We've all been there. You are halfway through the school year and things just aren't going as planned. All that time spent last summer revising units of instruction and planing amazing learning activities had you energized, but now it is winter break and you aren't sure you can go back next week. "It's just this class," you think, "I've never had a group with behavior problems like this!" Each day has been a struggle, you feel like you are drowning, and you can't help but sense defeat lurking around the corner. Sound familiar? Of course it does. We've all been there.
Almost every teacher, from first-year to veteran, has experienced days when she or he heads out of the building questioning their ability to manage a classroom. Those days are hard, but nothing compared to the years when a class seems to have gotten out of control. Perhaps this is that kind of year for you. Don't despair - there is good news! First of all, rest assured you are not alone. That veteran teacher down the hall who seems to never refer anyone for discipline may appear perfect, but she has likely had the same experience with which you are now struggling. Secondly, in the next few weeks you have a chance to turn your students' behavior around. A new semester is about to begin, and with it comes a chance to improve your classroom management.
Avoid placing blame.
This is the first and most important step when attempting to fix class-wide behavior problems halfway through the year. Resist the temptation to blame anyone. Assigning fault for a negative situation is all too easy. Avoid statements like "kids these days" or "if I had any support at all from administration" or "if parents would do their part at home". Allowing these blame-first statements to take hold in your mind severely limits your ability to correct the situation in which you find yourself. Blaming leads to complaining, and the worst way to fix student behavior is to complain about student behavior.
Truthfully, there are sources causing the behavior problems you and your class face. Identifying those sources is key to success. However, it is important to realize the difference between blaming individuals or groups and identifying what is causing a class to grow out of control. Placing blame takes the responsibility off your shoulders, which feels good for a while, but will not help you reach the goal of a well-managed classroom.
Take ownership of your situation.
Before you can identify those problem behavior sources, you must take ownership of your management of student behaviors. This does not mean the situation is entirely your fault - see the above section about placing blame! However, use this new semester as a chance to reset your mind - this is your class to manage and you are better able than anyone to turn the year around. You know your students as a collective group. No one else knows what makes them tick as much as you. Use this to your advantage. Analyzing the behavior issues you are having with the personality of your whole class in mind will allow you to single out the one or two major areas of concern.
Involve your class.
Most likely you are not the only one who is aware of the behavior issues that come up on a daily basis. Your students probably also know things are not quite right. Involve them in the process of turning the year around. When I find myself in similar situations, I like to start the second semester out with a class meeting. We talk about second chances. I tell students they have a second chance to impress me and others with their behavior, of course, but more importantly I take ownership for our overall class behavior and ask them to give me a second chance, too. Most students want to feel connected to something bigger than themselves. By involving them in your journey to better classroom management, you instantly create a better sense of community - which is often essential to successful classroom management.
Additionally, consider getting input from students, while reminding them to look at group behaviors and not place blame on individuals. Keep in mind most students won't openly discuss what they feel to be the root cause of a negative environment, so try giving your students a survey. It could be as simple as having them write anonymous suggestions down on a paper or you can create a quick survey using Google Forms. However you choose to set it up, gaining feedback from students will improve your instruction and classroom management.
Once you (and your students) have analyzed your classroom management and student behavior, pick one or two key areas to improve. Consider what bothers you most and start there. It is important that the solutions are as unique to your class as the problems are. However, if you struggle to find a fix, reach out to your PLN for help. (Don't have a PLN? Try Twitter! You can even hit me up: @bmcd25.) Experiment with a couple new techniques and, once those take hold, move on to the next issue. Before you know it, your class will be running smoothly and successfully.
If you are stuck in a year gone wrong, don't give up. You are the best person to turn your class around!