Managing a Rowdy Classroom
The ‘Storm Method’ teaching technique I use when managing an enormous group of insane teenagers
I usually aim to try my best with everything I do.
Currently with Medium I’m trying to write in such a way that a new article appears on my profile every day. I also try to submit articles to publications regularly so that they’re reviewed and released (hopefully) on an adjacent and complimentary release schedule.
I also do freelance work with Fiverr and independantly, and have bought both of my houses with money earned from acting.
However no career path I’ve ever taken has received the time, dedication, learning and research that I’ve poured into teaching.
Teaching — The golden apple career
Teaching is the career that actors can pursue once their bodies have broken down. Teaching is the career that writers can pursue during those all-too-common valleys of absolutely zero income.
Teaching has become the backbone of my personal economy, and I take that backbone as seriously as the one that holds my torso over my legs.
I teach in Shanghai, China as a travelling bard who moves between multiple schools a day. These schools are clients that have paid an assload of money to buy my courses and consistently demand a very high standard.
So with that in mind, I will now share with you the principles I employ in every class to ensure that the students love me, the school and parents love me, and most of all; I’m asked back.
If you’re shouting, you lost the kids 10 minutes ago
When you’re teaching, you’re not just talking at some punks who weren’t alive when S Club 7 was a big deal.
Your job is to manage a room full of people and ensure that after 40 minutes (or so) they walk out of the classroom excited, inspired, and a little more knowledgeable about something you’re passionate about.
Words like inspiration and S Club 7 are easy words to throw around, but difficult to make work in the real world.
You can usually read a room full of kids that’s growing into a rabble about as easy as you can feel a storm coming.
Kids generally give you a lot of warning that terribleness is on its way. It’s about 10 minutes after the early warning signs that I see teachers lose it and start screaming.
Instead of letting it build to that point, they should have pivoted and stopped the storm in it’s tracks.
The pivot system
The pivot system is what I call my system of redirecting kids attention and bringing their focus back to me. I often achieve this by switching up whatever I’m doing.
If it’s a business class (the most boring subject I teach and most difficult to keep their attention) I will interrupt my own plans and change things up when I see the storm brewing.
This means if I was doing a lecture, now we’re doing a little business role play.
If we were doing presentations, now we’re doing a lecture.
If the kids look like their eyes are about to fall out of their heads, we’ll have a short unscheduled break.
It doesn’t matter what your beautifully formatted plan says, that plan should only be treated as a guide and as a tool to make sure the school feels comfortable that you know what you’re doing.
You should constantly be reading the room and changing it up.
Sometimes the kids are insane and there was no warning at all.
This can be because the class has only just begun and the kids entered already insane, or it’s sometimes it’s caused by something crazy happening that derails everything. Like a kid sneezing snot all over his desk. (It happens).
The first week of semester I identify which of my classes are the ones that are likely to cause me ‘flash floods’ and for them I implement a points system.
I break the students up into groups.
If it’s a drama class, the groups will be based around the type of character they play. (For example, child characters, evil characters, etc).
If it’s a business class, the groups will be split into “businesses” and the points turned into currency.
I find any way I can to make them into groups and I introduce a points or currency system.
Teens and younger kids are all insanely competitive.
It’s important that when you implement the points, you put a lot of weight on their value.
Here in China the final report card of the semester means everything to them. So I tell them that the points will have a certain baring on how their final report will be graded.
Outside of China I usually promise some kind of prize at the end of semester.
Take the points system extremely seriously or else it wont work.
This will mean being fair and rational when giving them out, and having a really good reason when taking them away.
It’ll also mean doing the math right when promising to take away a predetermined number of points. Most of all it means remembering how many points each team has in each class. If you forget how many points everyone has and just “start again” even one time, the system is over. No-one will take it seriously.
I’ve literally heard of a teacher referring to her system as “the silly little points.”
Needless to say her system didn’t work.
So you have a rowdy class and they enter the room insane.
You should have already written all the points clearly up on the blackboard. (I hope you have one, it’s 2019 and the blackboard is still my favourite teaching tech).
I recommend using multicoloured chalk. Write the score of the current leading team in big golden chalk and the losing team in much smaller orange chalk.
Hold the eraser in your hand and every couple seconds take points away from teams who are talking. Just keep doing it as long as you have to.
Students will get very quiet, very fast and those who don’t will be slapped by their team mates until they shut up.
Do the opposite.
Find a team that’s doing the right thing (that shy team sitting in the corner) and start awarding them points for every second that other teams are talking.
Want to make it sting more?
Take the points you’re giving them from the other teams. That hurts.
Can’t do points?
Maybe you’re a relief teacher and can’t do the points system. For those classes I use a form of subtle fear.
I mentioned in another of my stories that in China we’re permitted to use our phones to video and photograph the kids whenever we want.
So whenever I’m relief teaching an insane class, I let the kids know early that the principle of the school is interested in knowing how the teacher’s day was. This sets me up to use my phone for fear later on.
If the kids decide to go insane, without saying a word I’ll pull out my phone and pretend to take a video.
Instantly it’s silent.
The last thing they want is indisputable evidence that they were bad to the teacher.
This tip may only work in China, sorry to those this doesn’t apply to.
If you manage the kids, predict their actions, and look out for storm warnings; you should never be caught off guard and never be caught screaming at them.
Anticipate their actions, introduce a lot of variety and spontaneity into your lessons, and take advantage of their nature.
Make them compete against each other so that their energy is redirected in a more positive direction.
With a mix of flexibility, foresight and good planning; you’re on your way to a more harmonious and productive classroom.
See the tide turning and do something about it while you can. In other words, be better than S Club 7.
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