I wish education professionals would have told us that behavior management is probably the most important and challenging issue you’ll face in the classroom. It would have been nice to have been given a variety of solutions, tools, books, and websites to use once you are working in a classroom.
I came across this remark, and several similar, in a recent eSchoolNews article entitled "Ten things every new teacher should know.” I think it's particularly interesting because, now that back-to-school stories are cropping up all over, there isn't much emphasis on this aspect of education. Right now, there is much being said on the impacts of budget cuts and how that's leading to larger classroom sizes, or how schools are considering lengthening the school day or year to help narrow the achievement gap, or how parents will have to chip in more this year because of tough financial times.
Yet, to actually discuss what goes on in the classroom and how that affects learning (never mind waste of time and dollars) just must not be a sexy enough issue to make the 6 o'clock news because you rarely hear about it.
Oh, sure...we hear about it when it's out of control. Last year, THE hot topic in education, bar none, was bullying. Certainly that is a behavior management and discipline problem, but at its extreme end. It was tragic and gut-wrenching to hear all these stories of kids harassed in person and through social media, often with tragic and fatal results. And, of course, the visuals were great, so it made for good news. But how about the everyday tragedy of what's going on too many classrooms across our country? Teachers who spend more time "babysitting" than they do teaching, or end the day frustrated again because they had too many kids who wouldn't sit down, be quiet and pay attention.
It's natural to assume that, if a teacher has behavior issues with her students, it must be his or her fault. That is not a fair assessment of the situation, however. Many teachers never receive formal education on how to manage student discipline and behavior before they are thrust into the classroom environment. As a result, many have to learn on the job, or hope they get a mentor who can support them for the first few years of teaching until they get it all hammered out.
The other problem with the "teacher needs better classroom management skills" argument is that it overlooks a hugely important part of the teaching/learning equation -- that of the students. I have a great graphic that I use in several of my professional educator presentations and seminars where I show how "The Perfect Storm" is created in a classroom when an inexperienced teacher, or one who has not received adequate classroom management training, is combined with students who lack the social skills or emotional/character development they need that allows them to be "managed." It's no wonder we lose so much learning time! It doesn't have to be the whole classroom either. Just one or two unruly, disrespectful students will ruin it for everyone.
So a typical "solution" that only offers training for the teacher in classroom management isn't enough because it does nothing to improve the social skills and manageability of the students. Broad-based social skills education, on the other hand, has proven to be effective in reducing classroom issues because it provides the students with social-emotional skills and character development that they so sorely need. At the same time, the right kind of social skills curriculum can also provide the teachers with a framework for managing their classrooms, and when you implement it at a whole-school level, there is continuity from classroom to classroom, from teacher to teacher. This way, expectations for students' behavior are supported school-wide and enforced consistently, regardless of where they are and what they are doing.
It's not an unrealistic expectation -- on the part of parents, teachers or staff -- that there is order and discipline in the classroom. It's the only way learning can get done. As a final note, consider that the students, themselves, have a right to expect it. In a 2004 study by Public Agenda, 7 out of 10 students reported that discipline and behavior issues were a problem at their school. If 70% of your "customers" reported that there was a problem with your processes or product, you'd believe there was a problem, too. The students are the "customers" of the education system; they recognize there is a problem.
When we have such a wide-spread problem with behavior in the classroom, you have to ask why isn't more being done about it? To fix it would be a benefit to everyone -- the teachers, the administration, and the students -- and would pay for itself in terms of time regained, dollars put back to best use, and improvements in achievement. Our children would get the education they deserve, and teachers would feel proud to be doing that job. Now that would be a story worth reporting on, don't you agree?
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