I think I may have witnessed a miracle yesterday: two classes that worked in almost total silence. It was like being transported to an alternate universe. Or heaven. These two classes had to take a vocabulary quiz, then afterwards begin working on reading the next chapter in their book and answering the questions. Whatever they didn't finish would become homework.
When I've done something like this in the past, I had a lot of issues with kids whispering afterwards. Also, if students know that they'll be able to finish something at home, they'll often try to interpret that as "I don't have to do any work during class" (which is so dumb--you think they'd want to have less work to worry about at home). But this year, I'm trying to establish my expectations right off the bat so they don't get into bad habits. At the beginning of class, I told them that if they talked during the quiz, they'd receive a zero, and if they talk while other people are still finishing up, they'd lose points for taking away from someone else's ability to do well, and that working on the chapter assignment was not optional. BAM! Laying down the law this year. And best of all--it actually worked. Those classes are usually kind of chatty, and this was the quietest I've ever seen them. I only had to remind a couple of kids to not whisper or to get working, and that was it. Last year, sometimes when I would tell students to stop talking, they'd loudly ask, "Is anyone even still taking the quiz?" So obnoxious. And of course it probably makes the slow test-takers feel self-conscious. I refuse to let that sort of thing happen this year.
I really want to continue improving my classroom management. This is something that you have to learn through experience and trial & error. And so far what I've learned is to be friendly and fair, but firm (the only time 3 F's are a good thing in school). I've never bought into the "don't smile until Christmas" way of thinking, because while a teacher like that may be able to run their classroom well, kids will never be passionate about the material if they feel like they've stepped into a military classroom. I want to engage the students in what we're doing and to be approachable. At the same time, I think what my students are learning is that while I am friendly, I also don't take shit. Bad attitudes, rudeness, sneakiness, misbehavior, etc. don't fly with me. I know "The Look," and I'm not afraid to use it. I've also developed quite a good 'teacher voice.' I think it's especially important to make this intolerance for bad behavior clear because I'm a young woman. I won't receive some of the automatic respect that older teachers and males get, so I have to be clear about what is or is not acceptable in my classroom.
As I said, improving my classroom management is going to be an ongoing process. I'm certainly still making some mistakes. But I think that yesterday was a sign that I am definitely learning. (After all, students aren't the only ones learning in school!)