What We Aren’t Talking About

The Project I Killed

Last year I lined up 31 maxims for effective classroom management which I intended (at whatever point I found a few spare months) to publish in several forms and at several price points, after which I planned to retire at age 25 to a small island off the coast of Malta which I’d also own. Then it was this year and I scrapped somewhere near half of them.

Classroom Management: A Working Definition

See, no aspect of my practice changes more from year to year than my ability to keep a class of 35 students who define “heterogeneity” in every way working hard for two hours out of two hours, irrespective of how much they actually care about math or school or even life, irrespective of their home lives, wasting no one’s time or talent, respecting every student every day.

Maybe nothing I’ve ever done has been harder.

Classroom Management: Anecdotally

It’s come up a lot recently. Every day over the last week, once per period, something came up. Several students simply became too familiar. Several more decided they lived outside our mutually established classroom norms.

But every time I pulled a student outside – isolating the behavior outside, refusing to engage the student inside – the result was an oddly affirming experience for both student and teacher, one which looked nothing like how these things used to go. One conversation began with a mutual appreciation of the cherry tree blooming outside our classroom and ended with a student-initiated handshake.

Unless my experience as a classroom manager is several deviations below the mean, other people are struggling with this as I have struggled. New teachers are struggling with this. So why is classroom management the farthest topic from anyone’s blog?

Is It Because:

  • you’d rather talk about something flashier like tech integration or master scheduling?
  • you teach in a predominantly white, mid- to upper-ses district where a threatened phone call home is all the muscle you need?
  • you’ve worked at your school so long your legacy is all the muscle you need?
  • you figured it out so long ago, committed these movements to muscle memory so long ago, you’re useful to your students but useless to a student teacher trying to put it all together?

The Project Now

I’m running a new scheme right now, something similar to my original project, something to compensate for this deficiency in teacher training but pitched a little closer at my particular skill set.

Before throwing myself into this headfirst, I guess I’m wondering if the market for classroom management tutorial is everywhere or nowhere.

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. Dave Matheson

    March 1, 2008 - 4:54 pm -

    I think you would be providing an invaluable service to many new teachers. While many teachers seem to be able to manage a classroom intuitively, most have to think our way through it.
    You can’t teach effectively unless you can get them settled into ‘listening’ mode.

  2. I think it’s closer to “everywhere”. There are reasons you can’t tell every new teacher “just do these specific things, and your classroom will hum.” However good the preparation is, I think a few years of stumbling around and getting burned by the opportunistic little cherubs is unavoidable. (I’m no expert, either, I’m in year 3.) The only book I read before I started was “The First Days of School”, which was not bad as a jumping-off point. Student teaching is not the best place to develop these skills, because the kids know you are a temporary annoyance in their lives.

    My life got much easier when I surrendered to the fact that I’m the grownup in the room. I “make the weather”, if you’ve ever read that little secular prayer about CM. However I act, they learn that that’s how it’s ok to act. I don’t go to work every day to make a bunch of 15 year old friends, I go to share some of the best of our civilization, and help them learn how to be in the world.

    CM isn’t one size fits all. A teacher’s personality does much to determine what will work for him. This makes it rather difficult to advise unknown readers. CM isn’t one size fits all even for the same teacher. I might handle the same behavior with a stern look, encouragement to the task at hand, lighthearted teasing, an appeal to the child’s sense of duty, or sense of fairness, an invitation to speak with me after class, or a hand-on-the-small-of-the-back accompanied by some whispered directives, depending on which kid I’m dealing with.

    Anyway, I’m sure none of this is news to you, and I didn’t mean to discourage you, I’d like to read what you have to say about it.

  3. I’d definitely be interested in what you have to say. I’m always looking for new CM tricks and techniques. Looking forward to it!

  4. Classroom management is definitely the most important thing for all teachers, and the spot that young teachers need the most guidance. I agree with you when you say that it is much less flashy than cool math lessons or technology in place, but would be much more valuable to someone looking for assistance.

    I also agree with Kate that it isn’t a “one size fits all” answer for classroom management, but there are many things that all good classrooms have in common.

  5. Here’s why I don’t talk about classroom management:

    It’s highly individualized, both to me and whatever class I have that year. My classroom management challenges are ordinarily limited to a few students who have SEVERE problems brought on by their life situations, disabilities, or incredibly poor parenting. I feel it would be a violation of their privacy to talk about those particular issues in a public forum.

    Secondly, many of my management problems are because there are students in the general ed classroom who frankly don’t belong there. “Least restrictive environment” is often not the best idea for anyone involved, including the student or their classmates. I don’t talk about that much because it’s not politically correct, and I don’t yet have tenure.

    Last, anything I could say, Harry Wong said it better. That doesn’t mean that you couldn’t say it better, too. Or that you can’t say something different/better than Harry Wong.

  6. I’ve talked about classroom management and tips in the last year or so, but not extensively, because of the reason of individualization. Every person has their own style and what works for them. Becoming the teacher you want to be has everything to do with who you are already. If you’re a screamer, then your classroom management will look different from non-screamers. Unfortunately, that’s just the way some teachers roll. Never mind the fact that every teacher has a different set of children to deal with not just city to city, but even class to class. The little adjustments we make with every class to our general management style make all the difference.

  7. Two things.

    First, thanks. I think you’ve unblocked me. I’ve not had a lot to say on my blog for a couple months now. Nothing’s hitting home. Classroom management is one of the topics in which I am most interested. I spent two weeks with my undergrad teachers-to-be on it. And I learned from experience working my way through the system in the very diverse schools in South Florida — from the uber-privileged to the inner city.

    Interestingly, my first EVER post on LeaderTalk was about discipline from an administrative perspective.

    Second, as to why I’m not talking about it (can’t speak for anyone else) I guess I figured it was something that interested me but not necessarily anyone else. After all, if you’ve made it to the administrative level surely you’ve figured out classroom management. (This, of course, begs a bigger question of who I’m blogging for, but that’s for another post.)

    Anyway, as I have a pretty good idea of where you stand on classroom management, I can say that you and I work with students in much the same way.

    I’m looking forward to putting together some blog posts on my philosophy and experience in this. Thanks for the inspiration.

  8. McSwain,

    Isn’t everything individualized? This is why I advocate sharing everything. Not the gory details but principles and concepts. We certainly can learn to write about this is in these terms.

    When will we figure out the long tail idea? Someone, somewhere needs this.

    As far as Dan’s original idea that it’s not flashy, the long tail theory applies again.

    The reason we don’t see more of this is because those who are best at this likely aren’t accessible beyond their schools….if that.

  9. I’ve talked about it a little, but being a relatively new teacher I’m still trying to personalise my own approach. What I’ve used as my classroom management strategy is based on what my Head Teacher has taught me – her classroom is well-managed, so it seemed an excellent starting point.

    As I personalise and clarify my own management style, I’m sure I’ll post more.

    As to the market for a classroom management tutorial – it’s everywhere. I suspect the lack of understanding of how to manage a classroom is the single biggest contributing factor to people leaving the profession. New teachers that walk in to a classroom without a strategy that will work are likely to fail.

  10. I work a lot with preservice teachers at my school and I know that classroom management is what freaks them out the most. (I think some of them should be a bit more concerned with other things as well, but that’s just my opinion.) There are a lot of folks who would benefit from council on this.

    I have to agree with all the thoughts on how individualized classroom management has to be. However, you seem to be able to see the big picture well and extrapolate from your own experience to make strong generalizations. I think seeing that done on this topic would be beneficial to even the best teachers.

  11. Speaking for myself (and for whom else could I speak?), the market exists. Looking forward to the 31 maxims. Heck, right now, I’d be happy with one. I don’t know what I can really change at this point in the year, but I’m already thinking about what I’ll do differently next year.

  12. i dunno about this new venture of yours…i can’t seem to find the words about why i think it could be tough. i think kate wrote about it best…it seems to be something so highly individualized. but then in her post she gives an example of what might be one of your 31 principles – “the teacher makes the weather”.

    re: the market. well, i’d say to keep writing the way you do on this blog. i’m a middle school english / history teacher at a private school in hong kong, you’re a high school math teacher at a public school in cali. yet i never let a new post of yours last more than 24 hours in my feedreader. keep the message broad but your anecdotes fresh, like you do here, and i wouldn’t bet against you getting your beachfront property.

    and ps, master schedules are flashy? you ever worked on one of those? flashy they are not, imho. more like a rubix cube from hell.

