This list may seem obvious, but it is surprising how many teachers can become oblivious, in the midst of life in the classroom. Let’s take time to think about some of these things we should probably stop doing immediately…
1. Repeating Yourself. Getting into the habit of expecting a response or reaction after a first request is critical to classroom management. This ties into consistency, so children will quickly learn that when you say something the first time, there will only be a first time. A second time will mean some sort of natural consequence. It only takes your smart children a short time to learn your MO and to respond accordingly. I know. Taking the time to follow through every single time is difficult, especially when we’re busy. But trust me... The effort put forth is far easier than what will undoubtedly happen as a result of slacking here. Many times one of those results is #2…
2. Raising Your Voice. Those of us who are seasoned teachers know that children actually respond sooner and more favorably to a quiet, directed tone of voice. In my experience, if I got down on their level and spoke at almost a whisper, they would lean in to hear what I had to say… hanging on every word. In the rush and frustration of the day, a teacher’s voice can easily begin to rise in volume in order to gain children’s attention. It may seem to work initially, but over time, it loses its novelty and becomes ineffective. What predictably happens next is increasing the volume. This has several, unintentional negative outcomes. First, children will learn that you probably only mean business when yelling, so they will ignore you until your voice is raised. Secondly, and probably more significantly, the children will see us as people who yell and therefore assume yelling is acceptable behavior. If we do it, why can’t they?
3. Stepping in Too Soon. I know it’s sometimes easier to mediate a conflict between children or stop it before it starts. And, often we want to spare kids from disappointment by changing things up or doing things for them. As well-intentioned and expeditious this may seem at the time, in the long term, we are not preparing them for life. Sure, there are going to be feelings of sadness, disappointment, or anxiety, but that’s OK. Children need to go through situations in order to develop their problem-solving skills. Making mistakes and figuring things out is, after all, how we learn. They won’t always have an adult there to smooth their way and with a lack of experience handling things on their own, mistakes will be made over and over. It’s far better to offer our coaching and guidance than to deprive them of learning to cope, compromise, and deal with it.
4. Making Light of the Little Things. There are many things that are extraordinarily important to children, but can be easily overlooked or dismissed by adults. It might be an extra minute you take to talk or explain something. Or, that special little task you ask a child to do for you. I still remember the day my second grade teacher chose me to cut out some shapes for her bulletin board. She handed me her “teacher scissors,” along with a smile that said, “I know you will do a wonderful job with this.” I’m sure we all have these kinds of memories, but their importance probably never clicked with the teachers who created them. You really do have to try to think like a child in order to connect with one.
5. Missing the Forest for the Trees. Those small issues tend to add up. Teachers may solve an immediate problem without projecting the long-term effect of a quick fix. Approaching a problem by just trying to get through the moment might be easier right now, but can cause more difficult and harder to solve problems later on.
6. Not Validating a Child’s Feelings. When a child is upset about something or is having strong feelings, a teacher’s first response is often to try to talk him out of those feelings. In our minds, it may not be a big deal, but to a child it is. An example might be when a child becomes unglued after his bookbag turns up missing and the teacher tries to calm the situation by saying, “Don’t cry. Your mom can always buy you a new one.” Although this teacher may mean well and she thinks she is being a comfort to the child, that isn’t always what the child thinks just happened. In his mind, this big, huge deal has not been understood and his teacher doesn’t care. Sometimes, we try to address feelings with rationality instead of simply empathizing and validating what children bring to us.