Things I Know 257 of 365: It’s time to give up the drug of classroom management

We are constantly working towards the highest level of compliance possible.

– Mike Davidson

A few weeks ago, I had a telephone interview for a part-time job. If I’d gotten it, I’d be working with pre-teachers who are planning on seeking jobs with “no excuses” charter schools. While these aren’t the types of schools I’d choose to work at or send my kids to, if there’s a chance I can help out someone who’s headed to or in the classroom, I’ll pitch in.

Aside from my resume, it became apparent quickly the woman interviewing me had typed my name into a search engine and was struggling with how I might fit the model of the program.

“Now, we find our teachers struggle with group work and projects in the first year,” she said. “So, we focus on teaching them direct instruction and classroom management. It seems that you’re more of a constructivist.”

She had me.

“Yes,” I admitted, “I tend to favor inquiry and constructivism as pedagogies.”

And that was where it became clear to us both that I wouldn’t be the best fit. We said our goodbyes, both a little relieved.

I don’t think it’s a matter of the teachers not being able to handle group work or projects. It’s a matter of not asking questions or inviting them.

A friend of mine disagreed with me on the topic this weekend.

Here’s the thing, across international lines, new teachers polled after entering the classroom report they wished they’d had more training in classroom management. Kids, it turns out, are difficult.

I posit the idea that they’re asking for the wrong thing. I humbly beg whoever’s got their hand on the spigot of classroom management training to turn off the flow.

Let’s stop teaching classroom management. We’re not really teaching classroom management, anyway. Nor are we teaching learning management. The deeper we dig into classroom management, the closer we find ourselves to teaching management. If a kids happen to learn in the process, it’s likely because we’ve eliminated their access to anything (read everything) more interesting.

More heinous is how far training on classroom management takes new teachers from investigating how to foster caring relationships with their students, how to build systems to support curiosity in their students, and how to refine the theories of learning driving their own practice.

Implied in my interviewer’s claim that their teachers struggled with inquiry in their first year was the allowance that such an approach would be something they picked up in their second or third year.

It’s possible this could happen, but I’d wager such a turn would be by freak chance and not the natural evolution of things.

Managing children so that you can teach them becomes a bit of a drug. You get them semi-compliant and quiet the first year, and you start thinking about how you can get them to let you teach a little more next year.

New teachers struggle with classroom management because, given the choice, most students would not sit through their lessons. This should tell us we need to throw our interest behind improving the lessons, not finding new carrots and sticks for getting kids to listen while we teach.

7 thoughts on “Things I Know 257 of 365: It’s time to give up the drug of classroom management

  1. Is a good lesson defined as a lesson that an entire class of students will voluntarily sit through and participate in despite the many available distractions? Because if it is, I'm not sure I've ever taught or participated in a good lesson. And if it's not, I think there's still an important place for classroom management even in a constructivist classroom set up to allow for student inquiry. (Let's face it. Not everyone's in the mood to inquire at a given time. I know I'm not.)

    • Seems my friend that you may be stuck on the term “classroom management” eh? How bout classroom Culture and climate? Too jargony? If I have a positive class culture and inviting risk taking space, then I will have a “managed classroom” 😉 I'm in withdrawal from the drug that is teaching.

    • Definitely agree. My thinking heads to the idea of allowing for an opt out. Not interested? How about reading a book? Building something? Coloring? On the bigger picture, I'm more interested in embedding the classroom management in the lesson. Make it part of the learning, not this separate thing that has to get taken care of in preparation for the learning.

      • I think there's a place for both elements, probably leaning more to the embedded approach. Sometimes you want to be conscious of the norms or the rules or whatever you want to call them. If those norms are well chosen, many students will realize how they facilitate community and inquiry. But even if they don't, I think it's part of our job to set the expectation that there are certain things we owe each other and that we owe ourselves, even if they're not what we want to do at the time.

  2. This is a fascinating post to me, Zac, because I've been thinking lately about how MUCH time goes into teaching teachers how to “manage” students and how dislike of the disorderly and disrespectful (not to mention petty power politics) are probably the two biggest reasons I never became a teacher. I love teaching and learning, but I am easily frustrated with kids whose sole purpose there is to disrupt the system for attention.But the concept of NOT making kids sit through bad lessons comes home to roost in Emily's online school. In general, she attends her online classes with teachers because she LOVES the content and instruction. There is one novel class that has been gin on for WEEKS and she finished the book in a day, but she loves the discussion and engagement, so she keeps attending. But her writing class was boring, formulaic, and poorly taught, so I told her not to waste her time. Sometimes if the content of an online class that she usually loves is less engaging that day, she will work on other class work while she listens (one benefit of an online class structure which is one-way).Compulsory attendance is definitely one way the system perpetuates itself and a reason why sub-standard teachers are often protected from consequences. If the kids could just get up and walk out, the teachers would be pushed to work harder. But then again, kids need to be pushed sometimes to THINK harder, especially those who were NOT raised with a love of and respect for learning like I was. As usual, there are no easy answers.

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  4. The term “classroom management” has come to mean rules and discipline. Instead we should introduce the notion of channeling the energies that make up a classroom through pedagogical choices.

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