My Worst Nightmare (As a Teacher)

So I have this recurring nightmare.  (If any of my current students happen to read this, don’t get any ideas.)  I am teaching – it doesn’t matter which class – and suddenly I lose control of my students.  They stop following directions, begin shouting and running around the room, and eventually leave the classroom altogether.  As this is happening, I am trying in vain to regain control – asking, pleading, shouting, and following them as they leave my classroom.  I often wake up with a start, muttering and talking in my sleep.  The dream visits me about once a month, sometimes even in the summer.

It’s the strangest thing really because I’ve never had much of an issue with classroom management.  I do have students who will test me, particularly at the beginning of the year, but generally I don’t have a lot of misbehavior among my students throughout the year.  Perhaps having had the dream, I now overcompensate and quickly stamp out any hint of unacceptable behavior before it gets a chance to grow, behavior that may actually be fairly benign?  I don’t know.

I do know that moving to a 1:1 environment is going to throw me a curve ball in terms of classroom management.  Monitoring as many as 20 computers is a challenge no matter how you look at it.  Making sure that students stay on task and use the computers for the purposes of education is a big task.  There is some truth to the idea that AP students and seniors (which is who I teach) need to monitor themselves, for no college professor is going to make sure the kid in the middle of a crowded lecture hall is taking notes rather than sending an email.  Still, my students are not yet college students, and I still need to help them figure out how to manage their behavior in ways that will lead to success in college and beyond. To me, letting them get away with playing games in class on a daily basis would send a message that I simply don’t care whether they learn what I have to teach or not.  And if I don’t care, then why am I choosing to be there, and why should they be forced to be there?

This is actually a change in my thinking. Last year, when some of my senior students brought in their own computers, I did not monitor them as closely as I now believe I should and will in the future.  Certainly, I am not suggesting handholding a senior from day one to the last day of school.  I will loosen the reins a bit over time, giving my students the freedom to make their own choices so that they can deal with the consequences – good and bad – of those choices.  But at least in the beginning, I am making a commitment to monitor them more closely. And let’s face it.  It is a commitment that you have to make because classroom management is not the fun part of teaching.

In thinking about what specific rules I want to enact with regards to the computers, I ran into a problem.  I haven’t taught in a 1:1 environment so I don’t know what issues I’m going to run into throughout the year.  Writing a list of laptop rules and their consequences in my syllabus is difficult.  I have an inkling of what problems I will have or what behaviors will bother me the most, but I can’t be sure.  Basically, I have to “wing it” a bit here this first year, and let the students know that my syllabus is a living document that can grow and change with the times.  (*I’ve posted what will appear in my syllabus below.  This could change as the summer progresses, and I think more about classroom management.)

I think there’s two major issues to consider when thinking about classroom management in a 1:1 environment. I know these may seem basic, but bear with me. The first is the physical set up of the room.  The teacher needs to be able to walk behind the desks, so desks probably shouldn’t be up against a wall if it can be helped.  Teachers MUST walk around while they are teaching to monitor screens, so having some kind of “clicker” for the SmartBoard or projector is important as well.  (There’s also programs like LanSchool, which help monitor the computers but are subject to some limitations.) The second is consistency.  Once you’ve got your rules written, and these will differ by school and by teacher, there needs to be a genuine attempt to enforce those rules consistently.  If you say you want laptops closed at the start of class, then no matter who has his laptop open, even if it’s the kid that never causes a problem, you need to enforce that rule and follow through with the appropriate consequence.**

I know, I know.  You are thinking this sounds so basic, but it’s usually more of a challenge for teachers than they want to admit.  It’s hard to be consistent when you are busy doing the actual teaching part of your job.  I know in the past I’ve always resented the time dealing with rule-breaking takes away from instruction. I think, however, that taking extra time the first few weeks of school to explain and enforce those rules will make the 1:1 classroom a more relaxed and efficient learning environment in the long run.  It’s like the old rule that a teacher shouldn’t smile until after Christmas, which I don’t hold to but has some element of truth.  It’s easy to relax your classroom environment over time, but it’s much harder to get more strict if you began the year without any rules, or at least any consistently enforced rules.  Will you lose some instructional time in the first couple of weeks?  Absolutely.  Will you make up the lost time as the year progresses with a well-oiled classroom machine?  You bet.

So even though I don’t think I’ll be getting rid of my nightmare anytime soon, with a little forethought, I might be able to keep it from becoming a reality.

*Technology Rules

  1. Come to class with laptops fully charged.
  2. You may not use my computer, charger, or printer.  If you fail to print something out beforehand, it is LATE.  See “Late Work” above.
  3. When the bell rings, laptops should be CLOSED.  Failure to comply will result in a demerit.  Repeated offenses will result in the laptop being taken up by the teacher and/or a suspension from laptop use in the class.
  4. During class, students must use the laptops ONLY in the way directed by the teacher.  NO games, applications, email, surfing the Internet, music, videos, etc. unless given express permission by the teacher to do so.  Failure to comply will result in a demerit. Repeated offenses will result in the laptop being taken up by the teacher and/or a suspension from laptop use in the class.
  5. When given permission to use headphones, the sound must be at a level so that no one around the student can hear any noise.
  6. All policies found in the Technology/Laptop Contract hold for this course.

**To be sure, you can’t catch everything.  So you will always get the kid that complains that Johnny was doing the same thing yesterday and you didn’t catch him, so why are you punishing Michael.  To which I say, the police didn’t catch the guy who ran the red light yesterday, but now they have a chance to catch another guy who ran a red light today.  Should they let him go? Not unless we want to live in a world where everyone’s running red lights.  Eventually, you’ll catch them all if they are doing something they shouldn’t be.

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1 Comment

  1. Pingback: The Dilemma « Wiser Today and Still Learning

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