Classroom Management in High School: What Works, What Doesn't

What is the universal teaching skill and how do you apply it to your everyday teaching? See these tips on how to tackle classroom management in high school; what works and what doesn't. If we missed something, let us know in the comments at the end of this article - we want to hear from you!

The universal teaching skill

People become teachers for many reasons. They love kids. They love the subject matter. Or maybe, they simply want to make a difference in the world. High school teachers prepare themselves to be good teachers by tackling the skills they’ll need for their own particular field. They learn their subject well. They study the latest teaching theories. They may also explore classroom organization, testing techniques, and even how to use classroom technologies.

But, no matter what high school subject they teach – be it math, history, trigonometry or theater – there is one universal skill that all teachers must master. Without it, they will not be able to teach effectively. What is that skill? Classroom management. Think about it. If your class is out of control, if it’s noisy, unresponsive or unsafe, you won’t be able to teach. And your students won’t be able to learn.

Whether you’re a new teacher just starting out on this challenging and rewarding career path, or whether you’re a seasoned hand in the classroom, if you’re looking for classroom management tips, read on.

Here are a few of the do’s and don’ts of this most essential of teaching skills.

What works...

Not every classroom management technique will work for every teacher every time. But, having a basic tool-kit of workable strategies will give you a safety net to fall into when you find yourself spending too much time managing your class and too little time teaching.

• Clear expectations

It would be nice if by high school all kids understood just what was expected of them in the classroom setting. Things like “respect the other students,” “work quietly,” and “turn in your assignments on time.” And, in all honestly, they probably do. However, teenagers are renown for testing boundaries and, when left to their own devices, making bad decisions. That’s where clear expectations come into play. Your students need to be told exactly what you expect from them in your classroom and what the consequences will be for not meeting those expectations. At the start of the semester, spell out your rules clearly, discuss them with your class so there can be no ambiguity, and post them prominently as a daily reminder of what behavior will and will not be tolerated in your classroom.

• Consistency

If your rules and consequences are up for interpretation, if they apply sometimes but not others, then you’re literally challenging your students to test them over and over again. Some of them will be thinking, If I got away with this once, I wonder if I can get away with it again? Once rules are in place, enforce them consistently. This doesn’t mean you can’t be flexible. There is a time and place when every rule can and should be changed, at least temporarily. But do so deliberately, when a student comes to you to discuss a problem that affects their ability to follow the rules, for instance. Rules shouldn’t be bent or ignored simply because you’re not in the mood or you’re feeling unfocused. It may seem like the path of least resistance at the moment, but it will lead to bigger and longer-lasting discipline problems in the future.

 • Rewards

As adults, we understand that knowledge really is its own reward. And maybe we wish that high school kids could see that, too. But often, they don’t. So, consider rewarding good behavior with more tangible motivators. These are young adults, so think beyond silly little things like stars on a chart or candy or stickers. Consider things like a free pass on a test, the chance to choose a study topic, or even time to play with their phones at the end of the class period. And, don’t forget the really big stuff, like year-end trips. If you’re a French teacher, for example, and planning a language class tour to top off a year of learning in a truly spectacular way, make it clear that only the students who have regularly followed the rules throughout the school year will be invited to attend.

What doesn’t work...

So, we’ve discussed some of the tools that make classroom management workable. Here are the ones that simply don’t.

• Yelling

Remember the last time you were pulled over by a traffic cop? Pretty intimidating, right? Chances are, though, that he didn’t yell or even raise his voice.  You can take advantage of that same dynamic. If you appear calm and in control, your students will be more likely to comply with your directions. Yelling, on the other hand, tells your students that you are out of control. This can actually reward those trouble makers who were looking for ways to push your buttons, and it will keep them trying to do it over and over again.

• Shaming

Teenagers are emotionally very fragile. And sometimes the more cocky they appear, the more fragile they are inside. Shaming your students publicly, perhaps in the hope of changing their behavior, can really backfire. Instead of thinking about their own behavior and how they might change it, they’re now focused on you and the pain you’ve caused them. This not only doesn’t motivate better behavior, it can actually do the opposite. Some students may act out even more to pay you back for deliberately embarrassing them in front of their friends and peers. If you need to discuss a student’s work or classroom conduct, do so in a professional and – if possible – private way.

• Being a buddy

Most teachers really love their students. Maybe not every child, every day, but overall they do really care about the kids in their classrooms. It’s often the reason they became teachers in the first place. However, being kind, caring, supportive, and even friendly and approachable, does not mean being your students’ best friend. Kids in high school need support, correction when necessary, guidance and strong role models. If you’re trying to be their friend, perhaps even worrying about whether they like you or not, you won’t be able to be all the other things they really need you to be.

A skill set worth pursuing

Effective classroom management makes learning possible. It keeps the classroom environment orderly, safe and productive for every student. The most effective teachers are the ones who have successfully mastered workable classroom management techniques.


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