My current research centers around my classroom management, particularly around my ability to define and enforce two key expectations: a quiet classroom and that students remain in their seats. My teacher education program gave me many tools to manage my classroom, but classroom management is not a transferable skill; rather, it is a skill learned by doing…and doing without a safety net. Most teachers I have talked to name classroom management as the single biggest area of growth for them their first few years. And I am no exception.
Classroom management was not my first choice for research. Initially, I wanted to work on building relational rather than instrumental understanding amongst my students, in response to issues that arose last year. Ever since this dichotomy was pointed out to me in my Master’s program, it crystallized how I think about the way I accumulate knowledge and the way I present knowledge to students in a variety of disciplines. However, after a week in my classroom I realized I still needed to hone my abilities to maintain a sense of order in my classroom. It’s difficult to develop any kind of understanding if you can’t hear instruction!
The difficulty in this practical research is there’s never “just one thing” I attempt at a time. Instead, I take many ideas - some new, some old ways enacted more strictly - and implement them all. This makes singling out one specific idea or strategy as the most effective (or more effective than others) a nearly impossible task. Still, I can see whether the changes I am implementing are working.
My first method is not a change in policy, but a stricter enforcing of a policy already put in place. Though there are good days and bad days, I have seen an improvement in classroom behavior. However, consistency is key, and that is one area I am still developing.
In a recent Action Research Group meeting, a veteran colleague pointed out that I have put a lot of time and effort into keeping my students from talking out of turn, but not nearly as much effort into making sure my lessons had a built in place for students to talk. I appreciate the wisdom and pedagogical necessity for productive talk, but it still scares me. I need to work even harder to create ground-rules so student talk is productive and not chaotic. I started planning this time into my lesson, setting up opportunities for students to talk in a way that furthers their learning and does not detract from classroom discussion.
My entire praxis is a work in progress. I know once my classroom management is on target, I can research other avenues of teaching. If my classroom management is not on target, any other research will yield, at best, inconclusive results. However, when I am in control of what’s happening in my classroom (even, paradoxically, the areas in which I cede control) other avenues for research and exploration will open up.
Samuel is a seventh grade math and science teacher at a Philadelphia Public School in West Philadelphia. He started teaching because he wanted to provide an education commiserate to the one he received.