Classroom problems, just like most of the problems in the world, rarely have just one cause. Life would certainly be much simpler if they did. Many classroom problems, however, do have one particular cause in common: somewhere a teacher misread a situation and made things worse. As disheartening as that thought may be, there is a bright spot. If we are the cause of many of our problems, then we can also be the remedy.
For example, if a student is tardy to class, there will certainly be a disruption. The size of that disruption is often closely tied to the teacher’s reaction to it. Often our reflex action is to stop what we are doing and irritably demand, “Why are you late?” Instead, if we just let the student settle in while we continue with the rest of the class and then quietly sort it out later, the problem stays as small as possible. Here are some of the other ways that we cause our own classroom problems.
- We are not as prepared as we should be for a particular lesson. Handouts are incomplete. Materials not sorted. Equipment not working. These all result in wasted time where our students either have to wait for us to get ourselves organized or take advantage of the opportunity to do something not okay.Solution: Mentally rehearse a lesson well before you stand in front of students. In the car on the way to school work if you have a long enough commute.
- We don’t pace instruction correctly. Either students have to rush through the material without really internalizing the instruction, or they have nothing constructive to do after finishing their work for the day. Either way, we have caused students to not be as productive and successful as they could be.Solution: When you plan lessons, always have a backup plan and always have the next assignment ready so that students can transition seamlessly from one to the next. Sometimes giving students a checklist of things that they must do works well, too.
- We don’t monitor students carefully enough. Small problems can snowball with alarming speed. We’ve all been there—that awful moment when you realize that the whole group has misinterpreted the directions to an assignment and is growing more confused by the minute.Solution: Once you give directions for an assignment, spend at least ten minutes checking on your students before you sit down. That usually gives them enough time to encounter any problems. Stay on your feet and monitor.
- We forget how awful it is to have to ask ourselves, “Now what should I do? When we neglect to spend time on the prevention of problems, trouble will always happen. Even simple actions such as having a policy for managing bathroom breaks in place makes life easier for us all. It’s always better to think in terms of prevention instead of coping.Solution: Don’t hesitate to ask yourself what could go wrong when you are thinking about your classroom and your instruction. You’ll save yourself lots of problems if you can get into the habit.