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Let’s be honest here: Some days, I am not in a good mood. And when I am in a bad mood, positive reinforcement is not the first thing on my mind. As a music teacher, I teach six different classes, and then I go into a classroom and help with small groups. The other day, I had a Kindergarten class that basically consisted of 45 minutes of one child running around, one in the back of the room screaming and hollering while being restrained (correctly, so that no one got hurt) by one of the teachers, and one who needs to be reminded to get in his spot every two seconds. The other 17 children in the room and I are doing our best to ignore them and keep on singing and playing our “Monkey See and Monkey Do” from the 1st grade Game Plan Curriculum. They did a better job ignoring than I did.
Now, you may be a much better teacher than I am. Maybe you can go from that to the next class and be happy and perky and ready to sing.
But I find that difficult, so the next class went like this:
20 first graders comes inside, bright eyes and bushy tails, ready for a fun day of music.
One person speaks.
I fuss at them, because I am still thinking of the craziness that just ensued and how I do not want a repeat.
They are now upset, because they did not really deserve the scolding I gave them. Everyone else in the class is upset because I raised my voice. They now want nothing to do with me or my lesson.
That makes me upset, because they are not participating. I get in a worse mood.
They get in a worse mood.
And the cycle continues.
We all learn in our teaching classes that students respond better to positive reinforcement than negative. This makes sense, because really, who wants to be screamed at all of the time? Honestly, I am usually pretty good about keeping my volume and temper under control. I am not one of those teachers that just screams all of the time for no reason. But sometimes, I forget to compliment, and I forget to be positive, and I forget to smile, and I turn into the teacher from the black lagoon.
Granted, you may be thinking, “Well of course you feel that way; you are still thinking about your last class and trying to avoid a repeat of it.” Which is true.
But the first graders were not thinking that. They were thinking, “I don’t know why this lady is mad at me. I am just excited to sing and dance.”
So, here are some tips for classroom management when you just had a really tough class, or you are having a really bad day, or you are just plain grumpy. Most of them are strategies we all know but sometimes forget to do in practice.
1. Compliment, compliment, compliment
About anything. My mentor teacher told me once that you should say 5 positive things for every 1 that is negative. You do not necessarily need to keep a tally, but I like to keep that in mind. When things start going off of the rail, I think, “When was the last time I complimented someone?”
And sometimes the class is so wild that the compliment is like, “Thank you Johnny! Look everyone, Johnny is keeping his hands to himself and not hitting anyone.” But find SOMETHING.
Try to start off with compliments, even (and especially!) when you are in a bad mood. Find someone in the hallway standing quietly, or someone who went straight to their seat. And remind yourself through the lesson. This starts the class off on a positive note, and will hopefully make the class continue on a positive note.
2. Keep it in perspective
This is especially important when you are still mad at your last class.
Remember who or what is putting you in the bad mood. If the last class was awful, that doesn’t mean this one will be too. And you don’t want it to be! Or if you are upset because your pay check was wrong or your grandmother is in the hospital and you can’t find anything out until after school is over—that is not your class’s fault.
And sometimes I will tell them that. I’m not sure if it is best practice, but I will say, “Look, I am not feeling very good today. Something happened earlier, and it is not your fault and has nothing to do with you, but I wanted to let you know that I am not in a good mood, and this is why. I do not have a lot of patience left, which is not your fault. Even though it is not your fault, I need you to be on your very best behavior so that we can have a good day.”
I am not sure if that is something you should or should not do, but I think it is good. If shows them that it is ok to have bad days, and that you are human. Students don’t understand that you are a person. I think any way that you can show that is good. They usually understand. If they don’t, I’ll say “Have you ever been upset about one thing, and it made you kind of upset about everything else? That’s how I feel today. It is not your fault, but I want you to know that, so if I seem like I am angry that’s why.”
It is good to be honest with them. I have also noticed that with classes I have done this with, a student will sometimes come at the beginning of another class and tell me the same thing. They will let me know they are having a bad day, and then I am able to work with them better and understand them. I love being able to open communication with them like that.
3. Don’t take it personally
This goes back to a class that is just rough from the get go. If they are like that when they walk into your classroom, it is not your fault. If a student is mean to you, it is not your fault. If they come inside guns blazing, it is not your fault.
I am not saying that you should never take responsibility for how your class behaves. Because, a lot of the time, it is you. Just being honest. I have seen good teachers with the worst classes in the school, and not a single student murmurs a peep. I have also seen not so great teachers struggling to control the best class in the school. You have almost everything to do with classroom management.
But sometimes—sometimes—it is not your fault. Sometimes it is just a bad combination of children. Or poor classroom management on behalf of the general ed teacher. Or all of the parents sent their kids to school without their medicine this week (it happens). Sometimes a class just got yelled at before coming to you, or they have a sub.
Don’t take that personally. As long as you are not all in their faces, it is not your fault.
Now, if they are like that for you every week or every day, that is a different story. That means you need to step it up. Some classes are more difficult than others, but still. I am not saying that that is ok.
I am just saying that just like you are sometimes in a bad mood, so are they. And that is ok.
4. Give yourself a break
I know what you are thinking—break? What is that? People have those?
I don’t mean like a go get a cup of coffee break. You probably still have kids in your room. But there are things you can do for a mental break.
I know that you are never supposed to deviate from your lesson plan, but maybe try. If I have a class that just blows me out of the water and I need a breather, I will show the next class a video related to the lesson, or we will rewatch the video from last week. Play a game they know so well you do not have to do anything for them. Or listen to music and really listen to it. Do something you know so, so well that you do not have to think.
I am always amazed what one Quaver video or round of freeze dance can do for my mental health.
Once I have had that five-ish minutes to catch my breath, then I am ready for the lesson. And I do the lesson—again, you do not want to be too deviated from your lesson plan in case the administrator walks into your room.
5. Add an extra incentive
This usually comes right after my talk about not being in a good mood and how they need to be on their best behavior.
I say IF you can be on your best behavior and we can to the lesson, then we can have an extra. Super. Special. Reward.
And I say it just. Like. That.
You may have something you like to do. If you need an idea, somethings I like include:
- Any sort of game (Poison Rhythm, Lucy Locket, Zoom, etc.)
- Disney sing along
- Freeze Dance
- Talking Breaks
- Some sort of music related video
- Treasure Box visitThe most important thing: make it fun!
This really helps get the behavior on track, and keep it there. And if an administrator walks in, I will say, “This is a reward for god behavior, it is not in my lesson plan, but they have earned it today.” And they will hopefully understand.
And again, I only do this on days that I am having a bad day and just really need a class to hold themselves together.
So there you have it: my best tips on staying positive when you don’t feel like it! What do you like to do? What sort of teacher breaks or extra incentives do your students respond to?