My third year of teaching was like watching an episode of The Bachelor. It was more often than not so terrible that you just couldn’t look away because you had to keep watching and see what happened next.
In my hypothetical classroom Bachelor episode, you might see a scene where two students are giggling across the room to each other. When the camera zooms in, you see that one of them is trying to breaking markers, trying to get the ink stick out. In the chaos, the teacher finally sees the teal puddle on the floor, starts yelling, and sends the student to the office. Right before the commercial, the preview shows the student laughing with the principal in his office and skipping back to class. All you say is, “No way! There is no support from school administration!”
Spoiler alert: that was me and my classroom. I felt completely unsupported by my administration.
Every other teacher on my team was excellent, out-teaching me by at least 10 years. By their own admission, this group of students was one of the most challenging behaviorally that they had ever taught. So picture with me a third year teacher in a class of already unruly 7th graders. Throw in a new student mid-year who has blue hair, talks to everyone in a high, nasally voice (yes, on purpose to annoy everyone), yells, “I’m a blueberry!” at random times, and quickly befriends the two students whose behavior is already not being addressed the way I’d like it to be by my administration.
What does a teacher do in this situation? I felt like I had no support from school administration when it came to behavior issues. Overwhelmed and ready to leave teaching, I knew something needed to change. However, after living through that year, I realized I had learned how to implement five practical steps to help me curb classroom behavior issues while feeling unsupported by my school administration.
Before I really dive in, I think most school administrators are great people.
I also think a lot of administrators have the best intentions but have their hands tied in areas where teachers want them to step in, including classroom discipline. Ready for the honest truth? It’s your job as a teacher to teach, correct, and train student behavior in your classroom. It is not your campus administrator’s job. You have to do the leg work so when you do need an administrator to step in, they can see you’ve tried all your tools and need help.
I think it is wise to have some type of positive classroom management system. For the purpose of this blog, I’m going to be focusing on what you can do to help shape student behavior into what you want instead or just rewarding good behavior. So, how do you manage your classroom when you feel like you don’t have support from school administration?
1. Stop sending students to the office.
If you feel like you have no support from school administration, the best thing I can tell you is to learn how to handle everything possible in your classroom. You should address and work to solve any behavior you possibly can, excluding major incidences of course.
I remember sending kids to the office when they were “unmanageable” and feeling like they got sent back with a hug and a Starburst! Like it was a REWARD! Or I’d send a student up with their phone and get a sticky note from the office assistant back saying, “I let them keep their phone. Come see me when you have a minute and I’ll explain.” I felt so helpless and angry. Do you know the feeling?
Enough is enough. Sending students to the office is a temporary solution. The truth is the office can only do so much. Oftentimes, you undermine your own authority when you send students out. They know you can’t, or maybe won’t, do anything about their behavior and continue to act out.
Dig in. Find your grit. Handle your classroom. Stop sending kids to the office! How can I do that? Keep reading, teacher friend!
2. Set expectations all day everyday.
I could talk about expectations all day long. It’s the bread and butter of my classroom management style. NEVER stop setting expectations! When you feel like you have no support from school administration, telling kids what you expect from them gives them the opportunity to act appropriately.
During transitions, I used to say something like, “Get into your groups. Are we good? Go.” When I realized I was setting expectations rather than giving directions, my monolog sounded something like this. “Hold up your pencil. Hold up your notebook. You need to bring both of those with you to your lab table. When you move to your groups, push in your chair and make sure your stuff is off of the floor so we have clear walkways. I expect you are walking to your groups, keeping your hands, feet, and pencils to yourself.”
Do you see how I set expectations for the entire transition? This is what my students nee to hear in September, January, and May. I never stop. Take it a step further if you know you have a student who you know struggles with walking and briefly say, “Jordan, you’re gonna walk right?” To keep them from feeling targeted, you can ask a few more questions to other students.
3. Follow Through and Grace
If you don’t feel like you have support from your school administration, it’s probably because your administrators don’t follow through with what you expect them to do! When you’re learning how to handle your classroom, follow through is your most important tool! You can set expectations with students all you want but if you don’t follow through when those expectations are not met, they’re worthless!
Hear me out. Follow through does not equal discipline. Every little thing students do wrong should not be met with an iron fist. Your students will do things incorrectly. If you try to control everything, you will lose your mind. When students do something wrong, give them a little bit of grace – resist the urge to yell and scream! Build natural consequences into your expectations.
Phones are hard to manage right now. Like really hard. In fact, the most angry I’ve ever been with a student was over a phone. Like, steam coming out of my ears angry. Anyway, I digress. When you set expectations with phones, build the “consequence” into your expectation and follow through!
In my classroom, students listening to headphones should have their volume set so no one else can hear their music, and they should be able to hear me talking in a normal voice. This is what I might say to build my consequence into my expectation. “If I or anyone else can hear your music through your headphones, you will have to put your phone and headphones away for the rest of class.” Then, my students know what I want and what happens if they decide not to follow the expectation.
If one of your students runs to their lab table, ask them to come back and walk. Maybe you have to ask them to push in their chair.
What happens when students don’t want to follow expectations I gave them?
But Kelly, what happens when they don’t put away their headphones? Or they don’t come back and walk to their group? Or what if…? I hear you. It’s never that easy, is it?
