"What do your students do if they arrive late in an American classroom?" my co-teacher asks as another gaggle of fourteen year old boys bursts into the room, disrupting the introduction of my lesson that hasn't even gotten off the ground yet.
"Well--I taught adults."
Adults, I might add, who had paid to travel to America, paid to learn English. Even when I taught American middle school, I had a teacher who took over the classroom management portion just so I could focus on the details of my lesson plans instead. My current co-teacher looks again as the door opens for yet another gaggle of fourteen year old boys. He glances between my late students and the trouble-makers who've taken this opportunity to chit-chat chatter all over the place and punch their neighbors.
"Yeah," he says. "You might want to brush up on your rules, then."
One of the first things you hear about classroom management is that teachers should start off strict and loosen up, becoming more friendly as time goes on.
Problem is we don't get a lot of information about what that "strict" looks like. We're told that yelling is out--don't lose your cool. That you want to rely on positive reinforcement--but don't just sit there dangling candy in front of kids for every activity like some psych experiment on steroids. Build intrinsic motivation, they say, by creating interesting lessons.
And while that's all well and nice and the ultimate goal--it's not a feasible reality. There will always be disinterested students, and there will always be disruptive ones, too.
So what does classroom management look like? How does it work? What kind of effort is required of YOU as the teacher, and what kind of responsibilities can you teach students? These questions become even more complicated once you throw in the fact that you're an EPIK teacher, a short-term 외국 who students see maybe once a week and who they only half understand (if you're lucky). I mentioned in my orientation post that EPIK glosses over classroom management for primary school teachers only to leave us secondary folk out in the barrens to fend for ourselves. After yet another teeth-pulling day teaching my second grade boys (aka. 13 year old terrors), here are a few emergency classroom management procedures I'll be implementing after we get back from Chuseok.
Hopefully you can speak to your co-teachers about adapting and implementing some of these ideas into your own classroom. I mention this because, ultimately, what you can do in your classroom depends on whether or not your co-teacher approves. They might have a system in place already. They might prefer different punishments and rewards. They might be ghosting around somewhere in the teachers' office and don't give a damn what you decide to do.
The co-teachers at my girls' middle school all have their own systems already in place. They help with behavior, transitions, and the whole big shebang of classroom micromanagement. My boys' school? I'm kind of totally on my own.
Lena? Meet the lions' den.
I've only recently begun implementing these into my boys' classes, so I can't speak to their efficacy in absolute terms. These are, however, management techniques my middle school mentor teacher taught me when I was in grad school.
My negative reinforcement--aka punishment--is relatively simple. Kids don't do the work and their teams lose points. Kids are disruptive and their teams lose points. Usually, the competitive nature in my all boys' school leads to the teams holding their members accountable even if there isn't an immediate reward.
But for the moments and days that are really just absolutely rough I have a Yellow Card system. They get a yellow post-it at any point in class and it means they're behaving poorly. They have to write their name on the paper so it can go in a jar. At the end of class I choose anywhere from 2-3 names, and those students will have homework. All yellow cards, though? They get the missing out on recess. The five to ten minutes sitting in the classroom. The lecture.
Good Cop/Bad Cop Combo
The reality is that it's true--the better your lesson, the less time you'll need to focus on classroom management. But even so, without classroom management in place the best lessons can blow up. I know I just went through the whole gross explanations of rules, rewards, and punishments...but there is a four-step, simple reality:
Admittedly, I'm struggling with that last reality as I'm bad with names to begin with. Having so many Minseos and Junseos gets my head spinning when I, unfortunately, only see each of my 22 classes once a week. I recognize faces, I remember details about their lives that I've begun collecting like secret hoards of knowledge--that my loud "trouble-maker" is also captain of the soccer team, that one of the reluctant readers is also an amazing artist. I know if I learn names, then this gets easier. I've seen it in my other classrooms, from the EFL adults to the Maryland sixth graders.
So now that I've helped with the classroom management...anyone got tips on learning 500 two-syllable Korean names?
Pedagogy and Reflection
We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience