dy/av : 006 : carver’s classroom management

dy/av : 006 : carver’s classroom management from Dan Meyer on Vimeo.


police, ethic of care, classroom management, the wire, ellis carver

iPod Edition

dy/av : 006 : carver’s classroom management (640 x 480)


Previous Episodes

dy/av : 005 : how i work
dy/av : 004 : thank you, teaching
dy/av : 003 : on the office
dy/av : 002 : the next-gen lecturer
dy/av : 001 : earn the medium

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. You know when they make Herc get up on the roof and he complains (season 1)? Kema tells him something like “That’s the job.” Getting on the roof is like calling parents or grading papers. It’s the part of the job that’s not so glamorous, but it’s essential to making things work. I think a lot about Carver–when he left Randy at the group home and then had an emotional breakdown in the car (end season 4)…you realize that he understands–he gets it. Public service isn’t about the glamorous stuff like cuffing criminals or grand-standing in front of a classroom full of kids. It’s about caring for the people you serve (see Prez vs. Herc at end of season 4).

  2. Building rapport is so important. Focusing on that has made me a better teacher, better classroom manager and also makes the job more satisfying and fulfilling. I try to put that its the students and I against the material. Not me vs. them. I’m hear to help, but if you don’t meet me half way you aren’t going to be successful.

    I feel like older teachers manage through intimidation and it just seems way less effective. (“don’t’ smile before thanksgiving” has been discussed at length). I’ve found after year 1, that the ring-leader trouble makers for other teachers, I build a solid relationship with through coaching, or just listening to them honestly, and they become enforcers in class when others act out. It is a really fun thing to see.

    Greeting kids at the door each day serves a huge practical purpose of making that connection. You establish a welcoming atmosphere that encourages more discussion, but it also gets to be fun and interesting asking kids how their soccer game went, or the science test, or how their parents are doing. I feel like kids see that connection and are less likely to act out on you.

    When is the McNulty vs the Bureaucracy going to come about?

  3. @ Doug- From my own experience, it’s not a young teacher/old teacher thing. I know plenty of young teachers who run their classroom like a third-world dictator. I think it’s unhealthy to adopt a young vs. old mentality. You shut out a lot of good advice that way. Not that it was your intention, it’s just something I see a lot of among young teachers.

    As far as connecting and building positive relationships…I agree that it’s important. Paramount to effectiveness as an educator. But I still feel like I’m walking a tightrope.

    I feel the same way with my 2 1/2 year old son. He doesn’t want to take a nap because he would rather play with me. I’m cool dad and would love to let him stay up because I really like playing soccer in the living room as well. But he needs his nap, or he’ll transform into Satan-child around 6:35 pm. So cool dad gives way to discipline daddy (Tobias Funke-style) and forces the nap issue.

    The classroom is the same for me. I don’t try to be Michael Scott with the kids, but I do really like my students and am able to talk about things they like intelligently. At the same time, I know there are things they need to learn from me and I don’t avoid keeping a student after class to talk about their behavior. And for two years I’ve enjoyed a level of respect back from them that usually leads to an easy-to-manage classroom. Usually.

    It’s the days when in spite of my efforts to get to know who they really are and be a patient teacher, create engaging lessons, etc. , they (as a class) have decided to do their own thing. What’s the next step? Do I bare my teeth (figuratively, it would just be weird if I meant literally), do I start yelling, pick out the pack leader and go at him/her in front of everyone else, start waving around office referrals and detentions, unleash hell, curl up in the fetal position and sing softly to myself? What do I do on those days?

    Any suggestions?

  4. @Doug: It’s funny because in my years as a police officer and later Paramedic I can tell you that the parallels run deep. Rapport with suspects, patients, family members (or anyone with whom you come into contact as a source of authority) is crucial.

    It’s the open door, it’s the unbolted lock, it’s the getting into the ambulance when they really didn’t want to.

    I’ve seen it as well, cops and medics that work solely by intimidation. They’re usually insecure.


  5. @Nathan: There are a number of ways to handle that, I think. Obviously it depends on the unique climate in your classroom.

    Let me speak from my experience. I have a really good rapport with my classes but sometimes there are circumstances out of my control that negatively affect my flow.

    Maybe a few kids just got bad report cards, someone just broke up with someone, parents splitting up, you name it.

    Sometimes even the best classes just get distracted and need reminding. Frankly, I’m not like the other teachers. Often, I find myself just reminding them of that.

    At times it does take getting loud, if only to get their attention. Then, usually a good conversation works it out. I go with the quick jabs of how I feel when that happens and then a subtle reminder that it’s not appropriate to act disrespectfully. I can’t swear it will work for you but it usually works for me. Sometimes the only thing that works is the dismissal bell.

  6. @Nathan: Classes “doing their own thing” happens. In general you control time and space.

    A few strategies i’ve found helpful, any input for improving these would be great….