  13. Sadly, I think you need the right combination of effective management skills AND teaching in one of the most unthinkable teaching environments ala Ron Clark teaching in an inner city school.

    Any other environment, and you’re relegated to a tiny spot on the “education” shelf next to Mr. Wong’s first 100 days.

  14. Managing groups of people is something you can learn and train in. I think lot’s of things can be generalized, but even more can be done in trainig sessions.

    Be aware of your mindset. “The class even te entire school is mine and my pupils are guests here” works for me. I’m a friendly host of course but the are in my den (and as mentioned above, I’m the adult).

    Be aware of body language (partly determined by mindset). Crossing your hands, nervous gestures, do you look in their eyes, … they do more than words ever can.

    Enthousiasm. Not just the subject you’re teaching but the personalities of the children, you should be sincerely enthousiastic about it. Knowing their names is the least you can do.

    Honesty. If you think a lesson didn’t work you can admit it. If you make an error, apologize.

    these 4 things work for me. I use my body language and mindset the first time i enter a new classroom. Enthousiasm gathers me their respect and honesty lets me keep it.

  15. you teach in a predominantly white, mid- to upper-ses district where a threatened phone call home is all the muscle you need?

    I teach in the upperest-class public school in the Northeast, where the phone calls home are answered, fairly often, by the “help.” Management isn’t just an issue for the great brown unwashed masses, m’friend.

    But the word “management” gives me a touch of the uh-oh feeling; to me, pinning your management success/failure to your ability to keep the kids busy bell-to-bell (do you have bells in Californy?) smacks of a fear of downtime, of letting your guard down a little when appropriate. My “management” style allows for that; there are days when the Future Oligarchs of America are so worked up about something (a kid’s been injured in a car wreck; the school’s full of cops and nobody knows why; whatever) that taking a little time out to let them get it all out of their systems is the best thing in the world for our collective sanity. Huck Finn‘s lasted 120 years; it’ll still be there tomorrow.

    I sat through a five hour presentation on differentiated classroom management a few months ago and it left me depressed. This woman suggested what basically amounted to tricks with smoke and mirrors in order to hold kids’ attention (for example: if a kid is bothering you, start pacing and talking to yourself so s/he thinks you’re crazy!). If you need to resort to that, and your personality isn’t enough to be genuine and mature with a group of teenagers, you might want to rethink your career path.

    I’m looking forward to reading your stuff on management, though, because I figure I’ll get at least a little out of it. Bring it.

  16. There’s not much good available on the topic, so there’s certainly a market.

    I haven’t written anything about it because I haven’t discovered any new grand insights.

    The only thing I can think of offhand is how I’ve gotten better at determining what behavior to make a fuss about, and what to brush off lightly. Some student behavior is done solely to attempt to push buttons, so a reaction will encourage rather than discourage it.

  17. I second what Jackie said.

    And I have a request.

    Right now, I’m in bed with the flu. The I’m-keeping-a-chart-of-how-often-I-take-Tylenol-because-I-can’t-remember flu. The I-don’t-have-the-energy-to-lay-on-the-couch-and-watch-a-movie flu. (I’m kinda surprised I think I have energy to write this.)

    I was out on Friday. Apparently, my students were little devils. Unless I make a miraculous recovery in the next couple of hours, I’ll be out again tomorrow.

    Any advice about how to address their misbehavior when I make it back? And any clues on how to motivate them to do the work while I’m out? (Not that I can really do much at this point…)

  18. I have to chuckle a bit at Jeff’s reply. Far and away my WORST experience with parental support was when I was teaching math at Uber-Rich High School in Florida (5 miles from Boca Raton if that tells you anything…).

    IF a phone call was answered, the implication was often, “What would you like me to do about it? You’re the teacher. Handle it.” Or worse, “Don’t you ever dare to make little Maxwell feel bad about his behavior. He’ll do what he wants in your class and if you so much as threaten to confiscate his cell phone I’ll sue you for…”

    I’ve found that the more middle-of-the-road the population is, the more support you’ll often find at home. And with respect to a good chunk of our ELL kids who so often get a bad rap as “Those Kids” who can’t seem to behave, I’ve often found Those Parents to be the most supportive if you’re willing to find the time (and often the translator) to make the call.

  19. I agree with a lot that has been said in the comments, but I also think there’s one more element that specifically talks to why teachers don’t blog about classroom management.


    There is a lot to be said for blogging about general techniques about how to keep a classroom running smoothly, but I think discussing a classroom which isn’t running smoothly is problematic. And that’s when you see the flip side of classroom management — what doesn’t work and why.

    Because to get to the heart of specific problems/incidents requires details (about the student, the student personality, your school and it’s policies, and your teaching style). Context. And to share that on a public blog that your students can find is in bad form – no?

    With that said, inspired by this post, I just typed up a list of notes I took from a veteran teacher on classroom management that I think is quite good — at least when working with students in my particular school.


    -Sam Shah

  20. I would love to see the management list. Most likely, a lot of the stuff won’t apply directly to my situation(s), but I think any starting off point would be helpful. And the “professional” websites are awful in terms of offering real, practical advice…

  21. I think part of why we don’t hear about it more is that when it’s going well, we want to focus on the teaching rather than the management, and when it goes poorly (this year I’m getting close to 2 dozen referrals – that’s an order of magnitude larger than I had last year) we don’t want to publicly expose what we perceive as the fruits of incompetence.

    There are excellent management resources out there. I’m sure you’ve mentioned Fred Jones. Everyone knows Harry Wong (though my take on him is that it doesn’t click until *after* you actually do it). And the one that made the biggest difference for me was Rick Smith, from whom I learned about all the stuff you can’t take for granted when you walk into a classroom.

    There is room for more, though. For all the good advice available, there are lots of teachers who struggle with this every day…

  22. I work like the dickens the first 6 weeks of school to show the kids who is in charge. Most years, they fall into line, but occasionally, I get a student who wants to be the boss. I have one this year and at the end of the third quarter, we are still going head to head, even after a parent conference.

    On Friday, I had a visitor to my class, and I wasn’t in the room as I had taken 4 kids to another room in the next hall over, to set up a video camera. I met her as I came back to class and she asked the guide, “who is the teacher in there?” The guide pointed to me, and said, “she is and that’s how good she is, she can leave the class and they continue on like she’s still there.” Made me feel pretty good. But, it has taken lots of hard work to get them to that point. My senior class? Hah, I can’t leave them for a second or they will destroy one another and my room.

  23. Your post brought me back to a moment one month into my 2nd student teaching assignment. Everything I accidentally learned in one 5-minute moment — while lying on my back underneath a fallen chair-desk as my students looked on — continues to be the center of my classroom management style today, more than 15 years later.

    For those who lack interest in reading the rest, suffice it to say that it comes down to the following very impressive and much-researched formula I’m trying to copyright and cash-in:
    TMEM&LLF + DS + TLA + SSLA + H (nP, nGMAStSF) = RBH(nP), which in turn leads to ECM

    TMEM&LLF: Teacher makes an epic mistake, looks like a fool, in front of his/her students
    DS: Deep silence across the classroom (although you can feel the snickers beginning to grow strength)
    TLA: Teacher laughs aloud (at self — the crux)
    SSLA: Stunned students finally laugh aloud (strangely following TIF teacher’s lead…)
    H (nP, nGMAStSF): Teacher demonstrates ‘humility’ (not ‘power’) — modeling what most of the kids feel internally themselves most days — and chooses not to get mad at students to save face as the ‘adult’/expert in room
    RBH(nP): A strange layer of ‘respect’ based on humility (not perfection)suddenly enters the room as teacher manages to both laugh-at-oneself while simultaneously acknowledging the students as having a legit reason to laugh, as teacher manages to continue teaching as if this was the ‘most normal thing in the world to happen to him/her’…
    ECM: Effective Classroom Management


    My story (that continues to fuel my CM style even today):

    Class: ‘regular’ 9th grade English, Midwest public school, low/mid socio-economic scale, early 90’s. While there were some real 9th graders in my class (the nervous ones, even more nervous than I was), most were in their 2nd or 3rd go on this class…and waiting until they could legally drop out of school and get a ‘real’ job with their hands.

