If you have a cell phone, use it. Many new teachers find themselves struggling with classroom management. In a worst case scenario students will blatantly disrespect new teachers, and create havoc in the room. Repeatedly sending these students to the Dean can sometimes undermine the support a teacher can expect form the Dean’s office. After all, the Dean has many issues to deal with on any given day. A teacher with bad classroom management cannot compete with a weapons violation, a fight, or a drug case.
It is better by far to ration our referrals to the Dean. What tools do we have to do this? Believe it or not we have more than we may know about.
Our cell phones are a prime example. Often, our willingness to use them is enough to quell improper behavior. However, in order to establish our willingness to use it, we must use it several times.
If your school district uses a computerized system such as ISIS to track attendance, student contact information should be accessible from your classroom. If not, you can simply go to the appropriate personnel at your school and ask for a telephone contact list. This is usually easily obtained.
Give the student a warning that you will call home if their misconduct continues. If their actions do not improve, take out the phone and place it on your desk. If they still don’t take the hint, call. During class. If no parent is at home, call them at work. Take the few minutes to speak to a parent in front of the rest of the class. Then hand the phone to the student. Allow the parent to speak to their child right then and there. What child wants to be castigated in front of their peers? But dare they disrespect their parents? If they hang up (which I have seen), call again. Let everyone know (parents and students) that you will do whatever you need to do to ensure an appropriate classroom environment. Knowing that you will make these calls is a powerful deterrent.
Do not worry about lost classroom time. You should easily make up the time as student cooperation improves. Other benefits of doing this during class are as follows:
1. Students receive immediate feedback for improper behavior.
2. You can check the school’s contact information for this student.
3. Parent contact allows you to develop a relationship with the student’s parent or guardian.
4. You take a step to redress the situation without an outside referral.
5. Every other student sees your determination to eliminate problem behavior.
6. You can document a parent/teacher discussion should you need to refer the student out of the room at a later date.
If your student’s parents speak a language in which you are not conversant, you can keep the student after class, or call them out of lunch to make the call from the office where you may be able to receive help with translation.
Once I began doing this, simply taking out my cell phone and placing it on the desk was enough to quiet a room. I did not have to raise my voice. I did not have to threaten. Once students knew that I would call they fell in line.
There are some students who know that you cannot get in touch with their parents. Either their phone is disconnected, or their parents are unreachable. These students may continue to misbehave. If the phone numbers you have are not good, refer them to the attendance office to get working numbers. Office staff can sometimes get information that is difficult for you to obtain. If this still does not work, bring out your other weapons.
Have a form letter on hand that indicates student misbehavior. Require their other teachers to sign off on it and that it be returned the next day signed by a parent. (We created ours in English and Spanish, since the population of our school is almost exclusively Spanish speaking.)
Hold students for detention until they return the letter. Do not forget to follow up. If they forget it for a week, give them a week of detention. Continue it into the next week if you must, but do not let the student slide about returning it. If you give the impression that this letter is not important, the students will respond in kind. Keep the letter in your files, and take them out during parent/teacher conferences. Some parents may never have seen letters that they supposedly “signed”.
If the phone call and the letter have no effect on their behavior, refer them to the Dean. This is usually grounds for a suspension, and the Dean will demand a parent come to school before they allow the student back. The Dean will usually be happy to do so, given the due diligence you have shown in attempting to reconcile the issue without them.
It all comes back to your cell phone, and your willingness to use it to create an environment of immediate feedback for improper behavior.
Add this to your tool kit. You may be amazed at how effective it can be.
Until next time… Keep it up. The trenches need you.