One of the most common conversations we have with ministries serving children and teens is about classroom management issues. Children who may or may not behave well at home or school come into a Bible class for an hour and it seems in many places they forget any classroom behavior expectations they were ever taught. Often Bible class volunteers are reluctant to attempt to manage classroom behavior. They fear if they manage the behaviors of their students, the students will no longer want to attend class. Or it just seems like too much effort for a class that only lasts forty five minutes once a week.
Actually, you are more likely to find students prefer classes that are well managed. They don’t have to worry someone may hurt them physically or emotionally. They can hear and think about what is being taught. They can work on activities without having to “protect” them from other children. They will have the best chance possible of getting everything out of your class you wanted them to get.
So what are the tricks professional teachers are trained to use? We haven’t shared these online in a few years, but thought you might like to know the “tricks” our professional educator volunteers regularly use when they teach. Feel free to use these yourself and share them with your friends.
1. Make the list of rules simple and clear. If you have ever had to learn a complex skill as an adult, you understand how frustrating it can be to get what seems like a hundred instructions at once, followed by “now relax.” I like to think of it as having a list of the behaviors you want them to master while they are in your class. Don’t make the list very long. Focus on the behaviors your students are most likely to do that keep themselves and others from learning. If you are constantly correcting 5000 things at a time, you won’t have time to teach.
2. Some rules are non-negotiable principles from the start. “God comes first.” “We always treat each other with respect and love.” “We never lie.” “We are good stewards with things that are around us.” are some good general principles. You will find lots of little rules may fall within their boundaries. If your students have some basic general guidelines against things like lying for example, you may not have to spend the time teaching each specific way of lying that is wrong. When faced with a new temptation to lie, your students will remember the basic principle and correct their own behavior before making a mistake.
3. Rules should be age appropriate. You can’t expect a two year old to have perfect classroom manners. A teenager, though should be able to have tea with the Queen without embarrassing herself. I have found most people have exceedingly low expectations for what children are capable of achieving. “Experts” can have some of the lowest expectations. Each child is different, but most children will rise to the level of expectation much better than you would think. “Tiger moms” know this and take advantage of it. I wouldn’t advise going to that extreme, but don’t be afraid to expect better behavior from your students than the average adult around you does.
4. Expect immediate obedience. Really good teachers do not have a “counting” system before they expect children to obey the rules. Counting to “three” before a child is expected to behave is teaching the child that obedience is conditional. They learn quickly that the numbers last longer if the teacher is in a better mood or doesn’t really want to enforce the rule. As one of my daughter’s teachers used to say, “Counting only teaches students fractions, not how to behave.”
5. Be consistent in enforcing the rules. I will admit, this rule will exhaust you as a teacher some days. It is worth the extra effort though, as the results are phenomenal if you can be consistent in your expectations for your students’ behavior. Assuming you are setting appropriate expectations for a well behaved child, consistency in enforcing those rules will almost guarantee you excellent results. Translation: You will flat wear yourself and your students out the first few classes. If done properly though, very little discipline other than gentle correction is needed after that.
6. Respect for teachers, parents and other adults in authority is non-negotiable. Nothing is more annoying than a child who is rude and disrespectful. This skill is perhaps one of the most important skills you will ever teach your students. If they do not learn to respect authority, I can almost guarantee you they will not become faithful Christians. God demands our respect (and worship) and obedience to His commands. A child who is disrespectful is also usually disobedient. The two seem to go together as a matched set of skills. Respect does not have to be authoritarian. An understanding that you will correct with love usually creates a healthy respect in a child for a teacher.
7. If you give a command, use short declarative or exclamatory statements in the lower range of your normal voice. For some reason, many adults turn their commands to children into questions in a higher pitched voice. There is a reason military officers “bark” their commands. People respond more quickly to command statements in a lower tone of voice. While I am not suggesting you treat your students like military recruits, you can learn something from the military. Please note that you do not have to use a harsh tone of voice. A loving, firm tone will work well.
8. It is okay to use the word “please” before a command, especially with older children and teens. They need to understand though that the word “please” has not turned the command into an optional request.
9. Don’t assume. Many innocent children are disciplined for “crimes” they didn’t commit. Usually a manipulative or lying nearby child has learned how to work the system and can make another child look guilty even when innocent. It will help your relationship with your students more than you will ever know if you take a few extra minutes and listen to their arguments before handing out any consequences. Make it known though if you find out later that they were lying, the consequences will be severe and immediate. Lame excuses should not be allowed, only genuine explanations of why they are being railroaded are accepted. Feeling as if they get a fair hearing will keep your relationship healthy.