    Topic: Greek mythology. Something not-so ground-zero to their real lives. We were color-mapping Ulysses’ sailing adventures as a way to break out of the text a bit. Most of these kids had never seen a sailboat; most never would. Greece was a movie to them, maybe; certainly not a place they’d ever visit. Ulysses’ trip was as vital as the chemical composition of the lunchroom tray they carried their tater tots on when they didn’t leap the fence at lunchtime.

    Me: At 23, I was filled with just enough swagger, nerves, coffee (and cigarettes, since I still smoked to balance out those 3 elements back then) to ‘fake’ my way through most days when my lead teacher left the room (for 2+ months at one point). I knew very little about teaching or the subject, to be honest, but I wasn’t gonna let any of my kiddos know that.

    The Moment: Feeling as if my students and I were actually ‘connecting’ for a change, I sat on the edge of one of the empty classroom chair-desks to get ‘closer’ to my audience and to make a final point about the Sirens or Medusa or some dog the main character left at home before his journey began 10 years earlier. Lots of eye contact. 15 minutes to go before the class ended. Feeling good.

    Then suddenly I was up in the air, landing on my back, upside down looking at the ceiling, that very chair-desk now laying on top of me. Apparently physics decided to add a little humility to my day.

    The room was silent. Dead silent. All eyes looking my way, most likely on the verge of throwing me off the cliff for the rest of the year, or at least under a bus…

    I looked up. Caught the eye of one of my wrestlers who hated the class (and probably me). I smiled. Said to him (loud enough for everyone else in the class to hear), “Josh, If I had been you watching that, I’d be laughing my ass off at this moment.” And I began laughing.

    His eyes got wide. Real wide. Then he laughed. A legit you-and-me kind of laugh. The other kids followed. I continued laughing. As did they.

    And then I kept on teaching, right there while laying on my back, the chair-desk still laying across my stomach/legs, as if it was part of my master plan all along. In a minute or so, after I got back onto my 2 feet, I noticed that most of the class was actually taking notes. Crazy, that…

    …because looking back, I had maybe 30 seconds to create or destroy my future teaching career….and there was zero middle ground to choose from and my audience wasn’t gonna throw me a bone if I selected poorly.

    I figured out 2 key things at that moment that I’ve never forgotten:

    1. Most teachers spend too much time trying to validate their authority or expertise, when both already are givens the moment they walk in the door. What they fail to do is validate their students in the process.

    2. Kids see teachers fail every day. Rarely, however, do they see teachers take failure in stride and turn it into something healthy in the process. Sadly, many teachers feel such embarrassment when they do fail in front of their kids that they actually take it out on the kids instead. Silly, that. Most of our students feel failure every second of their school life — that nature of the game for kids both in and out of the classroom as their identity/ego is in constant flux — and what they need around them are more adults/teachers that seem to handle their own ‘human’ experiences with a bit of humor and and humility.
    Otherwise, how will they learn how to do it themselves?

    So there you have it: my CM.

    I fell of a chair-desk as a student teacher. I laughed at myself. In front of the kids. And allowed them to laugh at me, too…while subtly taking back control of the classroom in the process. It still works today. 15 years later. When I’m still making mistakes constantly, but never taking that out on my kids to save face.


    …and the fact that I can steamroll each and every one of them in a battle-of-words when they get uppety. (he smiles)

  24. I am your market.

    I wish more people would write about specifics. All the advice that I get, online, in the faculty room, is too general for that moment when the student has just Done Something and I don’t know what to do.

    For example, they told me my first year “make it clear who’s in charge in the first few weeks and don’t relax until second marking period.” Ok, sure, that might work for you, but um, how do you do that? You can’t explain it because it’s too individual? Well, that’s a ton of help to me. Thanks guys.

  25. Most teachers spend too much time trying to validate their authority or expertise, when both already are givens the moment they walk in the door. What they fail to do is validate their students in the process.

    This is a lesson I recently relearned and by far the best advice I have thus far received on what remains my biggest hobgoblin. That said, I 100% agree with Penelope. Specifics help, even if you more experienced teachers think any given situation is too individual to be meaningful. A horde of specific examples can help us neophytes work out some patterns of thought, which if nothing else reveals our own comfort level with various CM techniques and styles.

    If Dan says “situation X happened and I did Y about it” and I think “there’s no way I would react like that, even if it worked for him,” I’ve still learned something valuable. If I do agree with him and situation Z happens in my classroom, I might be able to extrapolate an effective reaction from what I had read.

    The confidentiality question does perturb me, especially as I made the decision to blog under my own name (for now). Tentatively, I would suggest that as long as you stick to the facts (e.g. Student A did X and I responded with Y. The result was Z) and avoid prejudicial language (e.g. “Student A has been a real pain in the ass all year”) you should be OK. But that doesn’t change the distinct possibility that student A might Google your name and come across that very post, which might make him uncomfortable and damage your relationship.

    I suppose the question then, is whether that is an acceptable consequence. I submit that it is to a point. Really basic issues (mouthing off, refusing to participate, etc.) are fine to discuss, but extremely personal or embarrassing incidents should be avoided. I would love to know how to handle it if a student of mine craps himself in class, but I don’t think any such student would be thrilled at me discussing the event should it come to pass. For the time being, I intend to largely address the issue by focusing heavily on my own inadequacies, rather than those I perceive in my (future) students. Maybe a sufficient time delay between said incident and a blog post discussing it should also be followed. I’d be interested in hearing more opinions on this matter.

  26. I agree with Christian. The longer I’ve taught the more valuable I see having transparency in what I do.
    1) Maybe its the movies and the media, or just societal norms, but making mistakes is both scorned and denied to the point that we’ve skewed kids understanding of it. So many students are scared to try anything new. I not only point out my mistakes, I remind students of current events that point to mistakes others have made. An all-star receiver that drops a sure winning touchdown (but the receiver is still revered as being a great player), the various celebrities, some of which are extremely talented at what they do, blowing a line to a song or play. I use Barbara Streisand of all people as an example of someone that is very talented, but that is so scared before she goes on stage she throws up sometimes.

    2) I also think it is important to talk to students about how to react when they make a mistake. I get the class rolling on the floor by making a mistake and then acting extremely embarrassed and running out of the room with my hands covering my face and a look of terror in my eyes. Then I return and we discuss my reaction. Did any of them suddenly think I was a total dweeb because I got the wrong answer to the math problem IN FRONT OF THE WHOLE CLASS!? Some kids laughed at my mistake … does that mean it struck them as funny? Or does laughing mean they think I’m a total screw-up and they hate me and they’re going to tell everybody and nobody will want to be my friend? I teach upper elementary so these examples are geared to that level … but you get my point.
    When I have these discussions with my students you can see the little gears spinning in their heads and the looks of acknowledgment and relief on some faces … they have never thought or talked about this stuff and … well … I think we should remember to do so … its important I think.

  27. Christian writes (and Neal seconds): “Most teachers spend too much time trying to validate their authority or expertise, when both already are givens the moment they walk in the door.”

    Gonna hafta to call BS on you gentlemen right here, and on you Scott. Sorry. Walk on in to a west Oakland classroom armed with nothing more than your all too easily acquired title of “teacher,” act as if the authority vested in that title is a given, and see how far that all goes. Scott, I grew up in Broward. Don’t tell me it’s harder to be a teacher at Douglas (where my brother attended) than Boyd Anderson (my proud alma mater). For reals, man. Once again, there is a clear difference in the way things play out across different communities, and we do well to not forget that.

    There’s no need to get in a pissing contest about who teachers in rougher environments, but in places where CMC is the most salient, assumptions like this one are less than helpful. When adopted by those in charge of teacher preparation, they tend to do a lot of harm.

    Christian also writes: “What [many teachers] fail to do is validate their students in the process.”

    Now we’re getting somewhere. This is the start of how you validate yourself, because you need to validate yourself. Not as someone with a title and the capacity to punish, because that is a given, but as a real person. You need to validate yourself as someone who works for kids, who is there to benefit and assist. That is NOT a given in many, many communities. As a sad and unfortunate rule of thumb, the poorer and darker the kids, the less it is a given.

    Rigor, relevance, and relationships, right? The new three r’s.

  28. Here is my attempt to address Penelope’s question above, about how to individualize your classroom management.

    It is admittedly short on the specifics she asks for – I tried to provide more of a road map for problem solving, since that will apply in every situation she finds herself in, rather than one individual one.

  29. TMAO – While I can’t speak for Christian, I think you misinterpreted his position (and mine–though I admittedly didn’t not elaborate on my agreement).

