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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Classroom Management, Galway Style

            Mr. O’Connell’s (my CT) style of classroom management took me a while to adjust to, because it was so drastically different from that with which I am familiar.  I had come from a preprac during my sophomore year in a fifth grade class in Newton Centre. In that class, my CT made sure that every student knew precisely what was expected of him or her at each moment of the day. She would remind students to put materials away quietly, and what books were needed for each subject change. She managed her class very well, and they were usually efficient and respectful, but she always needed to be on her students’ cases about how to behave and what to do next. Mr. O’Connell’s 4th class (fourth graders), on the other hand, were never told things like, “We’re switching subjects now, close your math books, return them to your cubbies quietly and get your Irish text and copybook.” Instead, Mr. O’Connell would wrap up his math lesson and then start speaking in Irish, or reviewing what the class had discussed previously and expect students to quietly switch books as necessary, open to the page from the previous lesson and pay attention. The amazing part of all this to me was that (for the most part) they did exactly what was expected of them. Toward the beginning of the semester, Mr. O’Connell would often praise students who did all this properly, or scold those who disturbed the rest of the class. By the end of my semester, though, he hardly ever had to do either of those things.  Although the classroom was a less organized than my first CT’s because students would be shuffling and organizing themselves as the lesson started, this system worked, placed more responsibility on the students and allowed the teacher to focus on the lesson instead of coordinating his students’ movements in the class.
            Another aspect of Mr. O’Connell’s classroom management that left an impression on me was the way he handled both discipline and praise of his students. What I mean is that whenever a student had earned scolding or praise, my CT did so very publicly in front of the entire class. For example, one girl in particular (let’s call her B.) was very bright and vivacious but could not keep herself in her seat, from calling out or from getting into fights with other children. Many teachers that I have observed would handle B. by correcting her behavior, and then pulling her aside for “a talk” in private later. Mr. O’Connell, instead, would correct B. but continue before the whole class about how her behavior was unacceptable and how a bright girl of her age should not behave that way, etc. I do not mean to say he shamed her in any way, but his displeasure was clear, and his lecture was for everyone. Or if a younger student was sent to work quietly in the back of my CT’s classroom for bad behavior or incomplete work, Mr. O’Connell would have the student explain to his class what he or she had done to be sent to the room, acknowledge why that behavior was unacceptable and apologize to the class. This public way of discipline seemed to serve as a reminder to other students and also showed the offender that his or her actions would be seen by everyone and would affect everyone. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Mr. O’Connell never held back specific, earned praise for a student’s actions or hard work. For example, A. was a Nigerian immigrant in my class who seemed to suffer a speech impediment as well as being an ELL student. When a specialized teacher brought A. back to the classroom, she informed Mr. O’Connell, before the whole class, how pleased she was with the progress that A. was making. Mr. O’Connell joined her in praising A. and including A. and his peers in the conversation. A. was praised for his own progress and hard work and simultaneously held up as a positive example for his classmates. I don’t think I saw that kid smile so much as during that conversation. Although I am speaking of my CT, I actually noticed that most, if not all of the school’s teachers used these same techniques. Whether this is part of the school culture, or Irish culture in general, I’m not certain, but at first this style was shocking to me. As I became better acquainted with the school, I realized that there are benefits to this style of discipline and praise, and that it worked in this school environment quite effectively. I do think however that if this were not a style that students were used to, they might react very negatively, but for these students who had learned to expect these public consequences and praises for their actions, it worked beautifully.

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