Teaching: Walking a Tightrope

by Jay Chambers

Have you ever watched one of the circus performers walking a tightrope? Their balance is so perfect, yet so fragile. One misstep could send them plummeting to the ground, never to rise again… unless they have a net of course. With their fantastic skill they are able to exhibit magnificent feats on just a thin area of cord. As they walk on their hands, do back flips or even push carts across the wire their acts are beautiful yet terrifying to behold.

Teaching can be just as beautiful and terrifying.Walking-a-Tightrope

Think about it. A single person stands at the front of a class of two to two hundred students and expects them to focus their attention solely upon him/her simply in order to learn. If the student doesn’t feel that what the teacher is saying is worth listening to, then what is to keep them quiet and attentive? What if the student is having a bad day and decides to disrupt the class? What if he/she just doesn’t feel like listening and wants to cause some problems?

No teacher is perfect, and it is likely that all teachers have had such a student at one time or another. So there you are, up in front of everyone trying to teach, and one or more students decide to make your life more interesting, and not in a good way. What do you do? Do you lose your temper? Do you decide to avoid confrontation altogether and simply ignore the problem? There are many opinions and studies about what should be done at this point. There are as many good ideas as bad and not all techniques work with all students.

There are also many mistakes that we as teachers make. One of the most common mistakes teachers make is a human one- we lose our temper. Teacher mentor Adam Waxler says in his article entitled, Effective Classroom Management Is Difficult When You’re Angry!, “It is very important that teachers do not ‘lose it’ no matter how much a student tests you. If students see that they have angered you, they know they have beaten you at the discipline game. The bottom line is, you must control your anger if you want to be an effective teacher.”Walking-a-Tightrope2

The main problem is that losing your temper is the most natural and often the easiest thing to do. You yell at the student and they stop talking and listen to you, right? It may seem like it has worked at first, but many children love to test adults. If and when they act up once more are you just going to go off on them again? How many times will you lose your temper in front of the class before they have decided that it is a common thing and not worth worrying about anymore? It is here that you’ve lost your students’ respect and chance at holding their attention without loud theatrics. You’ve completely lost your balance and fallen off the tightrope. Do you have the net of an able principal or director to back you up and help out with the situation or will you splat upon the ground as the students take the tale of crazy teacher so-and-so home to their parents who come to school to complain about the lack of discipline in your classroom? A well thought out classroom management plan that is skillfully utilized is a beautiful thing to behold. The students respond to the teacher both because of respect and that they realize that he/she is in control. Time spent on yelling and threatening the students is instead spent on instruction and learning.

So teachers, please, before you lose your students’ respect, look up different classroom management techniques on the internet or ask a veteran teacher’s advice. It is far more effective than losing your balance, with or without a net.

Jay Chambers is Year 1 teacher at Mooltripakdee International School.

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