    First, I must admit that my own experience supervising kids thus far has not been in a school setting and more often than not has involved children on the more privileged side of the socioeconomic fence. I have never worked with children possessing severe learning disabilities or major behavioral problems. I have worked with plenty of kids who assumed I was their enemy. Also, I am currently a librarian (soon-to-be graduate student in teaching history) so my point of view is a little different.

    That said, I don’t think that anyone here would dispute that a teacher has to earn the respect of his or her students, perhaps even more so in certain environments. For me, Christian’s point was more about self-possession. If I interact with a room full of 10th graders as if I’m not sure I have the right to be there with them, I’m not going to get anywhere. In my experience, that attitude can permanently sabotage my ability to manage them at all. They need to know that I am a figure worthy of authority. I need to show them why. But, if I don’t believe it, they won’t believe it.

    What I don’t do is act like they had better listen to me just because I’m “someone with a title and the capacity to punish” and I don’t think that’s what Christian meant by saying that a teacher’s authority is “a given.” From the moment I make contact with a child, I make it clear that I consider them worthy of the same respect I want them to show me, because they are the reason I’m there in the first place. It condescending to assume we don’t realize that validating the students is an important step towards validating our own authority.

    Christian’s point, as I saw it, was that many teachers spend too much time worrying that they have to prove they are in charge and not to be trifled with by being overly strict, etc. Implicitly, he considers validating the students more important than trumpeting one’s own authority. That leads very neatly into the point you made.

    Christian – if I’ve misrepresented you, I apologize.

  30. TMAO: There is a part of me that greatly respects your desire to “call BS” on any/all of what I wrote earlier. Anytime we take a unique experience and try to use it as an umbrella missive for the rest to consider, or try to take a universal and skin it down into a very unique setting that may only come around for a handful of us, and the “BS” call has to go out.

    And I’ll also echo your “Once again, there is a clear difference in the way things play out across different communities, and we do well to not forget that” follow-up.

    Been there, seen that…in real time.

    After having had the pleasure of teaching HS students near the Minnesota Ave Metro stop in Anacostia (the ‘other’ other side of the river from D.C., and not the one with cobblestone streets, in case you get the least bit confused) — and receiving the opening day nickname of “Slim Shady” for being one of 4 non-black/Dominican members of the school (kid or adult) — I can say that I’m not taking the “call BS” call-to-arms response too personally. Oddly enough, found the same dynamic going on when teaching in New Mexico in a town evenly divided (not a lot of unification going on) by a 30/30/30 split between Navajos/Chicanos/Anglos, too. I also found it when I was not-so-pleasantly called a “gaiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiijin” by finger-pointing train riders as I stumbled my way through teaching in Japan, too.

    You see, I shed sensitivity to that “you don’t know what you’re talking about” reaction ages ago, even if I teach in a school placed in the other end of the socio-economic spectrum at this point in my career.

    You rightfully wrote:

    “There’s no need to get in a pissing contest about who teachers in rougher environments, but in places where CMC is the most salient, assumptions like this one are less than helpful.”

    …and yet, that statement of yours came on the very heels of you first establishing:

    “Walk on in to a west Oakland classroom armed with nothing more than your all too easily acquired title of “teacher,” act as if the authority vested in that title is a given, and see how far that all goes.”

    “[P]issing contest” or not, “call[ing] BS” or not, what does a young teacher or teacher-to-be need in their opening days/years? This is what I’m most curious about, my friend.

    I’m guessing that — for you and me both — it comes down establishing the following distinctions in terms of the way this CM conversation can spin:

    1. The universal issue of classroom management that plays well in ANY/ALL situations. While this option surely misses a few edge-details that can’t be accounted for no matter how many pages the new-teacher training manual might offer, it is the backbone of a long career…and frankly a heck of a lot more zen than prescriptive when you look closely enough at it.

    2. The context-specific issue of classroom management that is unique aligned with neighborhood/classroom A (vs. neighborhood/classroom B, taken to infinity). This option has as much to do with the culture and administration of the specific school than it does with anything that can be discussed via a blog comment thread or via a teacher education program at the university-of-the-day.

    Your “new three r’s” seems to speak to point 1 above.

    And if so, I’m there with you, flag in hand. I’ll even go so far as to say that the first two (rigor and relevance) are only able to be in play when relationships are established…and legitimately so. Sure, you can force/fake the first two for awhile, but over time: no relationship, no play, no matter how well you re-tool your worksheets.

    Have I seen first-hand the following which you rightly ended your response? Sadly, many times over:

    “As a sad and unfortunate rule of thumb, the poorer and darker the kids, the less it is a given.”

    I also know that the ONLY variable in that sentence (and well-timed ending statement) of yours that any of us can universally work with is:

    “…the kids…”

    This is why I have zero problem with you “call[ing] BS” on whatever assumption you may have had about what teaching experiences/settings I’m drawing from to make my earlier point(s). It’s all good.

    And it’s also why I’m pretty kosher with the idea of “relationships” being the anchor of your “new three r’s”, too. At the end of the day, the ONLY reason ANY kid has taken me seriously in the classroom — rich or poor — is because I never fail to validate their vital role in that classroom.

    I do appreciate your take on the “because you need to validate yourself” comment, but man, I never, ever, ever worry about that being an overt/intentional act on my part.

    Unapologetic, down-deep mindset? Maybe.

    But never some “write this down in your new teacher journal and try it out one day when you find out the kids don’t care that you love math/English/defensivedriving” CM rule.

    Never did. And never have.

    I’m curious, TMAO, about one more thing.

    Do you really think that 90% of the effective CM tactics YOU’VE discovered over the years that work for YOU is something that you could have actually been taught?

    OR did you find out that you:

    a) had to just suck up the tenuous learning curve in real-time,
    b) have the audacity to be there the next day over and over again, in spite of the best the kids could throw at you when you hadn’t gained their respect yet, and
    c) respect the hell out of every one of your students in the process as much as you did for your subject-of-choice?

    Just curious.

  31. You’d rather talk about something flashier like tech integration or master scheduling?

    After reading a lot of teacher blogs, I choose this one. Seriously, people. This is the only response.

    What’s worked for me:

    1. Fake having authority.

    2. Never let on you don’t have it.

    3. Be a real hardass.

    4. If you say you’ll do it, then do it. Give no slack.

    5. Use humiliation to taste.


  32. PS – I know you are an English teacher, so I beg your forgiveness for the egregious typos above (“didn’t not…!??” Ugh.) I plead fatigue and stupidity…

  33. H: Baxter got you to look, didn’t he? (And note his blog address?) Perhaps there is a bit of wink, wink, nudge, nudge going on with his 180 degrees list there? Maybe?

    Neal: No worries. Represent or misrepresent, it’s all good either way. And I don’t have a savvy enough red pen that is clever enough to mark up your comment through the computer.

    Baxter: Amen to #4. Unless you have to change your mind. But as long as you write, “Unless I change my mind”, on the board, it’s all cool with the kids who are paying attention, and good enough for the lawyers representing the kids who weren’t.

  34. 6’7″ is classroom management.

    Everything else is personality, patience, and passion.

    Publish or perish, Dan.

  35. Christian,

    It’s a little sad that you allowed my use of the collequial to take on such reams of personal meaning. I called BS on an assertion, not the validity of your entire career. My reference to west Oakland was used to support my own assertion, not undermine the lack of necessity around miteration competitions. You agreed, and yet miterated still, in italics, bold, and parenthetical asides.

    You provide a dichotomous way to structure a discussion of classroom management and culture (CMC): 1) the zen of universality and the 2) school specific details that don’t go anywhere.

    No thanks.

    There are clear principles behind effective CMC such as the ones Dan’s working on, principles that must go beyond “relationships” to be effectively applied on anything that looks like a wide scale. These are things that can be taught and learned. That folks badly teach poor principles badly to new and beginning teachers does not contradict this. At the same time, these principles must, must, must be informed by local conditions. Teaching prep and our discussions of it are far too general, far too disconnected, and far too unspecialized.

    So yes, I do believe CMC can be learned, and yes, I do believe actions taken in that regard — whether we speak of building class culture or validating oneself in any regard — must be intentional.

  36. I would love to hear some specifics from Dan, or TMAO, or someone else who “gets it,” so the rest of us can decide for ourselves. In other words, post away, Dan! It looks like you have all the audience you need.

