Timothy G. Weih, Ph.D.
University of Northern Iowa, USA
Managing a classroom of children in grades K-6 involves teachers in learning aspects of organization, structure, school policies and procedures, as well as learning the pre-established mode of doing things in the school. Teachers who want to be competent in their elementary teaching career spend the time and effort in learning these crucial components of teaching, which are not usually covered in elementary teaching methods courses, but instead, are learned on the job. The purpose of this article is to address what every beginning elementary teacher should know about classroom management, not only for the sake of her success, but also for the benefits of her classroom children and the school in general.
Policies and Procedures
It is very important to learn about the school building policies and procedures as soon as possible. Mostly, it is the responsibility of the new teacher to seek this information out by asking the school principal; however, it helps to know what to ask. Included in the following list are some common policies and procedures to inquire about.
• Drill procedures: including tornado, fire, intruder, and bomb
• Posting the procedures in the classroom and practicing with students
• Receiving and making phone calls
• Arrival and departure procedures
• Bathroom and hallway procedures
• Responsibilities for keeping the classroom room clean and organized
• How to address student behavior concerns
The school and community is a professional work environment. Teachers must always behave in a professional, but kind and friendly manner. Teachers are very public figures, therefore, it is critical that new teachers make considerations for the following.
• Read their contract and school policy manual carefully
• Practice the school dress code. If the school does not have a dress code, talk to the principal about what is appropriate and inappropriate dress
• Keep student and family information confidential in and out of the school
Organizing and Structuring the Classroom
It is crucial for new teachers to spend a lot of time getting their classroom prepared and ready for teaching well before the classroom children arrive on that first day of school. Many quality teachers start working on these things several weeks prior to the first day. The subsections that follow include some key tasks to accomplish.
The Classroom List of Children
There are many things that teachers do with their classroom list of children, such as the following tasks.
• Make flexible adhesive name badges for each child to wear the first day with their names already printed on them
• Put additional children's name badges on the fronts or sides of their desks
• Make a seating chart
The school-day schedule is one of the most important items that teachers develop. Unlike most middle school and high school teachers that have predetermined daily schedules of when each class starts and ends, most elementary teachers make their own daily schedules. Other experienced classroom teachers in the school are the best sources to help beginning teachers with developing this schedule. Included in the following list are some tasks related to this component of classroom organization and structure.
• Develop the daily schedule and make it into a classroom poster and a handout for special teachers and parents
• Find out when and where all the special classes, i.e., library, PE, music, and art occur and schedule your instructional time around them
• Seek out other special teachers, i.e., gifted, learning disability, speech, hearing impaired, physical disability, guidance, health, and so on, in the school building to see if you need to coordinate instructional time with them. They may serve some of the children in your classroom.
In many jobs, when employees cannot make it to work for whatever reason, specific plans do not have to be developed ahead of time for their absences. This is not the case for elementary or primary teachers. They must have premade instructional directions developed in advance of a planned or unplanned absence in order for another person to take their place. It is a common misconception that the substitute will be another teacher who will make her own instructional decisions on the spot. Instead, the substitute, in most cases is not expected to develop any instructional directions, she may not be a teacher, and she may not have any experience in managing a classroom of children. Therefore, classroom teachers typically develop a separate set of instructional directions, materials, and activities for substitutes to do with the classroom children that are kept in binders clearly labeled and easily accessible. It is important for teachers to update the materials in these binders as necessary. If the classroom teacher will be absent for longer than a couple days, the school will usually get an educated, and experienced teacher as a substitute who will develop her own instructional plans; however, she will usually follow the permanent classroom teacher's organization and structure. The following list includes some items usually kept and developed for the substitute binders.
• The classroom teacher's contact information
• Classroom procedures, i.e., bathroom, recess, hallway, inside the classroom rules, and discipline
• The daily schedule for instructional times as well as for individual children that might have separate schedules
• The seating chart (with children's photos if possible)
• The class list
• The school emergency drills
• List of children who require special considerations, i.e., medical, emotional, or anything else
• Easy to do worksheets for each subject area that children will require little assistance with (there should be enough of these to last a day or two)
Competent teachers communicate often with the parents of their classroom children. This communication begins about one to two weeks before school begins by sending to parents, either through email or postal mail, an informational letter. The following list includes some ideas for the content of this letter.
• Tell parents about yourself, e.g., your education, certificates, philosophy of education, contact information, days and times when parents can visit the classroom, and procedures for setting up conferences
• The classroom schedule
• The classroom list of children
• A supply list of things children will need
In addition, include a separate letter addressed just to the child and include a brief introduction of yourself and some information about the most exciting things that will happen in the upcoming school year.
Experienced teachers know that children spend a lot of time just looking around the classroom, so they make use of the classroom walls as instructional canvasses. The following list includes some ideas for what to put on the classroom walls that will benefit the children's learning.
• Instructional posters, either made by the teacher, the children, or purchased from a company
• Posters for the classroom rules, procedures, and routines
• Posters for the classroom emergency drills
• Bulletin boards related to instructional topics and themes
It is a very beneficial practice for beginning teachers to visit the classrooms of other teachers in the school, not only to get to know them, but also to get ideas for what to put on the classroom walls, and how to arrange the classroom furniture for optimum student learning.
Student Record Keeping
Keeping records regarding students' academic performance is very time consuming, and it is best to be extremely organized and diligent in developing and maintaining these records. They are used for many different purposes, including the following: progress reports, grade reports, evidence for decisions regarding special needs students; and data for district, school, state, and federal reports. School principals are the best source for information regarding student record keeping. It is crucial that all information regarding students be kept strictly confidential and this includes never posting anything in social media or other unsecure online sources.
All efforts towards creating and developing classroom organization and structure will fall apart if the teacher fails to put sincere effort into nourishing relationships with her classroom children. Children behave and perform at their best when they know that the teacher truly loves and cares for them. There are some practices that the classroom teacher can follow that will demonstrate to her classroom children that she personally cares for them, and that will also promote the best possible learning environment. Some of these practices are as follows:
• Treat the classroom children with love, caring, and respect; and in turn, they will emulate this behavior and treat each other the same way
• Create, develop, and design organization, structure, and routine for the school day
• Never practice sarcasm, ridicule, mocking, or scoffing
• Listen intently to the classroom children when they are sharing with you
• Watch over them diligently
• Be fast to forgive any offense towards you
• Avoid comparing and singling out any children at all times
• Promote a team-like attitude
• Take time to play short, brief classroom games with them
A teacher's time spent developing caring relationships with her classroom students is time very well spent.
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