    -Have something for the students to do as soon as they enter the room, to start before the bell rings.
    -Put them on the clock to work on something for 1-5 minutes quietly. Circulate around the room.
    -Same activity but w/ a partner.

    -Have a seating chart and make changes where its necessary.
    -If you are in a lecture setting, and a student is misbehaving, move their seat. This for some reason is like the end of the world to some students.
    -Circulating around the class. If you sense some whispering or talking in a particular area, walk over there. Maybe put your hand on their desk while you keep going.

    A big thing, and this is always tough is limiting inappropriate talking. The rule for my class is “you can talk whenever you want, just raise your hand and wait to be called on.” This doesn’t mean 40 minutes of no talking, after 10-15 minutes I try to build in work w/ a partner or group. Then bring them back as a class by counting down 3-2-1 = attention getting signal.

  7. @ Dan: Thank you for thinking about these things in front of the world. This fall I will begin my 10th year of teaching, so it’s interesting to go “back to the basics” and think about classroom management. I haven’t seen the show Wired, but I love that you can make so many connections between the “real world” and the classroom.

    When I first started teaching, I took a class on classroom management. As a 21-year-old female teacher, I was quite worried about what I would do if things ever got out of hand. So, I took the class and implemented a system involving free-time that either increased or decreased as a reward/punishment. It worked fine (I taught middle school then), but it was rather exhausting to always time on my watch, count down, etc. Too many things to think about.

    Ten years later, I do not use that system. I’m not really sure when I stopped or what exactly I use in it’s place, but I think that you all have brought up some important ideas.

    @Doug: I totally agree with the idea of connecting with kids. All they really want is for someone to pay attention to them. I sometimes realize after a week or two that there are one or two kids in my class I haven’t talked to face-to-face. If that happens in their other classes (maybe they’re a quiet kid, etc.), they might actually go through an entire day of school and not speak to anyone. That’s sad, and a huge reminder to teachers about the importance of greeting kids, letting them share stories, etc.

    @ Nathan: I love your example using fun dad and discipline dad. As a mother of two, I feel your pain!

    So, as a conclusion, I guess that you do walk that fine line between being a friend to your students yet maintaining your role as the teacher. I think that if you keep your kids engaged, make school real and interesting, and let them be actively involved in the process, the classroom will manage itself.

  8. I always think of how strange this job is in that we even have to continue to have these conversations. I mean, of course it all starts with relationships. It should go without saying.

    But it doesn’t.

    When my wife has forced me to watch “You’ve Got Mail,” the one takeaway I have from the movie is when Tom Hanks (whose book mega-store has just put Meg Ryan’s boutique children’s book store out of business) tells Meg Ryan’s character, “It’s not personal. It’s business.” She replies something along the lines of, “Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal!”

    Working with new faculty is one of the best parts of my job, but I can’t teach them this stuff. I can model it. I can show them Dan’s videos. Some know it already when they show up, some figure out after a few years, and some just never get it and end up hating their jobs and “these kids.”

    Great video, Dan. Thanks.

  9. Dan:

    Stumbled across your site a few days ago while doing research for a course I’m currently taking. As a veteran teacher it’s great to see when a teacher gets it. Education often feels like a battle ground, and it sometimes is because we’re helping teenagers become adults and they’ve got so many personal battles.

    Your point is well made, as instructional leaders we must learn to choose wisely what battles we fight. We must learn to care. Because students don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.

    Good stuff.

  10. I’m lovin dy/av season one. I’m already looking forward to season two next summer. ;-)

    Better relationships do make a difference, and as you alluded to in the video, sometimes you just have to throw yourself out there. That can be scary, but as you do it more and more it gets easier. You either get better and being personable and showing that you care, or you just get over the anxiety.

    Making sure students know that you care and building that relationship doesn’t eliminate problems. What is does is make big problems small. It makes small problems into non-problems. It makes your day of teaching fun and memorable.

  11. @Ben: I think what you said nailed it. We can’t get rid of the major problems, but we can make them manageable by the way we treat the students. Of course, we could go the opposite way and make these problems completely unmanageable by being classroom dictators. As usual, the “easy” choice ends up being the one that makes life harder.

    @Dan: Another great video. Thank you.

  12. Yup. Part of my core values – relationship and holding hope for the future. Funny, just blogged about that today.

    It seems so simple, doesn’t it?

    good vid.

  13. Great work Dan… I just found your blog today. I added you to my Blogroll – your’s being the first one.

    I will be sharing many more of your clips/thoughts/etc on my website (http://roadtoteaching.wordpress.com/), which I set-up to directly support aspiring teachers. I believe student teachers and veteran teachers can gain a great deal through your blog.


  14. @Cara S when you said “I sometimes realize after a week or two that there are one or two kids in my class I haven’t talked to face-to-face. If that happens in their other classes (maybe they’re a quiet kid, etc.), they might actually go through an entire day of school and not speak to anyone.” it really resonated with me.

