Classroom Management (MGMT): Let. It. Go.
It dawned on me that I have zero management issues right now. Zero. Yeah, it feels like the Twilight Zone. In fact, the only classroom management issue close to what I used to experience years ago was something mask-related, and took place way back in the fall while I was covering for another teacher. But classroom management in Latin class? It has felt almost like an afterthought. How is this possible, especially after a year…”off”…with virtually (hehe) no problems?!
At the start of the year, MGMT was an area of my teaching that I felt was completely inadequate from lack of practice re: COVID and remote teaching. I certainly had what I used to consider “one of those classes” at the start of the year, but in hindsight, it still didn’t take much effort to manage, not really, and in February when I began writing this post it was hardly unnoticeable, and just not a thing at this point. Why is that?! Has my teaching fundamentally changed since 2018-19? Let’s look into that…
At some point in October, a grabbed a box and called it “phone jail,” collecting a few of the tiny addictive computers for a couple weeks, but didn’t really continue afterwards. A month later, you might have caught my post on redirecting attention away from phones, for which I was seeking ways to reel in students whose minds wander elsewhere, but not in a way that was about breaking any rules. Instead of calling attention to the school’s phone policy, I noted when students were sending a message off to a friend, and moved on, making the decision whether to get their attention or let it play out for a few seconds before they were right back with the rest of the class. I let go.
For Quarter 4, I started posting “No Phones, No Earpods” on the opening “do now” Google Doc. When I start class now, students observably put away their phones and take out their earpods without a hiccup. It’s kind of amazing. Then a couple weeks ago, I asked students if they thought the following would be a good way to set expectations for next year’s new students in September:
Feedback was positive. Every class section asked something like “but what if a student understands when you ask?” My response was simple: “ah, then there’d be no problem, right?” I think this kind of transparency is what I was getting at with last fall’s redirecting attention without it being about rule-breaking. I mean, who cares about the rule, really? We care about learning. If a rule in place doesn’t really promote learning, or at least isn’t necessary in all cases, then the rule becomes an obstacle. Of course, one student said “yeah, but you’re probably not gonna know what’s going on if you’re on your phone for more than a few seconds.” I agreed.
Looking very far back to when I had a “No English” rule (silly, I know), I realized it coincided with my most challenging classes to manage. Upon reflecting, I now believe it actually caused management issues. Students wanted to express themselves, but couldn’t do so yet in the target language, so that rule essentially just shot down any interaction. This led to behavior issues. I also realized that during certain activities, like storytelling, I would attempt to control for absolutely no chatter and vie for complete attention. That’s the problem right there: control. When I described my current lack-of-MGMT-issues to a colleague and what I’ve been doing, they said “sounds like letting go of power.” I let go.
It’s true. In the attempt to control for an environment free from all distraction and optimal delivery of input, the door was left open for behavior to get out of hand. And it did. Some students like to talk and express themselves, and my earliest rules nearly a decade ago made that impossible. No wonder students retreated to their notebooks, phones, friends, or whatever!
Back in January, a student asked what something meant just seconds after it was already addressed. I paused to make sure I heard the question right as other students turned and gave the “really?” look, and then I heard “Oh, sorry Mr P I was drawing cats in my notebook.” I mean, that’s hilarious, and no big deal at the same time. I wonder what the class experience would be for this kid if I took away their notebook, right? What can be a temporary distraction, sometimes, is probably doing more to support student learning most times. I’ve let go.
What can you let go of?