Menu

First Year Teacher Self-Study Course

First Year Teacher is a self-paced professional development course for novice K-3 teachers, developed by Reading Rockets. The program provides teachers with an in-depth knowledge of reading so they are prepared to guide their students into becoming skilled and enthusiastic readers.

Photo of teacher and students

Classroom Management

You have a wonderful reading curriculum in place, you've carefully reviewed your overall instructional plan and you are confident that if you proceed as planned, your students will meet every objective outlined in the educational standards that you are required to follow. There's only one thing standing in your way — classroom management.

If you don't have an effective plan for classroom management firmly in place, it won't matter how wonderful your plan for reading instruction is — there will be little opportunity for students to engage in meaningful learning experiences, because you will be too busy trying to bring the class to order. You will find yourself refereeing instead of teaching.

Let's take a look at some ideas for managing a classroom effectively.

Classroom arrangement

How your classroom is arranged can have a big effect on your ability to effectively manage your class. This article discusses some ideas you should keep in mind as you set up your classroom.

There are many variables here. Many new teachers must share space, some poor souls have nothing but a wandering cart and go from classroom to classroom. Elementary teachers have different activity centers and types of tables or student desks than secondary teachers. Subject matter makes a difference, too.

Research on this subject seems to be limited, although it would seem to be an area of interest to new teachers and teachers interested in maximizing their effectiveness. After all, there's no college course on how to arrange your classroom. Add it to the list of things you'll learn with experience.

In part, how you arrange your room depends on what furniture you have at your disposal. Are there individual student desks or long tables? An overhead projector or chalkboard? Teacher's desk and computer desk? Bookshelves? If you don't have what you want ... can you request it or bring it in yourself?

Don't be afraid to experiment or use graph paper to "play" with different classroom arrangements.

Sit in student desks after arranging your class to get a student's-eye view of the room. Fix anything that becomes distracting or inaccessible from a student's chair.

Ideas on using classroom space

  • Don't be afraid to change it based on your instructional objectives.
    When we're doing poetry, we turn the desks toward the window and become inspired by nature; when we're doing small group work we move the desks into "flowers" of 4-5 students; for full class instruction, we put desks in "chevron" shape.
  • Don't change it TOO often.
    Let the students develop some ownership of their classroom space; allow time to adjust and thrive between changes in classroom arrangement.
  • Maintain the same seating arrangement during assessment as you had during the unit itself.
    Many students make associations between where they were when they learned something and where they are when they must recall it.
  • Try the teacher's desk in back.
    This promotes a student-centered atmosphere. It also allows space to work while keeping an eye on students.
  • Try to minimize teacher "personal" effects in the room.
    Some teachers bring in a personal refrigerator, a microwave, a coffee service, a snack box, and more. What message does this send? (Besides, all that stuff is in the lounge).
  • Our physical setting sends messages about authority, about ownership, and dictates interaction. Arrange your classroom in a way that accurately portrays your educational philosophy and ensures that your students can move around and interact the way you'd like. Here are some basic space guidelines:

    • materials students use should be visibly stored and accessible
    • there should be no dead space which promotes random or illegitimate activity
    • arrange the room so that the teacher can monitor quickly and easily (no blind spots)
    • use vertical space for display and learning enrichments
    • keep active areas distinctly separate from quiet spaces
    • keep two active areas distinctly separate to avoid distraction and interference
    • have clear and safe traffic paths no matter how your room is arranged

Things to consider

The overall message about classroom arrangement seems to be that it should be deliberate and well-thought-out. Reflect on what you are trying to accomplish and make your space work for you rather than against you. The things to consider may include:

  • Where will you put YOUR desk?
    Do you even want a teacher's desk in the room?
  • Do you prefer group tables or student desks?
    You may or may not have a choice. It may also depend on your subject and grade level. This one takes experience to decide, and you may even change your mind from year to year.
  • What activity centers are important to you?
    Elementary level may have many; secondary classrooms may have a reference area, a "student organization" area (stapler, etc.), and an "information station."
  • What storage do you need?
    Sometimes open bookshelves are important; at other times, you can shove things in drawers.
  • Will you have space to display student work?
  • Are there safety or fire codes you need to know?
    Blocking doors and windows are usually against codes. There may also be a rule regarding how many square feet per child, etc.

Classroom systems

From the very start of the school year, the way a classroom is managed will impact the instruction that takes place. The systems below outline some classroom management techniques you can use to create an environment where both learning and fun can take place. You might to check out this list of reward ideas for individual students.

A Reward Jar

Decorate a glass jar. When students receive a compliment or praise from other staff members in the building, drop a bean, cotton ball or marble in the jar. When the jar is full, reward students. You and your students may decide what rewards are appropriate by discussing different options, such as a popcorn party, extra recess time, or some other fun activity.

Gumball Machine

If your students' desks are grouped into clusters, this classroom system is a great way to reinforce cooperative learning. Place a large picture of a gumball machine on the side of a desk within each cluster. As you observe the class, look for examples of students working together effectively. Students helping peers within their cluster is an example of effective cooperative learning. When this behavior occurs, reward the entire cluster by placing a colored sticker in the shape of a gumball on the picture of the gumball machine. When the cluster has filled their gumball machine, reward the group with a small token (stickers, pencils, etc.). It is important to determine ahead of time how many gumballs will be required to fill the gumball machine.

Colored Cards

This system is designed to teach individual students the consequences of not following the class rules. Make four colored cards for each child in your class. (For example: red = 1st consequence, blue = 2nd consequence, orange = 3rd consequence, and green = 4th consequence). Obtain a large poster board. Glue pockets to the board (such as those found on the inside of library books). You'll need one pocket for each student. Place a set of colored cards within each pocket. Explain to students that these cards will be used only if they misbehave.

Examples of Consequences:

  • First card pulled: Verbal Warning
  • Second card pulled: Lose five minutes off recess
  • Third card pulled: Phone call to parents / 10 minutes off recess
  • Fourth card pulled: Visit to principal's office

You should have a brief (private) discussion about why you've asked the student to pull a card. It is important that students understand why their behavior was inappropriate.

Consequences should be discussed, agreed upon and understood by you and your students when the system is first implemented. At the end of each day, cards should be returned to their pockets so they are ready for the next day.

Launching Literacy Stations

For many teachers, moving from traditional seatwork to more active literacy stations can be intimidating. These suggestions will help new and veteran teachers set up their centers. Excerpted from Stenhouse Publishers' "Launching Literacy Stations."

Diary of a First Year Teacher

Diary of a First Year Teacher

Join Barbara Zielinski, a first grade teacher at River Plaza Elementary School in Middletown, NJ, during her first year teaching.

"You may have tangible wealth untold. Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. Richer than I you can never be — I had a mother who read to me." — Strickland Gillilan