    Often it just takes a short interaction with a student to really make a big difference to them. I was surprised one day to get a phone call from a parent thanking me for my concern for her daughter. Her daughter was feeling down and thinking that none of her teachers–the significant adults in her life–cared. All I did was say “hey Jenny, you look a little down, is there anything I can do?” She didn’t pour open her soul to me, but clearly the idea that an adult noticed and cared was important to her. Important enough for her to talk to her mom, important enough for her mom to call me. It was only a 30 second interaction I had with Jenny that day, and after her mom’s phone call I realized those 30 seconds where the most meaningful of my teaching day.

    Building rapport with students isn’t just about helping with discipline issues, it’s about making all students feel valued and feeling like they are part of the school community.

    @Dan I love your videos and clearly I have to get caught up on ‘The Wire’ (I’m only on season 3). I’m glad you’re putting off the McNulty comparison for awhile–could damage the psyche!

  15. @Dan: Thanks for another thought-provoking video.

    @Everyone: Thanks for the discussion. I’m still thinking about this, but I appreciate the kick-start your comments gave me.

    I think the link between the classroom teacher and the police officer is an interesting one (wish I had thought of it) b/c it’s so cyclical. Put parents in there and you might have the life cycle for kids in their formative years. Maybe the real issue is how kids see teachers and how teachers play the balance: parent/nurturer or “cop”/punisher. One of my struggles has been getting through to the kids who feel everyone in their lives is the latter–trouble at home, trouble at school, all leading to trouble with the law. If the kid comes to me with that baggage, it’s so hard to find the cracks in the armor that might let me in. Not impossible, but so hard.

  16. Dan:

    I really like your series of videos… they are topical and hit the point! Great Job! I decided to post a comment on this one because I am a huge fan of the Wire and thought the way you followed the progression of Carver was perfect. I even embedded the video into my blog….

    I have been a classroom teacher for 20 years, just embarking on my first administrative assignment at a school not too far from you, I really applaud the depth you have in your message. Having spent basically a career as a teacher there are a few things that I want to share that you get to, but in 6 minutes can’t really get deep enough.

    First year teaching is like waging a two front war. Hitler tried it and lost… Kaiser Wilhelm tried it and lost… Napoleon tried it and lost… What do I mean two front war? You fight a two front war between Content and Management. Spend too much time on management, you never get to content and spend too much time in content you can’t get the kids focused enough for you to get to the content. Most every teacher will tell you that when they get their first teaching assignment that they were not 100% prepared from a content standpoint to fly solo. The ones who make it are the one’s that have the ability to teach themselves or have a great mentor to guide their journey. Those teachers who try to manage using power, more often than not burn out or are the one’s who send a steady stream of students to the administration to handle minor discipline issues. Who succeeds?

    Some of the comments above talk about classroom management like being a dictator of a third world country. I would challenge Baby Doc or Fidel to handle a class of 35 – 9th Graders on a Friday during 7th period on a day where the temperature is above 80*. Classroom management comes down to a choice between Power and Influence. Power is hard…. you expend so much energy being the most powerful person in the room 5 hours a day that by the time it is over, you crawl to your car and hope to get enough rest to do it again the next day. Using influence, you use the students in your class to create the norm and will help you manage those who are outside of that norm. Caring about what is going on in their lives and asking questions are great ways to build rapport and create influence in your classroom.

    Carver tried power… it didn’t work…. he switched to influence, he wasn’t 100% successful, but he knew there would be instances where he could change the life of one kid… even if it was just one kid! This is why he broke down taking Randy to the group home… Bunny Colvin changed the life of ONE KID! Remember the last episode…. Namon is giving a speech in front of an academic group and DuQuan, who showed promise working on a computer with Mr. P., was shooting up heroin in the alley.

  17. @Kyle, thanks for delurking and posting your analysis here. Watch for Prezbo later this season of dy/av.

    Incidentally, something I think is really cool about teaching is that great content dissipates a lot of management issues. That is, when my coursework has been challenging, fun, and my students have felt actualized, management hasn’t been much of an issue.

  18. hi im new at teaching, im an english teacher and so far all is going bad for me, my students are hell i try for the firts weeks to be a teacher and a friend to some point u know, not going to deep into u can do what you want but a mix between the 2 and it didnt work so i start with my discipline cause my boss told me to do it that way i mean my boss didnt ask but told me to do it that way and is worse now and i just reach a point where i dont know what to do, some students had a problem between them and they blame it on me doing nothing i mean i didnt know! i was writing on the board and they were wispering things to eachother i told me them to go quiet and they did but later i found out one hit other with a book, but i dont have eyes everywhere and one should say hey teacher this is going on we need help here but no one say a thing so i got called to the principal office cause one of the girls left school and well why the teacher did nothing and is not fair cause the other students also didnt know what happend and this is not the firts thing that happend im going crazy im thinking about leaving and i love teaching but i really dont know what to do anymore