April 25, 1996 Vol. 25 No. 31

Effectively managing a classroom
is harder than it used to be

By Paul A. Blaum
Public Information

School teachers constantly shift from teaching mode to a management mode in the classroom, but the question is how to do it routinely and effectively without resorting to mass regimentation.

"The days are over when the teacher commanded respect simply by being the teacher," James Levin, affiliate assistant professor of education and senior Division of Undergraduate Studies programs coordinator, said. "Now, teachers have to know strategies for maintaining a climate where young people can learn and where disruptive student behavior is kept at a minimum."

"We believe that effective classroom management is based on two principles," James F. Nolan, associate professor of education, said. "First, prevention of discipline problems is more important than reacting to the problems after they occur. Second, teachers cannot control anybody's behavior but their own. All they can do, ultimately, is influence a student's choice of behavior by changing their own behavior."

Drs. Levin and Nolan are co-authors of Principles of Classroom Management: A Hierarchical Approach (Allyn-Bacon). Both are former high school teachers, and Dr. Nolan was also a high school guidance counselor.

For teachers, the best way to deter discipline problems is to be the most effective instructor they can be, Dr. Levin said.

"There is unquestionably an increase in disrespectful and even violent behavior in schools," Dr. Nolan said. "What is happening outside the schools is spilling into the classroom. Schools mirror society at large. The more violence in society, the more violence in the schools."

More than ever before, teachers deal with students damaged by dysfunctional families, divorce and poverty. Furthermore, because of the pervasive influence of television and movies, students are drawn to negative role models who seem to glorify physical force and immorality. Teachers have no influence over any of these forces in society.

When disruptive behavior occurs in class, teachers must avoid taking it personally, Dr. Levin said. They cannot let their self-esteem be based solely on their chemistry with students.

"Teachers also need to know which management techniques have to be exercised first," Dr. Levin said. "There's a hierarchy of responses. When a teacher throws a student out of the classroom at the first sign of misbehavior, then that teacher has abandoned every other option for managing that student."

Effective teachers maintain a healthy equilibrium between their own self-esteem and that of the student. They understand that chronically disruptive students have negative self-images, with failures greatly outnumbering the successes. Well-adjusted students see themselves more positively, with successes greatly outnumbering their failures.

"Punishing troublesome students with detention, swats, public reprimands and trips to the principal's office only adds to the pile of failures," Dr. Nolan said. "People do not learn pro-social behaviors by being punished."

"Self-esteem consists of four components: significance, competence, virtue and power," Dr. Levin said. "Problem students feel their lives have little or no significance; they do not feel socially or academically competent; and they do not have a sense of worthiness or virtue. All the above prevent them from being joiners and volunteers."

Thus, in trying to hang on to the little self-esteem they have, students are left with only one realizable goal: power. Their use -- or misuse -- of power to gain attention is what causes them to be disruptive.

"When teachers personalize students' behavior, their self-esteem also suffers," Dr. Nolan said. "They too lose a sense of significance, competence and virtue, with the result that they too fall back on power. The upshot is a confrontation between student and teacher, which benefits no one and only magnifies the effects of disruptive behavior."

Teachers should first give students the opportunity to control themselves, Dr. Levin said.

"There are many techniques that accomplish this, including giving students choices. With chronically disruptive students, the teacher can look them in the eye and say to them privately, in an assertive manner, 'It's your choice how you behave in class. It's also your choice as to the consequences of your behavior,'" he said.

"When disciplining kids eats up too much time, the teacher has to ask, 'Am I causing the problem?' If the student is indeed the source of the problem, then the teacher has to take into account the whole group and begin to consider removal of the student," Dr. Nolan said. "The right of the student has to be balanced with the rights of the whole group."

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This page was created by Annemarie Mountz.
Last updated by Kathy L. Norris on April 24, 1996.