10. Consequences should fit the “crime“. I have to admit, one of my pet peeves is to watch an adult correct a child numerous times without enforcing it. Suddenly, even though they haven’t made the child obey them the first or fifth time, the behavior gets on their last nerve. Immediately, the adult delivers an extremely harsh consequence for the “crime”. The child is shocked and angry, because in his mind, the adult wasn’t serious about enforcing the command, but then suddenly delivers a life sentence (so to speak) for the same disobedience. Minor offenses should receive minor consequences unless this is a repeat offense.
11. Whenever possible, try to have the consequence be logical. The type of class you are teaching, the length of your class and how often your students come to class should be factored into the consequences. Think very carefully about denying the child access to your lesson or the activity involved. You don’t want to sacrifice the godly principles you are teaching. On the other hand, rebellion needs to be corrected if your students have any hope of living a Christian life.
12. Only give consequences for rebellion, not childish mistakes. If your student accidentally knocks over something, you may ask her to help you clean it up, but children are often clumsy and shouldn’t be corrected or disciplined for it. On the other hand, if you had asked her to move the object to the other side so she wouldn’t knock it over and she disobeyed, correction is necessary. A two year old who innocently (and loudly) says “Look at the weird man.”, should merely be gently corrected. A teenager who has been taught how to treat people verbally and makes the same loud statement needs to be corrected for being rude and disrespectful to others. Rebellion is often an indication of “heart” issues. In reality, the goal of disciplining children is to mold their hearts towards God. A child who has “good” behaviors, with a wicked heart is in much more danger than a child whose heart is on God but makes behavior mistakes.
13. Correct the behavior not the person. Make sure your student understands you do not think she is a bad person, only that she made a bad choice which must not happen again. You are correcting her to help her remember she is never to do that again. Your students should always see your eyes light up when they walk in the room. They need to know you love them, value them and think they are capable of being wonderful Christians even when you are correcting a bad choice or bad behavior.
14. Don’t take misbehavior personally. If you have a basically good relationship with your students, I can promise you they do not wake up thinking about how they can offend you, make you angry or hurt your feelings. Hormones, hunger, exhaustion and just bad choices are why they misbehave. If you can remain emotionally detached from the behavior, your discipline will be more appropriate and effective.
15. Get your class on a schedule. After years of working with all kinds of children, I can tell you children crave routine. They love to know what to expect when. They love having regular healthy meals and snacks (with an occasional treat) and a regular bed (and nap if young enough) time. Will they admit it? Probably not, but you will find students find comfort in classroom routines, too. What is done within those time frames can vary greatly, but in general your students will know what is expected of them next.
16. Develop a look or a hand signal so your students know they are being corrected without embarrassing them in front of others. If it is a behavior you know your student is working on, a subtle look or previously agreed upon hand gesture is usually enough reminder to correct the behavior. If the look or gesture is obeyed immediately, I would not give out further consequences in most cases.
17. Stop it before it starts. A lot of misbehavior happens because teachers are totally oblivious to their students. Children will often give you clues they are about to misbehave or throw a tantrum. Often they will give these clues minutes before the misbehavior actually happens. The trick is to nip it in the bud. A quick “Don’t even think about it.” will often divert the child before the infraction has happened. Trust me, it is easier to stop a tantrum from ever happening than to stop one in full swing.
18. Don’t be afraid to use humor. While not appropriate for serious infractions, humor can be a gentle, non-threatening way to correct bad behavior without raising tensions. It is especially effective if you already have a child with a strong sense of humor and have fun as a class. Just be careful that it is light humor and not embarrassing, bullying, hurtful sarcasm or verbal abuse disguised as humor.
19. After the correction or consequence is given, re-establish your loving relationship with the child. Hug her (assuming that is allowed in your program) and remind her you will always love her no matter what. It’s okay to add that you have a responsibility to correct her behavior when it is unacceptable.
20. Take the time to develop a loving relationship with your students. Rebellious young people are often that way because their parents and teachers have delivered strict discipline without the loving relationship wrapped around it. If you treat your students with great love and respect, they will respond so much better to your correction. Not every interaction with your students needs to be corrective. Most of them should be loving, supportive and fun. Children are excellent at detecting who really loves and cares about them and who is just “phoning it in.” The older your students are, the more time you should be able to spend listening and loving rather than correcting.
Give these teacher classroom management techniques a try. My guess is you will find they will work just as well with your own students. It takes some practice, but you will find if you manage classroom behavior well you and your students will enjoy class more and get more from it.