A parent's work isn't limited to working with our own children. Sometimes we are in situations when we are in charge of other people's children. Occasions where this most likely happens are at church, when friends come over, at clubs, in school settings, and on outings. These times are enjoyable, but can also be complete disasters.
I was recently at a club meeting for children ages 5-9 and observed a very prepared teacher become completely frustrated because the behaviors in the group were entirely out of control. While the darling woman was presenting engaging science experiments a number of children in the group were climbing on tables, talking to each other, walking off, tampering with other science equipment, and getting food to eat.
The teacher kept going. Even though everything was falling apart and the children were obviously distracted she kept speaking and presenting her well prepared material. I couldn't believe she was alright with taking a beating like that. She deserved to be treated better and seemed to think that was how she had to be treated.
After the class I spoke with the teacher about the problem. She said, “I don't really know how to make them behave. This always happens to me. I try to make the club fun, but they still go crazy.”
I explained to her that her club was definitely fun, and perfect for the learning levels of the children. I also mentioned to her that her personality was fun and exciting. So, the problem was not with her personality, it was with the structure of the environment. She didn't possess the skills she needed for leading a fun group while still demanding respect.
It is a common misconception that you either have to be fun and let things be a bit out of control or be strict and have the atmosphere feel oppressive and no fun. This is not true. It can be true, but if done right, you can have both. Actually, you want to be strict, because the children like you better if you are. However, strict and fun can definitely go together.
If you have read Parenting A House United you know what my definition of strict is. It is not being angry, grumpy, and scary. Being strict means firmly following a set of principles.
How do I know the children like me better if I am strict? I am a teacher in many capacities and for all ages, and have seen that people are more comfortable with a leader who knows her own worth. A confident, structured leader rarely even needs to ask for respect, it is just given because the group feels the need to learn from the person.
On the day we attended the wild science club meeting, my two young children came to me after and said, “Mom, I don't know if I want to go to science club any more because everyone is so noisy and wild. I feel like I can't listen good.” I assured them the teacher was aware of the problem and that things would be better next time.
What Principles Should Teachers Follow?
These are the principles I shared with my good friend to help her prepare to solve her classroom behavior problems.
Pre-teach-- Whenever possible start your club or class with a run down of how class is supposed to go and when you would stop class to solve a problem. Address positive and negative consequences if necessary as well. Be sure to tell the children, what they can expect to get out of the class and what you expect from them as well. More on pre-teaching can be found in chapter 23 of Parenting A House United.
Present One Thing At a Time-- Especially when working with small children it is not a good idea to get out many exciting things all at one time. If you are trying to get them to be excited about using a magnifying glass you don't want the bubbles used in the next experiment out on the table yet. Have a bag, box or cupboard to put your supplies in until needed to keep your small students following along.
Get The Bugs Out-- For some reason there is a common philosophy that the work always has to be done before the play can happen. Where this is motivating for getting children to do their chores, it can be hard on a learning environment. When I do clubs for young children, or teach in church I usually start with a social time. For a club meeting I have found it helpful to allow children to play for a short period of time before the learning starts. Then they get all their excitement for seeing each other taken care of before we start learning time. In church, I have an open talk time before class where the children can discuss some events from their week before we begin the church lesson. I highly recommend getting the bugs out to increase attention span in young groups.
Don't Move On-- When you recognize the class or group is slipping out of control don't move on. You can't inspire anyone in a chaotic environment. You will be wasting your breath and time to just barrel through. It is much better to learn less and love the experience than to hear more and not really feel like you learned any of it. Once you see the class slipping from your presentation or getting distracted, address it. Maybe even get distracted with them for a minute. Learning is about what happens between you and the teacher, not about what was said. If nothing is happening between you and your student, don't cheat them by moving on.
The Perfect Instruction-- I have seen many different approaches to getting a group's attention when they are out of control. There is the yell, the passive aggressive stare, the whine, the passive aggressive walk away, the bribe, and the beg. None of these are confident leader solutions. They are manipulative and the children know it. After all, they usually play these kinds of games with each other on the playground. Don't panic. Just say what you want instead. I always say, “Stop Talking.” This is an instruction which is right to the point. It isn't aggressive, passive, or passive aggressive. It is assertive and firm while not being emotional. Say “stop talking.” and then expect your instruction to be followed. Your confidence and kind, but firm, demeanor will draw the attention back to you very quickly.
Connect!-- If a person is going to care about what you have to say, you need to really be there with them. Get out of management mode and get into leadership mode. A leader is in-tune with the person they are teaching. They seek to look deeper into the other person and really understand what they need and why they are struggling. A leader/teacher doesn't find fault; they connect. If you truly connect you have the power to lead them anywhere. They will love the journey too, because they feel your presence and your passion.
Describe-- Finally, tell the group what they are doing. Explain why it is inappropriate and how much time it takes away from the fun, and then tell them exactly what they should do to behave properly. This is all done with kindness, but with confidence. You are sure they will behave and respect you and you are not afraid of any other result. You trust that the child is capable of doing what you expect and you want their success because you feel love for them. Descriptions don't need to be long. In fact, if they are, they will turn into lectures. Pick your words carefully, and describe quickly. At this point you should have the group's attention and respect and you can move on.
So What Happened To My Friend?
Well, after our short talk about the above suggestions she put them into practice. I returned to her science club meeting the next week with the children and found a completely different environment. She was in control of herself, and the structure of the class. She followed all the steps above, and when things got a bit crazy, she stopped and put everyone back on track. She was incredible.
After the class she was so happy. She felt so different. She was energized instead of drained, and knew she was learning a new skill.
The best part however, was after the class. On the way home from class, my two little ones said to me, “Mom, that was the best class ever. We learned so much and everyone was quite. We can't wait for next week.”
The teacher was happy, the students were happy and I was happy.
Teaching a class is hard work, but if your structure is strictly based on good principles then you will have the support you need to keep the class in order.