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Tips for New Teachers: Controlling an Unruly Classroom

Behavioral Issues with Elementary Students

As OurEverydayLife.com writes, ”behavior problems in school with this age group (elementary students) are common as they learn to test their limits and assert their independence.” The site goes on to explain that some of the behavior problems these students may exhibit are talking when they shouldn’t be, being disruptive, and breaking rules, among others.

You’re a new elementary teacher who is excited to start sharing knowledge with your bright-eyed students. When you’re teaching, you just want to focus on passing along what you know to your students. Unruly classes can get in the way of that, even if it’s just one misbehaving student. It can be difficult for new teachers to find the right classroom management strategy for getting things under control, so we’ve put together some tips to help you take control of your classroom so that you can use your time to teach and not to scold.

Be Clear About Who’s in Charge

Obviously, this should be clear to students already. But some students need you to remind them. Make sure you present yourself as an authority figure even if it means having to come off as meaner than you’d prefer. You may rather be seen as the cool teacher or the fun teacher, but if your class is already unruly, being that kind of teacher could encourage misbehaving students to take advantage of the situation more than they already are.


Classroom with participating students


But being the authority figure doesn’t mean you have to be a cold, wicked witch type of teacher. You can still be fun; you just need to be clear about boundaries. If you make a joke in class and the students start joking back, you might need to cut it off so they don’t see class time as a stand-up comedy routine. According to an article, ”Boundaries are important in the classroom. They help maintain respectful behavior and keep students on task. Good boundaries offer structure and limits while offering students certain freedoms and encouragement with that structure.”

If your students are struggling with understanding who’s in charge, you may consider doing this ‘Who’s the Boss?’ activity with them. The activity includes discussing ”how the teacher is in charge of the classroom and he/she is there to take care of them and to make the decisions.”

Always Appear Confident

As a new elementary teacher, you may be one of the first teachers your students encounter. You want to make sure they have a positive impression of your teaching abilities. Never underestimate the importance of being confident. In a 2014 blog post, Ana Lomba explained the impact confidence can have on a classroom: ”When a teacher is confident, students can sense it. Perhaps without even realizing it, students pick up on that sense of calm control and are more receptive to what you have to say. Young children in particular crave a sense of order and authority to help them learn.”

Make sure your confidence shines through in everything you do. If you tell your students it’s time to settle down, they’re much more likely to do so when you appear confident than if you sound nervous or unsure of yourself.

Are you reading this thinking ”I want to be more confident but don’t know where to start”? Try checking out IRIS Connect’s blog of tips to improve your confidence as a teacher.

Don’t Be Afraid to Reach Out to Parents

For a fair amount of kids, bad behavior is okay as long as their parents don’t know about it, because they know the wrath they could face just isn’t worth it. If you have students who are repeatedly acting out in class and are not responding to other techniques, you should feel free to contact their parents. As a PBS article notes, ”a positive parent-teacher relationship contributes to your child’s school success.”

In the PBS article, Dr. Diane Levin explains that if parents trust you then their child will trust you too. Building a relationship with students’ parents could help encourage them to behave. If they know their parent trusts your judgment for how they should be behaving in class, they are more likely to start modeling that behavior.

The student may not be happy that you contacted their parents, but getting a classroom under control is much more important than winning a single child’s approval. Not only can the parents help back you up, but it will also give students a very strong signal that you are completely serious about having proper behavior in the classroom.

Acknowledge Well-Behaved Students

A lot of your energy may go to correcting bad behavior, but it can also be impactful to reinforce what well-behaved students are doing. Not only does it encourage the students who are doing what you’re looking for, but it highlights examples of good behavior to the more problematic students in class.

An article by the Center on Social and Emotional Foundations of Early Learning says that ”most child behavior is strengthened or weakened by what happens after the behavior occurs.” This means if a child raises their hand and you thank them for doing so, they are more likely to keep doing it.

The article also went on to explain exactly how impactful acknowledging good behaviors in the classroom can be: ”Using this strategy results in decreases in aggressive and destructive behaviors, failure to follow instructions, and inappropriate communication.” It won’t take a lot of effort for you to acknowledge the good behaviors but you’ll still be able to reap many benefits from it.


Students using technology in the classroom


Find Out Why Students Are Being Unruly

Sometimes you just need more information before you can figure out exactly how to solve an issue. Try looking for clues as to why a particular student may be acting out, or have a direct conversation with them. You may discover some very useful information. Even if you don’t talk about their behavior, you can just start getting to know them better to show you care. As stated by the National Education Association, ”Establishing goodwill can help minimize classroom disruptions, improve student engagement, and reduce stress for everyone.”

If you start by getting to know your students on a more personal level, it will be easier for them to open up to you about more serious things that are going on. For instance, they may confide in you that they just don’t feel ready to handle the difficulty of the class, which could signal that they’re misbehaving to try to hide that fact. You can then offer additional assistance or give extra practice activities to help that student build his or her confidence in the subject. As they feel better about their ability to comprehend the materials, you may start to notice that they no longer need to act out to distract from the real issue.

Discipline Students When You Need To

No one wants to be the bad guy, but sometimes it’s necessary. As bad as it might make you feel, there are going to be times that you have to lay down the law without worrying about if students get mad at you or call you a name behind your back.

If a student is acting out, it’s important that they know there are consequences, whether it’s having to stay after class, go to detention, being sent to the principal’s office, or getting suspended. Students will continue to act out if they think nothing will happen to them if they do. Know what your school’s options are for disciplining students and make sure you use them. It’s best to discipline a student the first time he or she demonstrates inappropriate behavior so you set the tone immediately.

OurEverydayLife.com details some methods for discipline elementary students. Their tips include non-verbal redirection, one-on-one conversations with students, and having the student speak with school administrators.

Ask Other Teachers for Advice

Getting control of an unruly classroom isn’t easy, yet teachers have to deal with that issue every single day. You don’t have to go it alone, without help from anyone else. Why not make use of the knowledge of the more veteran teachers at your school?

Talk to other teachers, whether at your school or different schools, and ask them what they’ve tried with their unruly classes that was successful. They might have some great classroom management ideas that you never would have thought of before. And the more things you have to try, the more likely you’ll find the technique that will work for your particular class.

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