    I suspect that at the end of the day, like for so many other things, I’ll find inspiration from all sides of the discussion.

  37. Sigh, do we really want to go here? Look at TMAO and Christian arguing. Seriously, I’m willing and I do share stuff on my blog, it’s just not all over the place. I worry about confidentiality. Not mine, but spreading stuff around about my kids that if they found the blog, they’d get?

    But, I don’t feel like my reflection posts have been that great lately. People liked them originally because they were “real” and honest. I tried to do tricks like week in a sentence stuff and microblogging, and I think I’ve lost my narrative voice, so it all sounds like marketing bullet points.

    Frankly, I talk about all the Web 2.0 stuff I’m doing in the class because, well, I teach computer prep. I do try to talk about management considerations from time to time. One of the most popular PD classes in the district is on classroom management in a computer lab (middle school teacher does that one) so I know it’s a big concern.

  38. TMAO: Appreciate the response, even where you’re calling me out on the carpet. Much to learn from it on my end. Big-picture-wise, here’s what grabbed my attention the most: You and I are both in it for the right reasons, semantics and rhetoric aside. If I had a guy like you in my building, I know my students and colleagues would be well served.

    A couple of things that stand out about what you wrote, however, which I’d love your help on so I can get a better handle on where you’re coming from…and a better sense overall of how you see CM(C):

    1. One uses collequial language to make meaning more real, more unique, more anecdotal. This also opens up the door for interpretation — the semantics of “assertion” or not. Coupled with the “call BS” challenge, it only stands to reason that I’d speak to what limited experience I’ve had in a similar arena, a similar arena where similar collequial examples were just as at play. Not sure why that’s “sad” in terms of “personal meaning”. But again, I’m curious where you’re coming from, because each of us is sitting on a hill of experiences that are driving our assumptions about CM(C), theory and formal training aside.

    2. If we — or anyone in this mix — were to put together yet another CM(C) textbook or tutorial, they’d be forced to either take the road of “universal” solutions or speak to a very specific “context” in order to target their audience with useful examples. Not sure where I failed you — other than the word “zen” raising a possible eyebrow — in my use of this dichotomy. Do I think that I’d want a very specific set of examples if I were a new teacher with little experience as I was entering a very specific school setting/community? Sure, but I’d also come to realize that I might not be in the same context/setting my entire career, either, and that my kids weren’t always going to fall into line with other’s previous experiences. This doesn’t minimize the value of either front of ideas. But until this comment thread begins to focus on a specific classroom in a specific school in a specific community with a specific set of socio-economic realities, the “universal” set is going to win by default. Otherwise, what happens is that you and I fall prey to drawing lines in the sand by virtue of our resume-based experiences and assumptions. Semantics aside, how would you best frame a textbook of solutions that would affect the widest range of incoming educators trying to manage a classroom? I figure the KIPP training guide already has much of it figured out…but I also figure that most incoming teachers are not necessarily going to be in the KIPP world…and the suggestions would be too prescriptive out of the gate.

    3. Intrigued by your statement: “There are clear principles behind effective CMC such as the ones Dan’s working on, principles that must go beyond “relationships” to be effectively applied on anything that looks like a wide scale.” I think you’re right at heart. Principles matter and context drives adoption. But I’m also getting this Frederick W. Taylor “efficiency” model drumming a beat in my head. He had no problem tying down human behavior to a set of repeated principles followed by repeated actions to drive efficiency day after day. Worked great on the assembly line. I know, however, that my kids in Anacostia (and those I work with today) would have been poorly served had I lost track of the irregular, the spontaneous, and the instinctive as I served their longterm interests and immediate realities.

    4. I’m still curious — even with your final point re: CM(C) being “intentional” for young teachers– how much of what YOU now know about teaching and CM(C) was learned via formal training vs. pure experience on-the-fly. I know its always a combination of the two, but I legitimately want to know how you pulled off developing legitimate classroom management techniques over the course of your career-to-date.

    Again, appreciate your response, TMAO. Hear you on the heart of what you’re saying…but am still curious about a few things.

    Looking forward to your response (if you’re interested), parantheticals aside.

  39. More on the privacy thing:

    My first year had a conflict between student X and student Y that would make a great classroom management parable, except an IEP was involved and it’d be illegal to talk about it.

    Then there’s student Z from a different year, for whom an entire book could likely be written. Student Z got an IEP the year after I taught; I’m not even sure what the legal ramifications are there.

    My stint at in-school suspension led to quite a few illustrative stories, and I can’t talk about any of it.

    So yeah, being specific rather than vague is hard.

  40. Hi Christian,

    Maybe we’re caught up in semantics. Maybe not. Let’s take that idea of putting together a course in CMC. You say we can take a universal or prescriptive approach to the topics. So our choices for “consequences” is:

    UNIVERSAL: Consequences should arise out of unique classroom situations and the nature of the educator. Relationships must come first and are more powerful.

    PRESCRIPTIVE: 1st offense: non-verbal warning. 2nd offense: verbal warning. 3rd offense: timeout. 4th offense: reflection essay

    To which I respond, there is a third way that provides a principle that exists between the universal and the prescriptive. Such things aid in the development of emerging teachers, and don’t take us anywhere near the human assemblyline horror show you referenced.

    PRINCIPLE: Utilize a progressive discipline system.

    I learned how to manage a classroom. I was taught how. Key learnings from my South Bronx summer training that serve me now:

    1) Defy the myth of “can’t behave.” There are no pobrecitos here.
    2) Seek prevention over punishment.
    3) Strong and lasting procedures will eventually take the place of rules and cause rules to be unnecessary
    4) Utilize progressive discipline with emphasis on a myriad of non-verbals to not disrupt lesson flow
    5) Classroom culture needs to support your goals. You need to build this culture intentionally.

    Obviously, experience mediates these learnings, but there’s not a lot I do with regard to CMC that falls outside of some of these essential principles. The details differ, the details are better, some things are changed — I have zero formal rules, for example — but all of that falls under the umbrella of what I was taught.

    I’d write more, but my prep period just ended, and teaching needs to begin again.

  41. PRESCRIPTIVE: 1st offense: non-verbal warning. 2nd offense: verbal warning. 3rd offense: timeout. 4th offense: reflection essay

    Wouldn’t life be much easier if this could be imposed with a straight face? I can’t tell you how many classrooms I teach in that have a similar note/poster/whatever on the wall (usually right next to the call-Security phone). And I walk past those classrooms during non-instructional periods, and I hear those teachers screaming at their students.
    Right now, in the room next to where I’m typing this, there is a staff member who keeps threatening the students in her study hall with an increasingly ridiculous list of punishments. Right now, there is a debate going on about how to punish students who don’t do their summer reading assignments. Right now, school is too much about punishment/reward and not enough about education.
    TMAO: What’s “progressive discipline”? How does it differ from the prescriptive solution?

  42. Jeff,

    I don’t disagree. And really, we need to get beyond that. But in the context of new teacher prep, they need to hear that you move through a series of increasing offenses and don’t jump right into send-to-the-office land. My first year teaching, we had six staff members who each wrote over 100 referrals. We went to COMP training, and this stopped. They just needed to hear it. (This is one of those problems with teacher training, that when folks are ready for the next wave, next development, it’s not there, and so you have career teachers doing the same stuff that was developmentally appropriate in the beginning of their careers).

    I use progressive discipline, even though you’ll never see that poster on my wall. Small responses in the beginning that progress to larger responses. I have a series of non-verbal redirections (looks, tapping desks, sighing, moving to the “redirection zone”) that get employed before anything approaching punishment. There are token economy fines for certain behaviors that are progressive w/r/t severity and frequency. Think Dan’s green-yellow-red thing. That’s progressive I have a reflection assignment kids need to write occasionally and get signed (gets used a lot in August, October, and February, and almost never in any other month).

    Trust me when I say I understand about too much punishment. My kids are getting arrested for having sharpies.

  43. 5. Use humiliation to taste.

    It does say “to taste.” Sometimes I develop a taste for it.

    The hardest part about teaching is finding something that’s to your personal taste as well as effective. If a student is belligerently defiant, humilation works pretty well.

  44. Sorry Benjamin, I take a little offense to your humiliation of your students. All that humiliation does is encourage the students who need attention by acting out and turns the introverts in your class more so. Not that it can’t work, but I just can’t see myself doing it on a regular basis. The keeping the students five minutes after the bell I would try though.

