The Teacher Role: The Manager
“Boss” “Chief” “Sir” A manager by any other name still smells like a manager. (Opps! That does not quite sound right!) Managers handle people, events, materials and time. Teachers are managers. This is the teacher’s first and most challenging role. Classroom management is probably the most common cause for a first year teacher becoming frustrated and turning to a new field of endeavor. It is also accounts for second, third and fourth-year teachers leaving education. Classroom management is perhaps the least significant role of the teacher but it is the role that allows teachers to teach. Being a manager stinks, but it is necessary to survive as a teacher.
Routine, routine, routine- this is what makes teachers successful and allow teachers the chance to teach. The quicker the routine is established, the quicker the teacher can do the task they most enjoy- teaching. Most teachers have heard the adage: “Don’t smile until Thanksgiving!” That may be a little extreme, but the idea is important. Teachers must begin the year somewhat businesslike. This is the time to establish the needed routines. Every grade level has different routines that will need to be established. There are some common threads: entering the classroom, leaving the classroom, fire drill directions and conduct, when student conversation is allowed, where books are expected to be, when students can leave their seat, and student classroom conduct. Each teacher is different. Each teacher has to establish their own individual routines that they feel comfortable enforcing. Beginning teachers have a tendency to not establish routine. In which case, the students will establish routines. Once a routine is established, it becomes very difficult to change. Experienced teachers have learned this the hard way and will usually establish their classroom routines in the first few weeks. No smiling until the routine is established!
How do you establish routines? There are probably as ways as there are teachers. However, there are some common practices. The first few weeks of school are critical. It is during this time that the routines, acceptable or not, are established. A teacher will greet the students at the door on the first day and begin to set the pattern for students entering the classroom. Teachers need to start the day or class in the same manner. For example, a set of directions on the board for students to start a task, a quick quiz, a check that texts are open to a certain page or simply children sitting quietly in their seats. (Quiet is always good to start the day). Routines must start from day one. The teacher must be very watchful in these early weeks for violations of routine. A student stands to sharpen a pencil during a class activity. The teacher gently reminds the student that pencils are sharpened at such-and-such time. This not only reminds that student but also reinforces routine to the entire class. The “old guard” refers to this as the test. Students are testing the teacher. It is usually not a conscious act, although there might be some teachers that disagree. The routine is being tested. Gentle reminders now establish routine and avoid confrontations later. Vigilant efforts by the teacher in these first few weeks are rewarded by established routines that avoid problems for the rest of the year.
We will examine the four realms of classroom management: materials, events, time and people. These are grouped in order of management difficulty from easiest to most difficult. Regardless of grade level, teachers are faced with management tasks. How well the teacher deals with these tasks often determines how effective the teacher will be.
There was a very large school district that was experiencing financial problems some years ago. One of the desk jockeys at the district office estimated that they could save money by reducing the copy paper available to each teacher. He wrote a short memo.
Teachers and all personnel
Due to the increased cost of paper, we ask everyone to conserve on paper.
Ass. Superintendent so-and-so
This was distributed to every district employee on a piece of 8½ x 11-copy paper.
As a teacher, there is a large bulk of materials that will need to be dealt with over the course of the year. These include but are not limited to the following:
Report cards Office Notes
Parent Notes Progress Reports
Attendance Reports Record Keeping Reports
Lesson Plan Forms Lesson Plan Book
Attendance Book Seating Charts
Substitute Folders Student Folders
Student Note Textbook Forms
Library Overdue Notices School Newspapers
Activity Announcements “Post This” Notes
PTA Newsletter Fund Raiser Notes
Notes about notes Reports about reports
An entire forest has been cut to supply the paper used by a single school district. The paper used is fantastic. This does not even include the worksheets, tests and reproduced reading materials prepared by the teacher. It is not a mountain; it is a forest.
