Editor, McLerran Journal
Assistant Band Director, Center ISD, TX
What is classroom management?
Classroom management is the coveted ability of an educator to keep their students under control without stifling creativity or becoming overly authoritarian. It’s perhaps the single most important aspect of education; creating stability, and is one of the only things for which there are generally no courses provided. I have recently had a personal breakthrough in this area and have realized that the two key ingredients to successful classroom management are the ability to predict student behavior and providing consistent responses to said behavior.
Ability to Predict Student Behavior
In the majority of cases, when students act out or are not following instructions, it is because they have been set up for failure. Educators with the best classroom management abilities are those with the foresight to avoid potential behavioral issues by setting up spaces or pacing lessons accordingly. For example, if a large group (say a middle school band) is allowed to sit idle for long stretches of time, it is unlikely that the students will remain silent. Directors cannot then reprimand students for speaking out of turn if there was no apparent lesson or activity occurring. This is a perfect example of failing to predict student attention spans. When it comes to setting up the rehearsal space, directors should consider human tendencies and cultural norms to help predict how students will respond to the room. For example, in Western culture, people are generally taught to allow ample “elbow room” in between themselves and others. This means that students of all ages will likely take advantage of an abundance of chairs in a rehearsal space and spread themselves out; a tendency which can create pulse issues in an ensemble setting. To ensure that students sit close together, and near the front of the room, the space should be free of extra seating. These are just a few examples of time-wasting incidents which an experienced educator would be able to avoid simply by allotting a portion of their planning time to predicting student behavior throughout each lesson.
Consistency of Response
Second to pre-emptive planning, is an educator’s consistency of response to student behavior. This seemingly simple maxim is the downfall of most beginning educators who often find it challenging to be the enforcer of the music program’s policies. Tiny variations in director response to students, however, can have a massive ripple effect on the stability of class time. If, for example, the rule is for students to remain in class except in urgent cases, the director absolutely cannot allow one student to be excused for something trivial (like getting a drink of water, going to the restroom, etc.) without expecting that the rest of the ensemble will notice this change and (constantly) also ask to be excused. Then suddenly, there are so many individuals missing from the rehearsal that the lesson is no longer possible. This is a perfect example of a rehearsal failing because of a director error; not making the expectation (staying in rehearsal) clear from the beginning of class. To avoid colossal classroom management errors like this one, educators must make a daily effort to remind students of the program’s expectations and to enforce predetermined consequences when necessary. Simply by being consistent, directors can better protect lessons from unnecessary interruptions.
Advice for Beginner Teachers
As a first or second year teacher, classroom management can be one of the most elusive and frustrating aspects of the job; the experienced educators already have it down and it’s not something that can be practiced at home like transposition or fingerings. Luckily, a few extra minutes spent on planning and predicting can make all of the difference. Beginner teachers should take the time to visualize their entire lesson and ask a series of questions: 1) Do I have everything I need for the entire class period within reach? 2) What is my contingency plan if the students do not have their materials? 3) Is this pace appropriate for these specific students? 4) If they do finish the lesson early, what is the next activity?
New educators should also explore any opportunities to be paired with a mentor teacher for specific questions and frustrations. Several state organizations, like TMEA, offer this service or educators can approach campus administrators for advice. Classroom management is a critical skill that requires educators to learn to predict student behavior and be constantly evaluating themselves.
Also see: The Importance of Routine in Education