Pointing at Kids

You know how there are things that, as a teacher, you just pick up without noticing? I’m talking about the little habits we accidentally fall into, and just continue doing until they become habit.

Recently, I’ve fallen into the habit of pointing at kids. Here’s what I mean. Say that I call on Kathy. Sometimes, kids will be talking or farting around while Kathy is talking. That’s both crazy disrespectful of Kathy and also a shame, because I want them to be able to learn from and add-on to Kathy’s ideas.

In the beginning, I’d just speak up. “Hey — Kathy’s talking!”  This causes more problems, though, because I’m now stopping everybody from hearing Kathy. And I’ve interrupted Kathy myself.

So, what to do? A light tap on the shoulder can help. Making eye contact with kids is another way to silently redirect them to the speaker.

Here’s the entire point of this post: I’ve been finding that pointing at Kathy also helps.

Admittedly, this is sort of small stuff. But it reminds me of a larger point about how classroom management relates to experience. There’s a certain story that I’ve heard told about new and experienced teachers. It goes like this: during your first year or two, a new teacher thinks the work is only about classroom management. Then, that teacher figures out classroom management; simultaneously, they discover the limitations of a management-focused approach. Teachers then move on from classroom management and focus on other things.

I disagree with this story. Three years ago, I became more aware of the way classroom conversations were a crucial part of learning math. I’ve thought more about the classroom norms that need to be in place for this sort of important talk to work. I know more about planning lessons that will have relatively brief but juicy discussions. I know more about who to call on, when to push and when to hold back.

All of these changes require a different set of classroom management tools. The management tools I learned in my first years on the job were apt for helping kids work through carefully scaffolded worksheets. As my pedagogical toolkit expands, my management toolkit expands with it.

Every part of teaching is connected. So don’t knock classroom management!

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2 thoughts on “Pointing at Kids

  1. I needed this reminder. It’s my second year, so I felt like a lot of the start of this year was developing the classroom norms. While part of this focus was improving the atmosphere of my room and streamlining routines, I also was thinking about the norms I would need from Day 1 in order to maximize the effectiveness of my instruction. For instance, I also called students to attention last year when a student was sharing thoughts. This year, I use the proactive moves you mentioned. Another hole I fell into last year was repeating what students said for the entire class. When I thought about this practice, I realized how it was contrary to my expectations. Students got the implied message that anything important shared by a student would be repeated by me, so why listen? Consequently, my whole-class discussions were not nearly as effective as I planned. This year, I dropped this practice and discussions have become more effective for exploring ideas and sharing prior knowledge. As you said, this teaching thing isn’t just instructional strategies or just management, It’s a holistic endeavor.

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