Cleaning up classroom management after the "clean up bell" fails

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In my first years of teaching, I couldn't fathom managing a group of 3- and 4-year olds on my own. During my five years of undergraduate coursework, I never heard a word mentioned about classroom management, establishing routines, setting expectations for my students, or building a classroom community of learners. That made for shock and complete frustration in my first few years of teaching. I came across students who continually disrupted lessons and didn't clean up (even though I rang the clean-up bell), ran through the classroom (even when I said, "use your walking feet"), or pushed others (while I modeled using "gentle hands"). What could be done with students like this?

Many of my colleagues who also graduated from teaching programs in the Midwest shared my frustration and had to learn by trial and error, with the ultimate hope that students would learn something while in our classrooms.

Luckily, a team teaching model was in place at my first job and I worked alongside a seasoned teacher. She quickly taught me that in order to win the attention of young learners, I had to sing songs, predict the unpredictable, anticipate their next 10 moves, and reflect on my classroom management techniques daily. I also attended workshops, read National Association for the Education of Young Children journals and books about classroom management techniques specific to preschool students, and reached out to other schools to observe their teachers in action. All of these steps allowed me to strengthen my classroom management skills and fine tune my understanding of what I could expect from my students.

After 13 years of teaching, I now understand that the "Big Five" has to be explicitly addressed in teaching preparation programs and that preservice teachers need hands-on experience to try research-based classroom techniques prior to student teaching. Classroom management techniques are learned through execution, discussion and the collaboration of teachers who have a shared understanding of what to expect of their students and how to engage students to facilitate learning despite the daily interruptions/distractions of a school setting. Long gone are the days when classroom management issues can be used as an excuse for not getting things done. The bar has been raised with the Common Core State Standards, and both teachers and students must rise to meet the challenges ahead. Classroom management must be explicitly addressed in teacher preparation programs, and teachers must be better equipped to step into a classroom with confidence in their ability to engage their students from their first day in the classroom.

Freeda Pirillis

Member of NCTQ Teacher Advisory Group