The key to success with materials is organization. Rarely are courses offered in organizational skills during pre-service preparation. A teacher must be prepared to deal with this “paper chase.” Some of the materials are expected and the teacher has time to prepare before the anticipated date it will be due. Progress reports and report cards are usually expected on a certain date. Teachers must be aware and prepared to turn in the required grade reports on those days. Attendance is a daily task and the teacher should establish a routine to take attendance and report or record it. Notes or reports or other materials that appear unexpectedly interrupting class activities must be dealt now! The teacher needs to have anticipated how to handle these interruptions. Perhaps put it aside until time presents itself. The danger, of course, is forgetting about it. Irate PTA members are not fun. Use of student aides can help in some cases. The key is to be organized and anticipate interruptions due to notes, reports and material things.
Worksheets and tests and notes home to parents have to be duplicated and collated. In most cases, the teacher is the one who has to take care of this mundane task. Time and energy and availability of school machines must be taken into consideration. Prep time, if a teacher has any, or after school or before school, if you don’t have meeting, are times that teachers use to duplicate materials. This intersects somewhat with the time management section but management is a interwoven activity.
Events happen. Some events might be anticipated. The superintendent or principal will be evaluating your teaching on this day or that. Tuesday is a fire drill. The chorus will be out on a particular day and that’s half the class. Most events are unanticipated. It’s fall and the temperatures have escalated. It’s hot in the room and the windows are open. The bees invade sending pangs of panic through the children just as a group of the principal’s colleagues stroll into the classroom. The Fire Alarm sounds. Children swatting the air scream and charge the visiting entourage. Many events are unexpected. Anticipation is the key to success in management of events. Common sense and quick thinking are definite assets in cases of event management. (My first year introduced me to the bee invasion!)
Every teacher has a book filled with tales of unexpected events. A sense of humor is definitely an advantage in dealing with the unexpected. Panic or fear on the teacher’s part is quickly conveyed to students. This could be dangerous. Take, for instance: A knock on the classroom door distracts the flow of a great lesson. Standing at the door, an anxious assistant principal stood. He looked at the students and called the teacher into the hall. “There’s a bomb that’s going to explode in five minutes. The fire alarm will signal an evacuation. Get them out quick and take them to the football stadium.” Having given that tidbit of information, he left. Quick thinking and a sense of humor help. Not only is the lesson ruined but also it is important to get students out of the building quickly and be accountable for each and everyone. Stuff happens.
Unexpected fire alarms, the child that vomits, the power failure, the unexpected visitor, the arrival of a new student, the appearance of a parent: these are events that a teacher needs to anticipate and have some type of plan in mind. They may never happen but if they do the teacher needs to be prepared.
Management of time is crucial to teacher survival. Awareness of time is needed to accomplish a planned activity. Too much time and the plan is without a conclusion. Too little time and the teacher needs to be ready with the next activity. Timing of lessons and time awareness comes with experience. Pre-service teachers can attempt to practice timing of lessons but only time in the actual situation will provide the necessary abilities to manage time. This is a very strong argument for teacher intern time. Student teaching is a chance for the pre-service teacher to develop timing.
Time management also involves the use of prep time and before and after school times. There is much to do in order to accomplish the needed tasks required of the teacher. Many teachers find that this time is just not enough. Teachers may give homework to their students but this creates greater pressure on the teacher to use home time to check that work. With experience, teachers learn to utilize time in school more effectively but chances are that there will be still things that will need to be completed at home.
Many schools expect that teachers be involved in non-curricular activities. Student athletics, the school play, the Christmas pageant, the debate team competition, the PTA carnival, and the list goes on and on. Teachers must manage their time effectively in order to have time with their own families and friends. Teachers are in great demand for more than just the classroom.
Good time management requires the use of the word “No!” Unfortunately, Teachers are too often evaluated on extracurricular involvement. Beginning teachers are especially vulnerable to such criticisms. There is no simple answer. Teachers need to balance their time and that requires good time management skills.