  45. I guess Benjamin is serious. That’s unfortunate.

    There are lots of ways this turns bad in the long run. If you’re really humiliating people, you’re making enemies. Not really the goal of most teachers. Not really the way to change behavior in the long run.

    You get what you want in the short term (I guess) but you haven’t addressed the root cause of the problem. If they’re talking over you there’s a fair chance you’re not saying anything worth listening to or you’re not saying it in the right way.

  46. TMAO: Thanks for taking time to further detail your “progressive discipline system” and what underlies your overall approach to classroom management. Truly appreciate it.

    Looking at the 5 “key learnings” you shared, I can’t find fault in any of them in terms of what I can tell (from reading your own blog and comments here) about the specific school setting you experience every day. Additionally, knowing that these 5 “key learnings” (laid out in your own new teacher training program) framed your own thinking as a 1st year teacher also helps me see where you’re coming from.

    As I look at the list, however, I can’t help but think that ALL 5 are central to ANY decent human interaction or organizational structure or client service, let alone schools:

    1. Prevent potential obstacles or problems first; punish or do damage control as a last resort.
    2. Assume your team can behave appropriately, esp. when procedures and goals are clearly defined and responses are consistent.
    3. Use non-verbals as a vital part of your overt communication style; likewise, be aware of how your unintentional non-verbals affect/influence audience, team, client, etc..
    4. The culture of any organization needs to reflect the mission of said organization; better yet, it needs to be consistent with all messages/marketing, too.
    5. Procedures (i.e. clear processes that drive vital and ongoing operations) over rules (that are reactionary and assume the worst) is always a more effective choice, too.

    Again, no fault with anything on your original list. At the same time that I respect the list you shared, TMAO, I’m not sure that any of this is unique to education/teaching. I definitely do not think it is unique to one type of school or school community, either. I haven’t found a school I’ve ever been part of where that list isn’t vital to success.

    Any half-way decent business in this day and age expects such a framework coming out of the gate if they want to keep any employees around for very long beyond simply offering basic carrot-on-stick compensation strategies. Same for keeping their clients or ‘partners’. And every ‘leadership’ book you or I could find on the bestseller list today — whether they use Winnie the Pooh, Jeff Gordon, or Jesus as the framing metaphor — uses a similar set of branding principles to articulate how to successfully manage a team.

    Additionally — again echoing that I respect the list — I’m not sure that any of this is unique to formal “teacher training” programs, nor should it be.

    That doesn’t suggest that the principles have no merit. They do. They’re just not precious cargo for new teachers alone, and certainly not necessary to become a successful teacher no matter how many teacher programs you attend in your career.

    I’ve knocked off the obvious education program benchmarks with my bachelors degree along with 2 formal student teaching experiences; I’ve knocked off a prestigious teaching fellowship for young educators; I’ve knocked off a graduate degree in education; I’m married to a principal who is an expert at guiding her teachers on behalf of the students; I’ve worked in more than 7 schools spanning inner-city to Ivy-prep, public to charter to private, US to international; and I’ve spent several years as a business leader, consultant & speaker serving educational clients (i.e. schools and districts) across the US and globe. In other words, I live/breathe/eat this “teacher” and “school’ stuff…and expect to for the next 30+ years of my career/life.

    Not once, however, have I ever received a formal document or program (etc.) that said, “Here’s how you manage the classroom” that had a snake-shed-skin’s chance of living up to even a single school quarter of “in the trenches” experience. NOT once.

    And yet — here’s the kicker — I’ve come to the very same conclusions you have via the “reals” (on-the-fly experience ripe with learning curves), paying attention to leadership principles in every professional domain I can get access to, respecting the hell out of kids and the school environment without apology, and just using common sense we all have access to with regards to the on-going ‘human factor’ that extends far beyond the classroom we work in.

    My gut tells me that if you — TMAO — had NOT had that same teacher program in So. Bronx that laid out those 5 “Key Learnings”, you’d have figured out 99.9% of it on your own had your gut/heart been in the right place…as it clearly was and still is.

    As for others? Sure, that’s worth exploring.

    Do new teachers desperately need a 5 step playbook to lay out guidelines for how to respect students, work their tail off, and stop begging for public sympathy for having chosen the whole “noble calling” professional rhetoric that so many others get bogged down in rather than just pulling the trigger where it counts: taking care of their students day in and day out without apology?

    Perhaps. But are you going to really hold up any of them years from now as being a viable peer FOR YOU if they learned their best management game thanks to a training manual? After having read a great deal of your writing, I’d be hard pressed to think you’d be saddling up next to one of them when it comes down to the “finding a warrior” moment when you needed them to be ready to do it for “reals” when your/their kids’ lives are at stake as your career evolves. I think you’d “call BS” pretty dang quick as you sifted through that roll call of teacher peers in a blink of an eye, “classroom management” seminar certificates on their bulletin board or not.

    Ultimately, there is a striking difference between:

    Wanting to kick to the curb the ignorant teaching ‘professionals’ who long-ago failed to grasp what their kids really needed from them while holding tight to a punish-at-all-costs mindset that fails any legitimate “management” test in schools or not, and also wanting to sure up the backbone of soon-to-be teachers facing obvious uncertainties in a new profession (and quite often their first real professional job in the real world which has its own POV dynamic). I’m waving a flag over your shoulder on both accounts.


    Trying to win the prescriptive call to arms debate that “classroom management” comes in only one shade and can be locked down into a handy-dandy document that will work for all new teachers in all situations they walk into either their first day in the profession or years later in the 18th school on their resume. I’m just not sure I see any of us having the ability to forecast an ideal Venn Diagram of step-by-step options through the lens of a single book of management tricks.

    After having read more of your blog entries than I can possibly manage to recall — although I have remained quiet as a commenter because frankly I think you’re further ahead of me with regards to the “achievement gap” issue…and I have more to learn from you on that front than to volley back and forth just because commenting is turned on — I am absolutely locked into the belief that YOU are one of those rare educators that is truly putting his life/ego on the line for his kids first and foremost, day in and day out.

    And if I’m even partially accurate there, I have every reason in the world to believe that you’ll continue doing the right things on behalf of your kids until your teaching career comes to an end…and that it would have happened EVEN IF that new teacher institute hadn’t laid out 5 “Key Learnings” of “classroom management” for you and your peers.

    Does it sharpen the rhetoric? Sure.

    But at the end of the day, the “Key Learnings” end up being nothing more than a poster — next to the “Call Administration in Case of Trouble” sign mentioned in a comment above — of little value if the teacher fueling that classroom space doesn’t have his/her “s–t” together in the first place.

    You clearly have it well in place.

    Show me a new teacher who has memorized the “Key Learnings” with re: to “classroom management” but fails to be able to make authentic eye contact with his/her kids, and I’ll show you someone that is gonna be applying to law school or transferring to the “grass is greener” school of choice a year later, if he/she isn’t already walked to the curb by the administration or his/her students long ago unaffected/unimpressed by his/her superficial effort to “manage” the classroom.

    On the other hand, show me a teacher that would have done it the right way to begin with at the heart and eye contact level — someone reasonably secure in his/her own skin and willing to validate each kid from day one as they try to figure out what it means to teach a little better each and every day — and as far as I’m concerned, they could have written that very “classroom management” training session but probably wouldn’t have needed to spend a dime on the book itself.

    Could Dan write that book? NO doubt.
    Could you? NO doubt.
    Could just about every other solid teacher you’ve ever learned something from or been mentored by? NO doubt.

    And will there be an audience of 1st year teachers ready to write down whatever list is published? NO doubt, again.

    But no matter how many “Key Learnings” that could or would fill those pages, a scared 1st year teacher is still gonna fail to get what you’re really talking about, TMAO, until they realize that the “human factor” ends up being a hell of a lot more important over time than the oft-celebrated “5 Min Opening” or whatever other laminated posterboard artifact of so-called “efficient” management systems comes their way.

    I might be wrong, TMAO, but I’d still bet my next paycheck that your kids would go to the wall for you — vice versa — regardless of whatever list of management techniques were at play. And I’d bet that you’d have learned it in real-time on your own anyways given how you write about your students, as does every talented/innovative teacher you or I have ever run across either as students or as educators.

    Now, if we’re talking the “great unwashed masses” that are merely filling in the gaps and holding down union jobs or may at best teach for 1-3 years before jetting for another career, than hey…I’ll be the first one to Amazon link to the book to make sure they at least don’t destroy the kids in the process of treading water through their classroom experience.

