authority and the students, most of whom are seeking identity and autonomy. When you ask someone to do something, and especially when you have no way to make them do it in the first place, a history of friendly interactions can be the deciding factor for a student who has the capacity to become a major thorn in your side. If you’re struggling with behavior in the classroom, go ahead and get a head start for next year by introducing yourself as a kind and trustworthy adult to the grade below in some low stakes situations.

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

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Read more blog posts on classroom management.

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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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