Of all the management issues, people management offers the greatest challenge to the modern day teacher. There is a wide assortment of people that impact on the teacher and their management skills. All the management issues mentioned are important but it is this issue that provides the greatest of frustration to most teachers. Some of the people teachers interact with include:
Students Students from other classrooms
Other Administrators Counselors
Nurse Social Worker
Special Education Lunchroom Staff
Janitors Other Teachers
Teachers are responsible for managing students. Some teachers refer to this as “control.” The most common issue that is managed with students has to do with students adhering to the routine established by the teacher or policy established by the school. “Disciplinary” confrontations are usually minor if routine has been established and school policy is clearly stated and observed by the teacher. There are numerous plans presented for teachers to construct a model for their “discipline code.” The important aspect to any discipline policy is simplicity, fairness and consistence.
In most cases, a simple look or the “teacher’s eye” will end any unwanted activity. The “teacher’s stare” is used for a failed glance. Interruption of a lesson to chastise a student usually is the least productive method. Confrontation is to be avoided where possible. Losing face is a very poor diplomatic exercise. Diplomacy is important in dealing with people. Students are people. Occasionally a teacher might refer to the students as animals or the enemy. They are neither. The teacher is not their enemy. The teacher is neither friend nor enemy. The teacher is the teacher. The teacher can be friendly but cannot be their pals. This is a common mistake of the beginning teacher. Students respect teachers who respect them. This is an excellent footing to establish a discipline policy in a classroom- mutual respect for everyone.
Teachers need to know the characteristics of the age level that they deal with on a day in, day out basis. Each age level has its own difficulties and needs. Effective and experienced teachers are aware of these foibles of their students. Understanding the individual and the age level helps in developing a rapport with a class of students. The effective manager uses this to build a positive working relationship to accomplish the goal- learning. Teachers specialize into: Preschool, Primary, Intermediate, Upper Grades and High School Teachers.
Today’s classroom seems to have more students that carry baggage of social, family and personal problems than in the years past. Teachers are expected to deal with students who carry this added weight. Anger, fear, socially maladjustment, low esteem, suspicion- are just a few outside factors that affect teacher-student relationships. These students may lash out unexpectedly at another student or the teacher. These are not personal attacks. These are children who do not know how to express their feelings. The teacher must be aware that the child is not attacking them personally. It is a manifestation of an inner conflict. The teacher must be able to manage this situation. Sometimes the teacher notes the problem before it becomes a nightly news item. The teacher will need to seek support staff assistance if it’s available. Notify the principal, seek help from another teacher, and talk to the parents- the teacher will need to act. Other times the situation explodes unexpectedly. The teacher’s reaction is very important. Calm, cool, and non-threatening action is needed. The student needs to be isolated. He will need a cooling off time. This can be a most difficult situation for a teacher to manage. Even experience does not always help.
Managing people is the most difficult task to toss aside as the teacher drives home to the family. Teachers need to develop techniques to put aside classroom or school issues. Stress is magnified a hundred fold when difficult issues cannot be set aside. Stress in teachers is common and most of it can be recognized as classroom management related issues. Perhaps a fifth management factor that might be added is stress management.
Inclusion, Technology, multiculturalism, alternative scheduling, standardized testing, standards, outcomes, integrated curriculum- many are good issues but they strongly effect the teacher’s classroom management plans. Education is a boiling pot of change. Teachers are often left out of the decision making and planning stages of new issues or practices in education. They are brought in at the implementation phase. Often they are told- here you go, implement it. Managing new programs adds an entire new aspect to classroom management. Future postings will need to address the effect of these issues.
Classroom management is the least important aspect of teaching but it is the foundation needed to teach. Failure to address classroom management issues leads to frustration, ineffectiveness and failure. Pre-service programs in teacher education programs rarely address these vital issues. Methods courses supposedly incorporate some classroom management skills but rarely enough. In this writer’s experience at teaching on the college level, there has been little attempt to address the issue of teacher survival. Pre-service teachers are told to plan a good lesson and everything will be all right. Surprise! Surprise!
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