    And show them to the door right behind you.


    As you mentioned earlier, we might be a little side-tracked by semantics. If you’ve made it this far, it comes down to a couple of simple things for me:

    Quality is quality.
    Eye contact is eye contact.
    Experience is experience.
    Showing up the next day is showing up the next day.
    Humility is humility.
    Love is love.
    Diving into a dumpster to get your kids a free posterboard so they don’t have to run to CVS to spend their lunch money on a school project is diving into a dumpster to get your kids a free…

    Ultimately, thanks for your last reply, TMAO.

    I doubt you’re putting much thought into whether we’d have much in common out there in the real world, but I have NO problem stating that I consider you a mentor of ideas and trenches in terms of my teaching arc. And I’m looking forward to remaining plugged into your thinking/writing for some time to come.

  47. Hi Christian,

    Maybe I would have come up with those five on my own — they aren’t the only five; then, like now, I’m responding with very limited time — but maybe not. Maybe I would’ve gotten my ass handed to me day after day and I would’ve bailed. I think you’re sailing right up to the shore on this one, that rocky island that conceptualizes what we do as more art than science, more about entheos than techne. Those are some dangerous shoals, Christian, and it’s easy to run aground.

    Marten Harberman’s a smart guy. Frequent commenter H. is a big fan of his and got me looking at some of his work in a way that’s gonna pay off for me big time in the spring of 2009. Haberman studied “star teachers” of kids in poverty, teachers who raise achievement in the context of high need urban ed. He identified the underlying ideology and dispositions those teachers shared, rather than getting hung up on the practice, which varied, I imagine, rather wildly.

    This identification of underlying disposition is where I think you were going with your own list, and where we share much common ground. But here’s my thing: Can I have that list and still not make it?


    And this is a big yes. And the yes gets bigger the more poor, and urban, and dark the environment in which you teach. That’s where my list comes in. Skills need to be added to the disposition, and I’m just not willing to let people figure it out for themselves. You called my list obvious, but from what I’ve seen of teacher prep and what I’ve seen of teacher quality in east San Jose, Oakland, Gilroy, East Palo Alto, and those parts of San Francisco no one likes to visit, this stuff is NOT second nature. Folks are getting worked, and some of the reason is because they lack the disposition, and let’s hold the door wide open for them, as you said. For the rest, it’s because they don’t have any skills, and for many of them, it’s because they were trained on a generic set of skills that doesn’t apply in the high need urban classroom in which they work.

    This is where the environmental specifics come in. Stuff like, eye contact is a sign of disrespect in many cultures and a signal of impending conflict in others; confrontational authority can get you through the day in some places but would be an absolute disaster in others; how knowledge of existing community values and mores affects your practice; specifics on how to build positive classroom culture; the ways different ethnic groups experience and interpret whole class rewards & consequences; stuff about how you authenticate and validate yourself in places where the kids don’t look like you; how you build relationships with kids who are fundamentally hostile to what you’re bringing; etc., etc. None of that is easy, and I imagine the group of people for whom this comes natural is pretty small. I do not count myself among them.

    I come from TFA and TNTP; these are the people bringing thousands of new teachers into urban classrooms each year on the model that if we bring in smart folks with the right dispositions, set them on the right path, and they’ll figure the rest out. Do they? About 60% and for about 2-3 years. The rest get worked and bail, or do okay and bail, or really bring it and bail anyway because this profession does not differentiate between excellence and crap.

    We’re not far apart, I don’t think, at least not as far apart as the word count would suggest, and I appreciate all foregoing compliments. What I’m saying here, is that there exists a skill set that must go upon the authenticity, and that some of the communication of authenticity is in fact, a skill onto itself. These are things that can be learned and taught, and even if the best among don’t necessarily require those learnings, classrooms are not universally staffed with the best among us. It is for those teachers, and for the kids who depend on them, that we need to push ourselves on how we conceptualize this work, how we communicate, and how we bring what we know to others.

  48. TMAO: If I needed any other reason to keep reading your blog entries, or any other confirmation that you’re gonna me one of my thought-mentors for some time to come, this response of yours would have locked it down for me.

    Zero conflict with any of what you said. Nodding up and down in the affirmative. And definitely having an authentic opportunity to re-think some of my phrasing and mindset. Much thanks.

    In particular:

    Your paragraph detailing that something like eye contact can swing very differently in different contexts is an Amen-moment. Amen.

    My only addition to that is that ultimately — if school serves as any great equalizer or opportunity force on a larger social level — eye contact will end up being one of the key distinguishing characteristics of graduates that assimilate successfully into the larger work force. And as a teacher, we ‘gotta go there’ sooner or later. I just prefer sooner (with a smile of respect shining a few inches below my eyes). Your point, however, is well made and taken seriously.

    As you said — and I tried to say earlier as well — “We’re not far apart” on what drives us professionally. Agreed. If anything, I do lack your rigorous insight into the deeper layers of the “achievement gap”, so there is much for me to learn vicariously through you and your links/challenges. Consider me a student with notebook in hand.

    I have one question for you as I get ready to eat my Saran Wrapped turkey sandwich and peanut butter crackers for lunch before diving back into more grading this afternoon:

    With regards to TFA (Teach For America) and other similar programs, you wrote:

    “…these are the people bringing thousands of new teachers into urban classrooms each year on the model that if we bring in smart folks with the right dispositions, set them on the right path, and they’ll figure the rest out.”

    I get where you’re going with this. Minus the literal strategies, disposition and intention ain’t enough.

    So that makes me wonder about something else. Are our best intentions with programs like these — which do employ a rigorous training programs (with “classroom management” thrown in) given short calendars — still hampered by the fact that most applicants/participants inherently know going in that they are going to ‘jump ship’ within the first 2-5 years of their teaching career? From your experience in TFA, how many of your first-day cohorts really thought that TFA as the beginning of a 30 year career in teaching? And how many of them would honestly have admitted that it was part of their ‘resume’ that would position their other professional options in a year or three? Is the demographic of TFA applicants skewed towards ‘serve’, but for a ‘limited time’?

    If this is not the case, are clearly defined “classroom management” strategies the real difference-makers to keeping them a) in the profession and b) helping them succeed in helping their kids succeed? And if TFA (et al) is using such preparation, why do the vast majority of their grads still leave the profession within only a few years or fai l to develop into a quality educator? Are we, therefore, putting too much faith in TFA (et al) to replace what is needed more over time…or is this the best stop-gap measure we have left at this point, getting a revolving door of young teachers serving 2-3 years, if we’re being honest?

    I know your ‘answer’ deserves a better set-up question…but I think you know what I’m curious to learn more about from your P.O.V. Ultimately, I am very curious since it was not (in my case) a TFA (et al) program that brought me into an urban classroom or gave me the skills to be prepared to succeed there.

    Looking forward to your reply here or via email (christianlong2000@yahoo.co.uk) when/if time allows.

  49. TMAO: Is teacher quality in Gilroy so legendarily poor? As an alumnus, there are plenty of excellent teachers in that district.

    Mr. Sadler:Not that it can’t work, but I just can’t see myself doing it on a regular basis.

    Right now, my primary concern is finding something that works. Once I get that hammered into place, I’ll move on to something more high-minded, so I can berate new teachers online about their poor management choices.

    Tom:I guess Benjamin is serious. That’s unfortunate.

    There are lots of ways this turns bad in the long run. If you’re really humiliating people, you’re making enemies. Not really the goal of most teachers. Not really the way to change behavior in the long run.

    Humilation is useful in the short term. Once their behavior is smashed into the right idiom, my approach loses more stick and becomes more carrot. Humilation then gathers dust until the next belligerently difficult student transfers in to the class.

    My classes rely enough on open discussion and I have enough of a seating chart that introverts have no absolute refuge.

    Describing this with the term humiliation might be a little exaggerated, but hyperbole is my idiom.

    You get what you want in the short term (I guess) but you haven’t addressed the root cause of the problem. If they’re talking over you there’s a fair chance you’re not saying anything worth listening to or you’re not saying it in the right way.

    I doubt even Dan started his first year of teaching with exciting, engaging slide discussions and Focault projects. Presenting the material correctly comes with time, and most administrators can’t seem to tell the difference. Classroom management, though, has to be in place from day one.

    New teachers have their priorities in this order.