This takes some practice, but I promise it is gold. Screenshot the next couple paragraphs. Print it out. Tape it to your desk, because students will always push your boundaries.
FOLLOW THROUGH is your biggest and best tool when you feel like you have no support from your school administration.
Do not send students to the office when they begin to push boundaries.Your job of correcting and managing behavior is not done the moment they push back. You are strong and capable!
Let’s keep going with the phone example.
If you can hear a student’s headphones across the room, get their attention without disrupting the rest of your class. Ask them if they remember the expectation. If they say no, remind them what it was. Yes, even if you know they know, and you want to roll your eyes – your goal here is to build trust and not get them in trouble.
Next, ask them to put their headphones in their backpack because they didn’t meet the expectation. If they say no, take a deep breath. Collect your thoughts. Stay calm. Get on their level – squat next to them, pull up a chair, or maybe even ask them to come see you in a corner or to step outside, if you haven’t already.
Then you should say something like, “I told you what would happen if I could hear your music. At this point, you have two choices. Let this be your second chance, put away your headphones in your backpack, and get back to work. Making a good decision lets us continue with both of our jobs. If you choose not to put them in your backpack, I’ll have to call home after school to talk about how we can be sure expectations are followed.” 97% of the time, kids don’t want to be in trouble at home. Giving them the option prompts them to make a good decision.
In those cases where a quick conversation doesn’t work, I take it a step farther.
If they still say they’re not giving up their headphones, keep in mind what your school discipline plan is. I’d respond with something like, “Okay, if you’re choosing to not put your headphones in your backpack. I can’t make you. After school and before I call your parents, I’m going to go talk with the vice principal to make a plan so you can manage your phone appropriately. If you want to use your phone, you have to follow the expectations. If you decide you don’t like that, you can go back to your seat and take about a minute to decide.”
Students want to make a good choice.
Honestly, if you can give them an out without involving their parents or admin, they will likely take it. You’ve spoken to them respectfully and they feel you’re not out to get them in trouble.
Finally, I’d bet money that students who still don’t make a good choice after all that is a student you struggle with a lot. With that said, I can only suggest what you might do from there. Each student and situation is different. You can ignore it until the end of the day where you’ll follow through with parents and admin, or invoke your campus discipline policy to remove them from your classroom. If you’ve talked to them, give them several options, and they still refuse, you can go to your admin the steps you took (and they need you to take) before they can take action on their end.
4. Always have a plan.
I know you’ve heard the saying that says something like if you don’t have a plan, your students will have one for you. It’s true.
When you are pulling out lab equipment or trying to find the other half stack of copies you set down somewhere last hour, students have a lot more time to get into trouble. If you are planned and organized for the day, your students are much less likely to have time to goof off. Furthermore, if you know what your transitions are, write out expectations for each one – because let’s be real… it’s hard to remember everything you want to say – and communicate those to your students, it will shift the whole dynamic of your classroom. Hello structure, goodbye chaotic mess.
5. Loop parents in
When you feel like you have no support from your school administration, keeping in contact with parents is a must. Requirement. Non-negotiable. In my experience, most parents I talk to assume that if they are not hearing from their student’s teacher, their student’s behavior is fine. We as teachers know we don’t always reach out because we have a lot on our plates, but we need to recognize and do something about the fact that parents still believe if they haven’t heard from us, everything is peachy. But administration needs us to take the small steps of communicating with parents before
Little problems like talking too much or going to the bathroom for seven minutes every class period turn into big problems later. If you’ve tried to work it out with the student by chatting with them or having natural classroom consequences and you’re still not seeing a change, it’s time to call or email parents. Get them involved. Almost every single parent I’ve talked to (and trust me, it’s a lot) have been supportive and helpful. At least they try their best to be, and that’s really all you can ask.
I might have a hard truth for you right now. Not a single administrator I’ve taught for would try to help me solve a problem with a student if I haven’t at minimum attempted to reach their parents. After you’ve tried to solve your behavior problems in your classroom and communicated with parents, your administrator is much more likely to help. Quite honestly, they have more ability to help. Doing your part unties their hands when you need them to act.
BONUS: Start a countdown and take a deep breath.
This might be the worst advice ever because it sucks. You will not have this group of students forever. Tell yourself whatever you need to get through the day. I have taught some bad classes and through some tough years. When I have a class with students that gives me grief, I look at the clock and think 17 more minutes today, or there are only 7 more Mondays. Seven Mondays sounds easier than 36 days, am I right?
The hard truth is that even when you’ve done all the things, sometimes your principal still can’t or won’t be able to help.
This too shall pass. Like I told you in the beginning of this post – my third year teaching was atrocious. I was looking to leave the profession. With no way out and my 17th student coming back from the office with a Starburst, I decided that I was not going to let these kids get the better of me, and I was not going to rely on the office. That year royally sucked.
Want to know what still blows my mind? The next year was my best year. I didn’t realize at the time, but I was growing so much in learning how to handle behavior in my classroom the year before. By the time I was in my 4th year of teaching, I knew how to squash behaviors before they started and how to manage them when they showed up. Mostly. There are still days. There always will be.
Have a plan. Set expectations. Follow through when they’re not met. Talk to parents. Control what you can. You’d be surprised at how much these small changes together can really transform your classroom and help you feel like you can do it, even without support from your administration.