By Gustavo Ramirez, Guidance Counselor
If you’re a regular reader of this column, then you know how strongly I believe that teachers should always be prepared with, and practice, effective classroom management. It does not have to be complicated. There is no need to have elaborate behavior charts posted all over the classroom, or any type of extensive incentive system for students. Certainly, no teacher should ever have to beg, bribe, or threaten students to behave. What we do need to have is a classroom, no matter the size or level, that our students look forward to coming to every single school day. In addition to having an effective classroom management plan, each teacher should always have and use the power to positively influence student behavior in each class.
How, though, do we get students to feel excited about their classrooms? Why should they want to come back to our class every day? Answer: we make each class “fun” not boring. Interactive lessons, activities, and learning games where all students get to participate are great tools to stimulate learning and encourage enjoyment. I recommend them for all classes. However, any teacher knows that interactive games and learning activities are time-consuming and cannot be used for every single class.
How do students and teachers in a working classroom have fun without using learning games? I feel that the best way to have more fun in class is… to have more fun. This does not mean that we have to risk losing control of our class just so that our students can have a good time. Neither does it mean that our students should always be wired and bouncing off the walls. It certainly does not! What, then, is classroom fun? How do students define “fun”? Having a good time with students in a class starts with the attitude that each teacher should bring to the classroom. Fun can come only with a genuine desire to enjoy our jobs, as teachers/educators, to build relationships with our students, and to make each class a special, unique experience. That is why each teacher should always think of teaching as a career, not as a job. Moreover, there is no formal planning involved in having a good and positive attitude towards our position as teachers and educators. Most importantly, having a positive attitude should never be a burden to a teacher or to any educator. It’s as simple as offering a smile to students.
One way to tell if a teacher exercises good classroom management is to see if his/her students are content while they are in the class. Good behavior and being content while in class go hand-in-hand. This also underscores the importance that each teacher always maintain a pleasant mood in the classroom. On the other hand, teachers must keep in mind that students do not have to be riotous and crimson-faced from laughing to be having a good time. No teacher needs to be always telling jokes, or be knee-slapping funny to make his/her class a fun class. As far as students are concerned, their definition of a fun class is simply having warm feelings of safety while there, being comfortable around a teacher and their fellow classmates, and being part of an upbeat classroom. Teachers should always feel free to make personal, no-strings-attached connections with students, through shared smiles and sweet laughter, to bring contagious joy to the classroom. No teacher needs to be a comedian or a prankster. Teachers merely need to be open to having a good time with students -- the rest will take care of itself. Regardless of how tough their lives may be, students are always ready to laugh. Especially during their teen years, they need laughter. And, believe it or not, teaching presents so many silly, goofy, and absurdly funny situations that are just waiting to be noticed and taken advantage of by teachers. (I know this from being in a classroom since 1978!) Teachers, keep your eyes and ears open and do not let these wonderfully funny moments pass you by.
Something else that I have noticed that students like, and it gets positive response from them, and generates fun, mystery, excitement, and more behavior-influencing rapport is my telling them a story about something that happened to me in the past. Most importantly, we cannot have fun with our students if we don’t like them. Seeing the best in our students, enjoying who they are as people, and appreciating their sense of humor and unique personalities is a choice that each teacher must make. Sharing a laugh or smile, particularly with difficult students, can be powerful. But it will never happen if we dislike them or hold a grudge against them.
Most importantly, students who are happy to be in our class, who like us, and who appreciate the organized, efficient, and fun classroom we have created, will always want to show us their appreciation. This law of reciprocation is a natural part of the human psyche. I feel strongly that this is basic yet powerful psychology of which more teachers should take advantage.
When we bring more student-defined fun into our classrooms, our relationships with our students will grow closer, more trusting, and more influential. Our classroom management plans will have more leverage. Our students will appreciate us, want to reciprocate, and desire to get to know us better. All the things that we work so hard to achieve with our students will improve as we get better at creating an environment that our students love being part of while in our class everyday.
Having an attitude of fun amidst all the hard work that we ask of our students is a simple little thing. But it means so much -- both to our students and to our hope of creating the class that we really want. In my next article I will provide specific Classroom Management Tips for teachers. These tips will focus on nourishing students’ natural curiosity, helping them develop their problem-solving abilities, and helping them to experience a sense of community in the classroom.
These articles are in no way, whatsoever, intended to be comprehensive or complete. They are written and contributed in an effort to provide a "starting point" for valuable (and intriguing) discussion. Why discuss/ review students' learning capabilities and our current methods of trying to educate them? Educators, students, parents, and our community can learn from one another. I have the greatest respect and admiration for all educators, especially in Belize!