Teachers should be better classroom managers
Have you ever had to endure a semester with an erratic or absentminded professor?
I had a Spanish professor who had to be reminded that he had a class. One time we were told he was drunk and could not make it to class. We dismissed ourselves, not knowing what the next lesson would be. Or what the rest of the semester would be like.
I was in his 4 p.m. class. All my other subjects were in the morning. After lunch at home, it was often a struggle deciding whether or not to go back to school for his class. Would it be a wasted trip?
His work ethics, or lack thereof, was, needless to say, demotivating.
These days, there are professors who absent themselves from class on a whim, informing their students by text message, some of whom have had to brave a two-hour traffic to get to school.
And there are those who do not even glance at the papers their students spent two weeks writing, inventing grades based on “impressions,” then merrily taking off for “conferences” or
Rationally, these teachers should be avoided. And yet there are students who prefer such professors. For what could be a better deal than to “complete” a course without having to work for it?
But I have always believed that responsible students look up to and look for responsible teachers. In return, responsible teachers manage their classes well because they value their students.
I was reminded of how responsible teachers should manage their classes when I listened to a talk by John Maxwell in Manila recently. To promote his new book “Intentional Living,” the 68-year-old leadership and management expert shared four of the 15 Laws of Growth from his book.
Although not new or spectacular, the laws are great reminders not only for leaders in the corporate world but also for educators in their own classrooms.
1. Law of Intentionality. “Anything valuable is intentional. Good intentions are not enough.” People will not reach their potential unless they become intentional in their lives. Intentional living is not just writing down goals and achieving them, but understanding why these goals are there in the first place.
In schools, I believe, more than writing nice-sounding objectives in lesson plans, teachers need to understand why such objectives are significant.
More than prescribing the “format” and externals of
assignments, a teacher should know the reasons behind them. These intentions should be in place even before a class starts.
Randomly giving a test or assignment near the end of the semester just so a grade can be determined is lack of intention. A teacher who plans well transfers the same attitude to students. Lack of planning reflects poor self-regulation which, in turn, does not encourage discipline in others.
2. Law of Awareness. “Know yourself; grow yourself. Know what your passions are and grow in the area of your passions.” Know what your strengths are and work on your gifts. Learn how to prioritize and how to say no.
For me, teachers not only have to be fully aware of their own strengths, they also need to find out and cultivate the strengths of each student. In my classes, I ask for course requirements that will tap very different skills of my graduate students, whether in writing, speaking, research, group project or creative use of information technology in communication.
Each student is given a chance to shine in one of the assignments. I make sure that those who excel in a particular requirement are publicly recognized and those needing improvement are encouraged with corrective feedback, so as to help students become aware of their gifts and areas of improvement.
Although I agree with most of the things Maxwell said, I will not endorse paying children to read, which his father did and which he did with his own children.
Reading is its own reward. Intrinsic reward is always more effective and longer-lasting.
Research has shown that extrinsic rewards may backfire. In the United States many years ago, there was a reading project where for every book read, children were rewarded with pizza. A survey later found out that children began to choose shorter and easier books to get more pizzas.
3. Law of Consistency. Maxwell said motivation would keep you going, but discipline would keep you growing.
Many people start something, but few continue doing it—day in and day out. There is no such thing as overnight success.
As a writer, Maxwell follows a rule of five: He reads, thinks, asks questions, files and writes every day of the year.
In my view, consistency is nonnegotiable in teaching. Teaching is not a one-shot speech or a half-day seminar; it continues over a period of time—at least a semester of 18 weeks. Hence, it is a gauge of how consistent a teacher can be in keeping up with a standard of performance, day in and day out.
Consistency means depth and mastery of a discipline. It is also being firm in disciplining students.
Firmness with rules and policies is sometimes difficult in a society that values niceness over fairness. But inconsistency in discipline confuses and demoralizes students.
Teachers who flip-flop and are not reliable cause unnecessary stress on students.
No one will dispute the importance of discipline, but I will not advise doing the same five tasks Maxwell said he did every day, even on Christmas, New Year, birthday and Sundays.
For me keeping the Sabbath is a commandment, not without its reasons. Rest is essential for physical, psychological and spiritual well-being. Taking a day off is good for creative and divergent thinking.
4. Law of Environment. Growth thrives only in a conducive environment. Seek a positive environment. Learn from people who are ahead of you in the game. Travel, engage in conversations and read. Learn from failures. Make positive changes.
No one has a more important role in creating a positive class environment than the teacher. What a teacher brings to her class—disposition, attitude and values—can make or break the environment. It is good to reflect on the kind of environment you want for your classroom. Is it respectful of each other’s time and talents? Accepting of differences in perspectives? Courteous and warm?
A teacher is a leader in her class. Class management, for me, means the teacher takes herself, her job and her students seriously. A great teacher thinks ahead for the sake of her students, so that even if stress is inevitable and necessary for learning, unnecessary stress is reduced to a minimum because the teacher is not remiss in her duty.
A good teacher not only transmits knowledge; she influences and transforms her students in ways no one can underestimate. And it all starts in a well-managed class.
The writer is a professor at the University of the Philippines College of Education. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org