What it’s like to be an elementary school teacher – Part 3

A National Board Certified Teacher explains what an educator’s life is really like. The series is a value-added collection of Best ClassAntics Posts EVER! Each post explains something about a teacher’s life and links to ClassAntics posts with relevant teaching tips.

Part Three: Keeping students disciplined and engaged is exhausting

Elementary school teachers spend years learning pedagogy—how to teach. Then we get our own classroom and find out that most of our energy goes into keeping kids disciplined and engaged.

Before I tried my hand at teaching, I thought kids more or less behaved at school. WRONG! If the teacher doesn’t manage every single thing, the kids quickly revert to their natural state. Which is WILD! I cannot imagine what a group of 30 youngsters would be like without a teacher managing them.  Frankly, Lord of the Flies comes to mind.

We try to learn what we can from books. The New Teacher’s Complete Sourcebook helps us plan for the school year. It even gives a step-by-step plan for surviving the first day of school. A manual like the Elementary Teacher’s Discipline Problem Solver can help with problems ranging from gum-chewing to gossip. But that advice only takes us so far.

Once in the classroom, we develop our own systems. We manage kids by sorting them into table groups and launching competitions—whoever cleans their table first wins five points, etc. But when we find ourselves accidentally wronging a child, it’s time to break out Guilt Points.

To keep the kids on their toes during a lesson, we create games like Ask Random Third Grader. Students never know if they will be called on, but they have a chance to earn points for the whole class if they answer correctly. If that doesn’t work, we resort to the desperation Fun with Whatever technique to give a boring lesson a good name: Fun with Long Division really is slightly better than plain old Long Division.

We can motivate the class to behave or achieve by using the always-successful Instant Motivation: Boys versus Girls. But to launch a learning activity, we are probably going to have to give directions. Without a system for Giving directions to the whole class, only about 20% of the students will know what’s going on.

Constant argument is part and parcel of any elementary school class. Without an iron will and a strong plan to Make your classroom a tattle-free zone, every lesson will be interrupted by a tattler.

The best-laid plans go awry when something funny, embarrassing, or awkward happens. (The classroom sink spontaneously explodes into a jet of water, a two-year-old who got away from her mother wanders into our room.) It’s best to let the class enjoy the hilarity*, then implement the We are over it! procedure for getting back on track.

Teachers can discipline, motivate, and manage all they want. But, like firefighters and ER staff, we know that if things have gone really bad, It Must be a Full Moon. (The word “lunatic” is no accident—many people really do believe that the lunar cycle affects human behavior.)

*Don’t worry, we sent someone to help the two-year-old find her mother!


 

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