What Leads to an Out-of-Control Classroom?

There are many different reasons that a classroom can become out-of-control. Some that come to mind based on my experiences are:

  • A first year teacher that did not begin with spending enough time setting up expectations
  • A teacher that had to go out on maternity or medical leave for an extended period of time
  • A situation where a classroom had to be added after school started and students were pulled from multiple classrooms to create a new class
  • A situation where a class has had multiple long term substitutes
  • A weak student teacher

No matter what the reason, this is a situation that no teacher wants to be in or have to continue. It is imperative that whatever happened, the classroom get back into shape so that learning can occur. Some ideas for regaining control can be found below.

Strategies for Regaining Control of a Classroom

Begin with something simple — Rearrange seating for students who are causing the most disruptions/interruptions. Oftentimes one or two students can take control of a classroom. If and when this happens, moving those students to sit by themselves can be a wakeup call. You can also try to sit them by a student with exemplary behavior and sometimes that will help the student see what appropriate behavior looks like. You can also compliment the student(s) who are doing the right thing which will draw attention to what you want students to do rather than emphasizing negative behaviors by calling out students who are making bad choices.

Get parents on your side — So many times, young and inexperienced teachers are nervous or intimidated to call parents; but the majority of parents want their child to behave and follow teacher expectations. Make that phone call and start with something positive about their child and then lovingly explain what is holding them back from their full potential (oftentimes negative behaviors are due to academic frustration). If you and the parent are on the same page and come up with a daily behavior expectation, a way to document it, and a way to reward the child and communicate about it, then the child will know they are expected to follow it.

Have a fishbowl lesson on behavior — Choose a few behaviors that you would like to see disappear from your classroom and then collaborate with the school counselor, another teacher, or even an administrator and do a fishbowl lesson on those specific behaviors. This keeps the students out of the spotlight and also brings some other respected adults into your classroom to allow for them to model positive student behavior in a fun way. This will help start a positive discussion in your classroom and get students to reflect on their behavior.

Reward students for their positive behaviors — If your school does not use PBIS, you can implement a system in your classroom to reward students for their positive behaviors. It doesn’t have to drain your bank account either! You can use free rewards such as sitting with a friend at lunch, bringing a furry friend to school, homework pass, no shoes day, etc. You can also incorporate other adults in the building to help you, such as have lunch with the principal or make the morning announcements on the news. If you want students to have a tangible option, you can have a prize box for students who earn a lot of cards, stickers, or whatever you decide to use for them to keep up with the points earned. These can be little trinkets from your local dollar store or even meal toys from local fast food restaurants.

Work toward a class incentive — If you do not have certain students who are causing major issues and it is just a really talkative class, you can work toward a classroom incentive such as an extra recess, movie day, or pizza party with your administrator’s approval. This would be something you discuss as a class and work toward achieving a goal such as working 10 consecutive minutes during math without talking to my neighbor.

Work with your school counselor to implement behavior interventions — If you have students for whom nothing else is working, talk to your school counselor and establish behavior interventions. This is something you will also want to include with the parents. Behavior intervention meetings often reveal a deeper issue that a child is struggling with and the intervention team can utilize other resources to deal with the heart of the matter.

The most important thing to remember is that you are in charge of your classroom, not your students. You need to set expectations and procedures and be firm and consistent when students are not following those expectations and procedures. When students see that you follow through with what you say and do then they will begin to realize that they need to do what is asked of them.

*Updated December 2020