Brief Thoughts on Classroom Management

Need for Classroom Management

I hope I knew more about classroom management, such as how to effectively manage a class and to be able to handle situations that may happen in lessons.

Identity Undisclosed

The above quote is what a current teacher of a primary school replied to me when I asked of what is one thing he hoped he knew before he started teaching.

Indeed, Classroom Management is a topic that requires ongoing learning from the flow of dynamic changes. Every class is unique, but there are principles that remain grounded in the face of facilitating the learning of students.

When I started teaching as an AMIS (Arts and Music Instructor Scheme) trainer with MOE schools back in 2012, it did not take long to realize managing a class of thirty plus children require a certain tenacity to win their attention and respect.

Consider this scenario:

You step into a classroom of 40 rowdy Primary Five’s in an all-boys school. You met for the first time. How do you get their attention to follow your instructions?

Hint: shouting is one of the worst possible choices for a start.

Unique Advantage as an AMIS Trainer

Well, at least in the first year or so, I had the advantage of being in the presence of school teachers and other AMIS instructors, gleaning from their pedagogical methodologies. Being an external vendor meant that I got to travel to various public schools to teach the same subject again and again.

As a control, my syllabus remains pretty much unchanged once it became established in around the fourth year in the field. As such, the main difference usually revolves around the culture of the school, which is made up of the blend of teachers and students I encountered along the years.

Between 2012 to 2019, I had taught more than fifty MOE schools, primary and secondary. Mostly, primary schools in the East, Northeast, and central area on the island. The instruments I specialized in training the children are guitar and ukulele.

With the control set in place and the many schools to work with, I had time to tweak and refine my teaching methods, bit by bit over time.

I am highlighting these facts not to put a feather on myself. Rather, I cannot disregard the validity of those experiences.

While two person may experience the same event, they may glean different insights from their personal observations and inferences. What I am about to share is my opinion and mine alone, so if you do read this, do consider it with your own due diligence and discretion. You are warned.

The Brief Thoughts

For the brief thoughts I am about to discuss, they include:

  • Speaking Tone
  • Visual Signals
  • Use of Technology

Speaking Tone

What do you want your class to be known by?

I want my class to be known by the peace and the confidence of a conducive environment for learning to the students.

To facilitate that, I have learnt that it does me good to learn and brush up my public-speaking skill, at least in a classroom setting. And a big part of that involves my ability to manage my speaking tone.

Consider these…

If I raise my voice, not only would my tone become thinner and squeakier, it loses the sense of authority to the listener. It seems that listeners associate a deeper tone to a higher level of authority.

If I slow down my speech, I can articulate my words clearer. The pauses between my sentences allow me to check the response of my audience and allow the listeners to digest my message.

If I speak calmly, as the only adult and a labeled authority figure in the room, I inspire peace and a sense of stability. This stability helps to earn weight in my words and leadership.

If a class is rowdy and I shout my instructions across the room, there is a high chance I would lose the attention of the class, because I am doing what they are doing. But if I manage my tone, a deep tone can impress as a firm enough volume to those nearer to me, and soon, there will be a magical moment of ripple effect amongst the students to know it is time to listen to the man in front of them.

Ask me not why. It’s a phenomenon that I observed to work again and again. These days, I attribute it to the anointing of God in my life to find favor with the students. He gives me the wisdom to apply these ideas and notice what works and what does not.

A man can choose to act like a king, knowing that when he steps into a room, there is a kingly atmosphere surrounding him. He can serve but not come across as servile. He can speak gently but in firm conviction.

Side note: Somehow, I feel inclined to think that acting skills would be an advantage to a classroom educator because trained actors have gained a certain level of mastery over their ability to communicate via their actions holistically.

Visual Signals

Sometimes, words fail. The class just cannot hear me. The acoustic of the room is terrible. Too much echo. Too little travel for sound.

What about a situation when a duration is given to the class to practice on their own in a music lesson. When the singing and playing of instrument is going on, obviously the students cannot hear the teacher. Even if the teacher uses a microphone, they might not hear him simply because they are focused on their tasks.

Let’s be reasonable. Sometimes, they do not respond the way we (teachers) want not because they are defiant. Sometimes, it is a matter of how facilitation is conducted. There is no need to take their noise level as a personal attack on your teaching ability or your identity as a teacher.

Authority and superiority are two very different things. As teachers, we do not have to prove our identity, but we need to exemplify our authority. Educate the students and they will know what good qualities you expect of them. Then, they will behave up to the standard.

This is why in my music class, I always introduce on the first session, visual signals in case the audio signals fail. I hate to shout. I much prefer to preserve my vocal in light of the stamina to go through lessons with the many classes ahead.

A visual signal can be a hand signal or an image or written instruction on the screen in front of the students.

An example would be:

Class, when you see me raise up my fist as a zero-sign from now on, it means pause. Pause means regardless of whatever you are doing, stop and face the front. There is no need to shout “stop”. When you stop, your classmates will start to realize it’s time to be quiet and they will stop soon. If they are too engrossed in their practice, and you want to help me, you can gently tap on the shoulder of the person near you to let him or her know.

That speech is demonstrated with how the fist-in-the-air look like.

When this is implemented well, it becomes a very useful facilitation tool in the classroom.

Use of Technology

Because I had to teach the same thing again and again, I realized there are actions I can avoid repeating again and again. For example, if I draw the chord diagrams for ukulele and put them up on the screen, I do not have to draw them on the whiteboard again and again.

If I take a picture of my left hand pressing the strings on the ukulele fretboard with the fingers from my point-of-view, I do not have to show every student how to do it in person again and again.

Notice how frustrating just to see “again and again” again and again?

A man has learnt this through the hard-knocks of life.

When I tell the class I am giving them a 3-minute practice on their own, what better way than to flash on the screen via the projector a count-down timer from my iPad?

I think you get the idea: If I can get away doing less with more help, I will.

Remember the part I said to convey my messages by the control of my speaking tone? With a microphone, not only can there be an increase in volume, but there can also be an easier way to manage the tone of speech.

Possible Future Discussions

Obviously, the ideas here are non-exhaustive and are only meant to serve as references for your inspiration. By no means is an idea here conclusive by nature. Perhaps a separate post shall be allocated to discuss:

  • Management of Expectations
  • Management of Time
  • Sitting Arrangement
  • Delegation of Roles

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