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A Critical Mistake Teachers Make On The First Day Of School


smart classroom management: a critical mistake teachers make on the first day of school

If you’re a regular reader of SCM, then you’ll no doubt take your time teaching your classroom management plan.

You’ll model what is and isn’t okay. You’ll provide examples. You’ll shore up gray areas and show your new class what not to do.

This is all good. Check, check, and check.

But at some point you’ll have to start enforcing. And herein lies a landmine.

You see, there is a mistake teachers make during the window of time between teaching their plan and enforcing their plan.

For example, let’s say you just finished your final check for understanding. Your students have no more questions. They’ve proven to you that they get it. You’re satisfied and ready to move on.

Again, all good.

But that first time a student breaks a rule, what do you do? What do you really do? If you’re like most teachers, you hesitate. In the moment, confronted with the real thing, it’s not uncommon to lose your resolve and give a reminder instead of following through.

You may even use that first incident of misbehavior as an example. A teachable moment, I think they call it.

Makes sense, right? Doesn’t seem like a big deal. You can chalk it up to the time students need to transition to a new teacher, a new grade level, and new expectations.

But here’s the thing: You just got finished emphatically teaching your rules and consequences and explaining their supreme importance. You just promised to follow through no matter what.

And then a student breaks a rule and you . . . let it go. You freeze up. You feel bad or awkward and say something like, “Now, this is a great example of breaking rule number two.”

This is so, so common. De rigueur for the first day of school in thousands of classrooms.

But it’s a critical mistake. No matter how unpleasant it may seem at the time, if a student breaks a rule, you must enforce. There is no window of time. No grace period. No kinda-sorta easing into it.

No transition or teachable moment.

The second you finish teaching your classroom management plan you must go live. You must send the message that you mean what you say. If a student misbehaves right away, you should celebrate.

It’s a good thing—because it’s an opportunity to prove on the first day of school that you mean what you say and that you’ll protect their right to learn and enjoy being in your classroom.

When you don’t follow through you communicate to your new students that you’re a pushover who can’t be trusted, doesn’t mean what they say, and isn’t serious about classroom management.

Teaching your plan thoroughly and promising to follow it is fine and good. A great start to the year. But now you’ve got to go and do it. You’ve got to live up to your promises, without delay.

Or else you’ll put yourself behind the eight ball before the first day of school is even over.

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