What defines a good teacher? Students will provide you with a variety of responses. In reality, there is no set criterion for a “good” teacher, but I believe the most essential tool for an effective teacher is classroom management. Our methods of teaching may vary. Some rely heavily upon direct instruction while others may experiment with a flipped classroom. Each element serves its own purpose and engages the children. Classroom management affects ALL the students. You can be a “good” teacher, but if your classroom management skills are lacking, your talent may be overlooked.
In a special education classroom, there are some critical elements to classroom management. Students may already struggle with physical, academic, and/or emotional deficits. Allow a management style that sets them up for success. Here are four simple tasks that I use:
- Defined Routine- I will jokingly tell anyone that will listen that my students could run my classroom without me. And although it is jest, there is an element of truth to it. When they enter my classroom, they immediately complete their assigned jobs. Some type of direct instruction follows. This may be a presentation or facilitation of group activity. Independent practice occurs next. This may be completely independent or a paired exercise. Lastly, we come back together as a whole group to discuss the class period and complete our jobs. This routine occurs every day. And, if for some reason, I miss a step, they remind me. They can instruct a substitute on steps to take. This gives them confidence.
- Defined Layout- Over the course of ten years teaching, I have rearranged my room numerous times. The last few years, I have stuck with the same layout. I was lucky enough to have a mentor teacher who shared her secret. I didn’t agree with it in the beginning, but I was amazed at how well the students responded to it. I have a clearly defined direct instruction area. In this area, students will be seated in individual desks or at tables directly in the middle facing my Smartboard. Around the edges of the room, I have tables for pairs or groups. We come together for direct instruction and then, students are released to their group tables. There is no moving around of furniture. I have to only say, “Please go to your group tables.”
- Assign jobs. These students will be contributing members to our society soon. They need to learn responsibility. It can be as simple as a student designated to turn lights on and off when needed. I use the term, “Switch Operator.” Ask students to volunteer for jobs. Then, assign what is not taken. Every student in my classroom has a job even if I have to invent them. (“Table Polisher”-wipes down desks for me each Friday) This will free you up to complete other needed tasks while teaching students that they are an integral part of the classroom.
- Start the year as it should end- Take the time out to teach and demonstrate the routine and layout. Begin jobs as soon as possible.
Each of these tasks contributes to the confidence of students. Confidence breeds success. Classroom management is the beginning of the path to success. What advice might you give to a first year teacher regarding classroom management?