I think it’s safe to say that “classroom management” is a big deal in teaching. Not much learning can happen if students are running wild in a classroom. Schools of education have been criticized for not preparing teacher candidates enough in the area of classroom management, and there is a movement in some charter networks to focus almost exclusively on classroom management. While there’s some valid reason for the criticism and the resulting craze, I want to take apart what we really mean when we refer to classroom management.
1. The use of the word “management” in the first place is kind of a misnomer. What we are really talking about is a teacher’s leadership of his or her students. (This was first pointed out to me by my mentor, Madeleine Ray, faculty at Bank Street College of Education.)
2. “Management” of students cannot be separated from all of the other aspects of teaching.
The first question might be “who is the leader in this classroom?” If the teacher is not the leader, then there’s a leadership crises to address, which is no small task. We might ask, which student(s) are trying to lead? What’s their agenda? What do they offer that the teacher currently doesn’t? What are the problems with this balance of power? Or maybe the teacher is the clear leader, but he or she is, say, leaving students vulnerable on certain fronts or leading in a direction that works for only some students. Then there are leadership issues to tackle, none of which are superficial.
Somehow, we understand that leadership runs deep. It’s personal, and it’s about courage, vision, and follow-through. While there are techniques to learn when it comes to managing AND leading a classroom of students, let’s not pretend the leadership (or “classroom management”) aspect of teaching can be condensed into a simple checklist of actions that works the same with every group. People and group dynamics have always been and will always be more complex than that.