Welcome to The Teachers Digest Interview Series. In this series, we will post interviews with authors and educational experts from around the world, twice.
This week, we interviewed Michael Linsin who is the author of Dream Class, The Classroom Management Secret, and Classroom Management for Art, Music, and PE Teachers. His simple and unique ideas about managing student behavior are read by thousands of teachers every day on his popular blog, Smart Classroom Management. He lives and teaches in San Diego.
1. You are a teacher, author and a blogger. How do you effectively juggle these three hats?
Time management is crucial. I schedule a time slot to write each afternoon and stick to it whether I’m feeling productive or not. During that hour or two, that’s all I do. I focus my attention on that one thing, whether a blog post or a new chapter, and leave the world behind. When I’m finished writing for the day, I’m pretty good at abandoning the work where it is until the next day. I allow myself plenty of downtime to read or watch TV with my wife or do projects around the house.
By the same token, as soon as I pull into the school parking lot, I try to concentrate fully on my responsibility to the students. And when the day ends, I leave school at school. I think by wearing only one hat at a time, and refusing to mix the two, I’m able to enjoy both writing and teaching without experiencing pressure, stress, or burnout.
2. Do you think most teachers underestimate the importance of classroom management?
I think for the most part the whole of education underestimates its importance. The focus tends to be on curriculum, teaching methods, and learning—which are important, to be sure—but all are contingent upon a teacher’s ability to manage the classroom. Nothing works as it should, or could, without effective classroom management. If schools and teacher education programs were to focus on training teachers to become experts in this one area first, everything else would get a whole lot easier.
3. You have taught all grades from kindergarten to eighth grade. In your opinion, are elementary students easier to handle than high school students?
If you have poor classroom management skills, then some grade levels can certainly be more challenging. The right skills, however, translate regardless of grade level. Although teaching kindergarten, for example, may require entirely different timing, speech patterns, and sensitivity than would teaching eighth grade, the core principles of accountability, rapport, routine, and motivation remain the same. Effective classroom management is knowledge based. Anyone can learn and apply the right approach and have success no matter the grade level, school, or neighborhood.
4. Can you give us 3 classroom rules that you think all teachers must have in their classroom?
A good set of classroom rules must be clear, enforceable, and able to cover every potential misbehavior. Although, they may need tweaking depending on grade level, the three below have proven to be just that.
1. Listen and follow directions.
2. Raise your hand before speaking or leaving your seat.
3. Be nice.
5. Can you share some classroom management tips for new teachers?
The biggest tip is to recognize its supreme importance. Your very success and fulfillment as a teacher is dependent on your ability to manage your classroom. So focus on this first, above all. Become an expert in classroom management and the rest—lesson delivery, student learning, parent relations, respect of your peers, administrative satisfaction, and so much more—will fall into place.
As for specific tips, the two most important areas are maintaining consistent accountability and building influential relationships with students. One way or the other, every effective strategy falls under one of these two broad categories. Together, they form the key to a happy, well-behaved classroom.
6. Tell us about some of the challenges you’ve faced with respect to managing your classrooms.
I taught the same core group of students for three years in a row. I followed them in grade level from fourth to sixth grade. It was the best teaching experience I’ve had to date, but it was also fraught with challenges. Familiarity, tragedy, homelessness, new students arriving, lost friendships, and deeply hurt feelings—all kept me on my toes. I learned more in those three years than the rest put together.
As for current challenges, for the past several years I’ve worked as a PE specialist, teaching a different class and grade level every hour. There are times when I go from a fifth grade classroom to kindergarten immediately after. More challenging, however, is that every class has a different personality. Each teacher has varying levels of experience and classroom management skill, and thus some classes come to me far more prepared to listen and learn than others.
But it’s great fun, and I have the good fortune of being able to put the strategies I write about every week to the test. I wouldn’t change it for the world.
If you would like more classroom management tips, please go check out Michael Linsin’s blog, Smart Classroom Management.