Seven suggestions for how to keep sane in a classroom filled with preteens

 In my first year of teaching, my jaw was on the floor.  

A lot.  

I don't know what I expected from students I was just getting to know, but it sure wasn't what I was seeing.

How to keep your sanity when teaching preteens

Looking back now, I realize my students needed me to set clear guidelines for them.  I was treating them the way I treated my own children, allowing for some discussion and questioning, but my 6th graders hadn't known me from birth and didn't know any of the ground rules.

Be Clear:

Rules should be short and clear.  Keep to under five, preferably around 3.  That makes them easy to remember.  

Post them in the classroom where everyone can see them and give students a copy or have them write them down.  Refer to them when you need to.

Does this seem like a blog post that should have been written in September?  Nope.

Practice them:

It's November now and you did this at the beginning of the year.  

Great!  Are they working well with one of your rules but not another?  Review it.  PRACTICE it.  Make them do it until you are happy with the results.

Some years back, there was a point in the day where our sixth graders crossed paths in the hallway with the fifth graders as they were coming back from lunch.  Our principal wanted everyone talking at a "Level 1," or a whisper.  

The REAL problem was the schedule.  But that's a topic for another time.  

Our principal insisted, so we tried to make it work.  I found that it worked better if our students were silent from our room - two classrooms away - to the corner.  In that smaller space, it was easy to send a kid back to the room to start over if they started talking.  It took 2-3 kids being sent back before everyone started following the directions.

You don't need to be a military drill sergeant.  But if you expect kids to behave a certain way, you need to insist on it.  

Remember:  It's an 11-year olds job to push back.  

This is the age when they start to test you.  So, if you're not happy with behavior, stop what you're doing and practice it.  Practice it calmly over several days until students are doing what you want them to do.  It doesn't take a ton of practice.  Kids would rather be doing other things.  So would you.  But they'll know you're serious about that expectation.

Keep classroom directions simple

Keep directions simple:
They're kids.  Keep directions simple.  "All eyes on me" works magic.  Most of them stop talking, too, as they turn around to face you.  Wait until EVERY student is quiet and facing you.  Don't talk over them or talk when half are paying attention.

At this age, students are measuring themselves against their peers.  They usually want to fall in line.  Their classmates want them to fall in line.  They want to move on!  

Use your words:

Tell students when you're happy with them and be honest when you're not.

It's okay to say, "I'm sad that Student X had to be sent out of the room, and I will welcome him back when he returns."

 "You make me so happy to be a teacher."  

"I'm thrilled with the way you're collaborating today.  I see you listening carefully and being respectful to each other."

"Thank you, Students X, Y, and Z for following my directions so quickly."  This gets everyone else moving to also be recognized.  Take the time to thank them.

We all want to be appreciated!  Kids do, too.

Give choices:

It was hard for me to do this in a heated moment, but when I could come up with two acceptable choices, I used them.  Students want to feel like they're in control, and allowing them to choose can sometimes help.

It was way easier when things were moving smoothly.  I would discuss the plan for the day and explain that we could do it in one of several ways.  Students would offer input and then we'd choose.  Or sometimes I'd ask if an assignment should be done independently or with a partner.  The responses were always mixed and so I'd let them choose what worked best for them.

Giving up this kind of control is an easy one and lets your students know that they are allowed to have a say in the way their classroom is run.

Remember that you're human:

Stay firm.  Stay calm!  Firm.  Calm.  Repeat it to yourself over and over again when you're getting angry.  Firm. Calm.  I'll admit I wasn't always the best at this!  I could easily be reactive but would catch myself pretty quickly.  Still, I would feel bad about raising my voice.

We're human.  We make mistakes.  And it's important for students to see that certain things push our buttons.

There are times when students see that their behavior is pushing your buttons.  Guess what they're going to do?  

Yup. That's their job.  Your job is to put up safe, calm boundaries around them so that they can achieve success.

And finally:
Some kids take a really, really, really long time to get there.  But even though they might not admit it, they prefer feeling the structure of a safe, engaged, relatively quiet classroom.

  • Lisa Yeip, a math teacher (the subject most kids love to hate!) wrote a great blog post about helping kids overcome their fear of math by building relationships with them.  Take a look at her suggestions and see how much they resonate with you!

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