  50. Ben-

    You chose the word humiliation and you used it with what seemed like pride. If that’s not what you meant then revise what you wrote, don’t start whining that you’re a poor, picked on new teacher.

    I don’t care if you’re a student teacher or a 20 year vet. Using humiliation to control children (and bragging about it) is sad and wrong. Humiliation is not a tool, it’s a refuge for someone who has lost control of their class and it negatively impacts both students and learning.

    If you start to use the tactics of a bully then it gets easier and easier to blame the students and resort to more bullying rather than looking at your actions and their influence on things. You’ll never get to the point of presenting the material correctly because you’re so wrapped up in “classroom management.”

    Good teaching, presentation, interaction are all parts of the same thing. They aren’t separate. You don’t nail classroom management and move on to worrying about how to present content. Good content/presentation/engagement flows back and forth with each impacting the other.

  51. I just have to chime in here on the humiliation issue. That just makes me extremely sad. One of my main goals as a teacher, with regards to both classroom management and my ethical responsibility, was to make sure that no one ever felt humiliated in my classroom, not for any reason at any time, and certainly not because of a deliberate attempt by the teacher. Students get embarrassed, and that will happen, but the idea is to keep a classroom a safe place, regardless of the teacher’s style, be it a stricter one or a more relaxed one. To imagine one of my students, or one of my own children, deliberately humiliated as part of a teacher’s master classroom management plan just sickens me, to be honest. I’m betting a lot of us have experience with colleagues or our own former teachers who use sarcasm and rudeness to put kids on the spot; kids might be “managed,” but at what cost?

    I hope that my children end up in a classroom like Dan’s–involved in a meaningful discussion about a behavior issue that ends in a handshake. What a great story that was. Regardless of individual and classroom differences, you certainly do have many useful–even inspiring–classroom management experiences to share, Dan.

  52. ben – think you presented a good point in your recent explanation. if the bosses need to see a class under control, you’ve gotta give that to them no matter what it takes.

    but i think tom is also onto something. you do sound like you’re taking pride in humiliating students, which – even though hyperbole is your game – you should be careful about. and i don’t know how long you should wait to address your acknowledged imbalance between classroom management and presenting the material correctly. the number one maxim i hold to regarding classroom management is that the best defense is a good offense – if my lessons kick butt and are super engaging then the students are exponentially less likely to act up.

    HOWEVER. if we’re not really talking about humiliation but rather are speaking on the use of humor and sarcasm as a way to deal with kids who step out of line, is there a problem with that? just like so many other things that have been written on this thread about classroom management, i think it comes down to an individual style. what’s wrong with a sarcastic comment presented with a smile? it’s a way to humorously remind a student their behavior was out of place while also sending a message to the whole class that we can laugh at our mistakes. if the student who transgressed feels a little bit stung, well, they DID act inappropriately, and there’s a consequence.

  53. if the bosses need to see a class under control, you’ve gotta give that to them no matter what it takes.

    No you don’t.

    You still have to realize you’re an adult dealing with children. Find another way. Personally, I’d get rid of you much faster for humiliating children than for having discipline problems.

    Is there a difference between humiliation and humor? Without question. I’ve never had any problem with humor.

  54. Tom: You chose the word humiliation and you used it with what seemed like pride.

    There’s a fair amount of projection and assumption with both the part of the writer and the reader. Points of clarification come later, and succinctness comes first.

    Majorie: To imagine one of my students, or one of my own children, deliberately humiliated as part of a teacher’s master classroom management plan just sickens me, to be honest.

    I by no means advocate humiliating all students or even students who step out of line once or twice, but repeat offenders. I think I used the phrase “belligerently defiant” or some permutation of it a few times in this back-and-forth.

    Humiliation is breaking down someone’s pride — I’ve only bothered with it on students who have a disruptive and unconstructive excess of it, but I have used it. If it helps, I did link an example earlier.

    Humilation is a fallback, and that’s the extent of my taste for it. Remember the original qualification.

    5. Use humilation to taste.

    I use humiliation like I use ginger. Rarely, sparingly and when something needs a kick. Ginger’s still in my spice rack and humiliation is still in my bag of tricks.

    If humiliation is a strong word, it’s from the connotation and not the definition.

    Tom: Personally, I’d get rid of you much faster for humiliating children than for having discipline problems.

    That’s a refreshing, laudable and well-reasoned perspective. It’s precisely that because it’s rare, if I’m to believe fellow teachers’ report on the larger American education.

    As a new teacher, I adapt to the environment of my school. I’ll reinvent the system and petition the school board after my first two years. Not before.

  55. Humiliation is not a classroom management tool.

    It should not be used on anyone, no matter how “belligerent.” Keep in mind these are children. Humiliation is, in my experience*, most likely to aggravate problems with the kind of “belligerent” student you’re describing.

    It generally results in two things. One- the student decides you’re a personal enemy and s/he does everything possible to make your life unpleasant. Two- they shut down. Apathy looks like behavior but it isn’t. Maybe it’s all the same to you. It shouldn’t be.

    I’m not asking you to “reinvent the system.” This is your behavior, your personal “bag of tricks.” I’m asking you to treat the children in your care with respect. It’s really easy to screw things up unintentionally when teaching, I’d hate to see you do it with intention.

    *I’ve worked with “belligerent” students of one kind or another for around 6 years. That’s not a lifetime and I don’t claim to be an expert but I can state a few things without equivocation. Humiliation doesn’t work is one of them.

  56. Where’s the theoretical discussion?

    Quite simply, we’re talking about behavior here, right? The essence of classroom management is getting students to behave as you’d see fit. Discussions of individual classroom atmospheres and cultures aside, whether it’s a classroom full of happy constructivist relativistic meaning development or the oft-lambasted class with desks in rows, etc etc it doesn’t matter.

    It’s still all about students doing as you’d have them do.

    Ok, fine, so doesn’t that lead us to a discussion of behaviorist theory? Shouldn’t it?

    Haven’t folks been researching for lots of years about how behavior works and how to shape/mold it?

    Understand that we’re not talking about learning. Effective classroom management prepares the way for instruction and learning, however that takes shape (oh boy that’s another discussion for another post).

    Ok then, it’s behavior we want to look at, right?

    So why in 62 comments has no one talked about Skinner and Operant Conditioning? Why has no one talked about Classical Conditioning? I’m particularly curious why there’s been no talk of Gagne! Why has no one taken the time to look at the large body of research that deals with this topic!

    Brow-beating each other and earning street cred for going to BA (hey, I went to Dillard HS in Ft. Lauderdale, FL!) and for teaching in certain areas doesn’t help the fact that at it’s most basic, this is a conversation about the core foundation of behaviorism.

    I’m not setting this up as a behaviorist/cognitivist/constructivist thing at all, just pointint out the fact that you are are working on this out of a place of intuition coupled with anecdotal evidence. Both can be powerful, but you are leaving out the critical fact that there are folks out there that understand the inherent nature of human beings a bit more than we do. Why not consult them?

    No, I’m not one of them.

    I just know that in my classroom certain behaviorist techniques are marvelously effective because they are grounded in research.

    If you write a book, spend twice as long as you write exploring what’s already out there that goes beyong Wong. Pick up folks like Vygotsky, Gagne, and especially Skinner.


  57. See this is what happens when people go and take a few grad school units. Suddenly you’re expounding on Thorndike at a party without realizing that everyone is slowly … backing … away.

    Anyway, just jealous.

    And anyway, sorry I couldn’t keep up with the pace of this conversation but re: humiliation, throughout ed school when folks said you absolutely cannot be sarcastic, I stuck up for it right alongside some other left-field hypotheticals.

    Maybe Ben has some semantical wiggle room but even if he sees some tiny good in making his students feel like less for (eg) not turning in their fifteenth straight assignment, it’s a candle in the wind, over time, compared to an ethic of respect and the merciless enforcement of high expectations.

    I’ve swapped sides over my short career from Ben’s to Tom’s, not because I’m some bleeding heart, just because it works much better.

  58. “”Where’s the theoretical discussion?””

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned the parallels to dog training yet.

  59. Dude, for what it’s worth, classroom management is one of the primary focuses of my blog. I agree, it’s a shame so many people ignore it.

  60. @Joel – Your blog just got put into my Google Reader. Spent some time browsing around and discovered I need it! I’m just sad I didn’t find you earlier. (TGFSummer and some time to read.) Thank you!