Fifteen years ago, I nearly gave up on teaching because of a group of unruly students. I was a student teacher in a first grade classroom gone berserk. My college supervisor was observing that day and this is what she saw: complete and utter chaos.
I remember that day like it was yesterday. A classroom of 74 six and seven-year olds (or so it seemed), squirming and pinching one another; whispering, poking, throwing whatever they could get their hands on; laughing and making faces at me, all while I tried to teach a language arts lesson. It was a nightmare. No one learned anything. It was all I could do to hold back the tears.
That supervisor of mine could have very easily told me that I wasn’t cut out for teaching. After all, she had just witnessed a disastrous lesson. Instead, she talked and prayed with me and said quite frankly, “Girl, get yourself some classroom management.”
Since that day, I’ve had the privilege of teaching effectively in inner city programs, around the world in short and long-term missions, and in private and public classrooms. If I can hold my own, I think anyone can. It’s less about the particular group of children involved and more about how the teacher interacts with them.
This post will focus on pro-active steps that you can take to manage any group of children. You can call them preventative strategies. I hope and pray that they will allow you to teach the greatest news that ever was heard.
Pro-Active Classroom Management Tools:
1. Plan an age-appropriate lesson: Target your audience with material that students can comprehend.
2. Incorporate multiple learning styles: Teach to the visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic learners with multi-sensory materials. This is especially helpful in an ESL environment.
3. Keep a routine: Since children thrive on routine and order, follow one in your class. For example, start with prayer, an ice-breaker, your Bible lesson, a game, an art project, and close in prayer.
4. Ensure safety: Some children will act out because they are afraid. Do whatever is necessary to create a safe place and communicate security to that child.
5. Vary the activities: Consider the attention span of your audience. Keep things moving! If you have a sit down activity, make sure that the next one is an active one.
6. Make it fun: Allow for games and laughter and much silliness!
7. Get their attention: Practice getting children’s attention creatively. Many teachers vary the lighting in the room, ring a bell, sing a song, clap their hands in a pattern (and have students repeat it), strike a silly pose, put on a crazy hat, etc.
8. Form relationships with the children in your ministry: This is essential. Children need to know that you are cheering for them and on their team. Learn all that you can about them and love and encourage them accordingly.
9. Learn how to transition well: Since you’ll be varying activities, go from one to another seamlessly. Be organized and have your materials in order. Give clear and concise directions in terms of what you expect from your students.
10. Know your lesson: Too many teachers lose their students by getting buried in their notes. Study your material thoroughly. Engage students with eye contact.
11. Don’t do all the talking: Allow the children to answer questions. Pair them up in pairs and teams to discuss the topic. Consider having others teach lessons: respected peers, parents, and other trusted adults.
12. Pray: This goes without saying. Sit in student pews, in their desks, and at their tables. Pray for children and their families by name. Ask God to give you wisdom to communicate His truth.
13. Command authority: Learn how to “own the classroom.” Communicate this with body language, creativity, and tone of voice. Do not be timid or afraid. Allow your confidence to come from God. On the other end of the spectrum, steer clear of a military type of delivery. Your objective is not to invoke fear in children so that they listen and obey. Your intent is to get their attention through compassionate care.
As this is not an exhaustive list, what preventative strategies have you found helpful in your ministry? Let’s pool our ideas together!