Teaching philosophy[Back] 
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Summer 2004


By Max Millard, curriculum resource teacher

Being a successful teacher requires two things a good educational program and good classroom management. Many teachers have one but not both. A person might have all the knowledge needed to teach a subject, and a clear way of explaining things, but still be an unsuccessful teacher if the person can't control the classroom. Other people have a talent for managing the classroom but don't have good information to teach.

The two skills are equally important, and anyone who wants to be a professional teacher must learn to develop both skills at the same time.

A good program requires not only knowledge of a subject, but a variety of methods for teaching, including games, pictures, props, crafts and other activities that will make learning fun.

To manage a classroom successfully, a teacher must be consistent, and there must be consequences for anyone who breaks the rules.

Rules should be kept as simple as possible. For example, there is the Tribes agreement, which many schools follow:

1. Mutual respect
2. No put-downs
3. Attentive listening
4. Right to pass

In the long run, the secret of good teaching comes down to a single word: preparation. Remember this formula:

preparation + opportunity = success


For an icebreaker, have everyone introduce themselves, their school, their grade, their career goal, and one thing they hope to get out of the training. They might mention something they are unsure about and want to learn.

To learn each other's names, you can play Name Whip. Have the group sit in a large, tight circle. To begin the game, go around the circle and have everyone say his or her name. Remind the players that they will need to remember the names of the people sitting on either side of them. The object of the game is to have each person say the name of the person on his or her right as quickly as possible. Players may not say a name until the person seated next to them says their name. Practice the game a few times slowly and then try for a speed record. To add a little challenge, use a stopwatch and see whether the group can beat the previous time. Then go the other way, naming the person on the left and trying to go around the circle equally quickly.

Once the youth have gotten to know each other a little, let them introduce themselves to the group by gathering in a circle and saying their highlight of the day, their challenge of the day, and one thing they love about themselves. Then they shake hands with the person next to them, say the person's name, and tell the person that they are glad to be in the program with that person.

Let each teacher or volunteer think of 5 favorite ideas that they have used successfully before. Describe the ideas in a few words each, and write them on a poster for everyone to see. Draw a picture to go with them if you like. Then let everyone go around and look at the posters. This is a way for everyone to exchange a lot of ideas in a short time, and for people to see who they can work with to develop an interest that they have in common.

Let the volunteers help make up the rules and guidelines for the classroom, and suggest the consequences for infractions. During the summer, keep track of the children's behavioral problems, the way they were addressed, and the results. This will make the process easier next year.


1. Safety first! Make sure the children are safe from harm at all times. The children should stay in assigned areas during program time. The staff should always know where all their children are.

2. Good manners. Many children are not in the habit of saying "thank you" when they receive something. If they gain nothing more out of the program than these two words, their time will have been well spent.

3. No foul language. They must not offend other children with vulgar words or speak them in public.

4. Respect for property. No littering. Show respect for public and private property. If something doesn't belong to us, we leave it alone. Recycle bottles, cans and paper whenever possible.

5. Respect for people.


"Children have to be able to predict the consequences of their actions with 100 percent accuracy."
- Dr. Phil McGraw

Every classroom has rules, which may differ according to the children's age and behavioral patterns, the room's physical layout, and the teacher's personal style. Teachers should think about what rules they want to have, then discuss them with the children. Make sure the children understand the rules and agree that they are fair. