Classroom Management – Building Relationships with Teens as a Tool for Better Classroom Management

Classroom Management – Building Relationships with Teens as a Tool for Better Classroom Management

Classroom Management-

Building Relationships with Teens as a Tool for Better Classroom Management


I was walking towards a classroom to sub for another teacher who had to leave unexpectedly, and I could hear screaming. I knew that this could be interesting, since I knew this teacher’s style…and sometimes struggle… to manage the classroom. When I reached the glass door, there was a young man with his face pressed firmly on the glass as he was pounding it with his fist. We stood there looking at one another for a moment until I said, “Can I help you?”

He opened the door and returned to his seat immediately.

It always surprises me that teachers are thrown into this profession with so little instruction on classroom management. It is not something that is taught, and so many new teachers — and some not so new — struggle to make sense of student behavior and how to relate with them and still manage to get the curriculum covered in time for testing. I have seen some really terrific teachers suffer at the hands of an unruly mob, usually at the end of the day, when everyone is exhausted and it is a struggle to get teens focused on the task at hand. I call it “the slog” — that end of the day class.  You know the one.  It was the slog that took a really excellent third year teacher and sent her back to graduate school for a new profession. She said it was that last class that did it for her; she was so stressed and felt like a failure for not being a better teacher.

It would be interesting to see how many teachers are lost to the profession due to improper training in classroom management.  How can you teach if you cannot get the students focused and engaged? If a teacher cannot manage the crowd, then no dissemination of information occurs — or it is greatly hindered — and children learn less. I have seen it myself in some of my most challenging classes over the years. Statistically, those classes performed lower than my others, simply because I was spending more time managing their behavior and less time teaching them the academic skills they needed.

So what is the secret to excellent classroom management? If you ask ten teachers, you may get ten different answers. It is personal and greatly dependent on the teacher’s style and personality. But what I do know is this:  If kids know you care, they will do their best for you. Showing how you care is also individual, but I believe there are some common strategies that every teacher could implement regardless of personal style.

  1. The Greeting. Greet them each day, at the door, as they arrive. I shake their hands at the door, although if you are worried about germs, simply greeting them as they walk in is good enough. The purpose of this is two-fold: (1) students learn how to interact in a professional way with handshake/eye contact/greeting; and (2) I get to assess how their day is going.  Are they ill, upset, or happy?
  2. Good Things– Doing “Good Things” at the beginning of every class is a way to teach teens how to reframe and learn to look for the good in life. Often, teenagers have a hard time looking at all the goodness that is going on around them. “Good Things” starts the class off in a positive way, and I get to learn about their lives outside of my classroom. It is a way for us to interact in a non-academic sense, and it lets them know I am interested in what is going on in their world. I usually allocate the first five minutes of class for this activity, and start with, “Tell me something good.”
  3. Authenticity- Be your authentic self. Teachers are humans too, so if you are having a bad day, say so. Or if you said something that you later regretted, apologize. OWN YOUR STUFF. Let them know how you feel. The kids will appreciate it, and you will be modeling appropriate adult behavior.
  4. Push, Pull and Drag- You know that time of year — usually right after winter break — when all of a sudden your students quit doing ANYthing? Don’t give up on them even when they give up on themselves. Explain to them that you believe in them and know they can do it. It may not change their behavior in the end, but they will remember what you said.
  5. Social Contract– Every year, the first week of school, every class creates a “social contract.” This contract is comprised of student designed rules based on how we all want to be treated. It also addresses how we handle conflict and violations of the agreed contract. I have used this strategy for more than a decade, and it works because the students have buy-in.
  6. Compassion– This seems intuitive, but it is worth saying: have compassion for others and yourself. Remember what it was like being a teenager, a thousand years ago? If you do, then tap into that self and find some compassion for your students…then show it now and again. They will appreciate it.
  7. Be fair and consistent – This one’s a biggie for me. I strive to be fair because I have felt the sting of what felt like “unfair,” and it wasn’t pleasant. Try not to have favorite students. . .or not so favorite students. Teenagers will loudly proclaim one another as the teacher’s pet. We are human, and there is always that one kid, but try to practice fairness and consistency.

I am sure there are a million other ways to build healthy relationships with teenagers. This is what works for me. If you asked around you’d probably hear that I am a tough teacher, and that would be true. I have high standards and high expectations, but I also have a relationship with my students.  I contend that it is a major factor in how well they perform academically.

One of my students wrote a note to me during teacher appreciation week this year. It read, “You are one of the best teachers I’ve ever had…You don’t take crap from anyone and you genuinely care about all us (sic) kids…” I think this embodies my classroom management style. It makes me smile that they know what I’m doing, even if they don’t like it sometimes.

I have students return to my classroom every year from college to tell me how they are doing. It is gratifying to know we have such an impact on these young people and that they love us enough to come back and say hello. I honestly think that building relationships with young people is the key to great classroom management and to great teaching. You have to win them.

4 Replies to “Classroom Management – Building Relationships with Teens as a Tool for Better Classroom Management”

  1. I like the idea of showing the act of compassion towards your students during their hard times by simply looking back to your younger years to what it’s like and what should’ve been done in order to manage these young students in class. I know it takes more than knowledge to get the class going and that is in the character of the person who facilitates them. Although I know it’s not automatic for some, it will be great if training is conducted among the teachers to be able to handle those behavioral issues that can establish a good relationship with the students. If I were to become a teacher, I would love to invest in these as this will mold my character in becoming an effective teacher and mentor to the younger generations.

  2. Can you point me in the direction for how to develop a social contract for teens (I teach 8th graders)?
    I’m particularly interested in how students choose to address violations of the contract as well as when a violation warrants adult intervention/action.

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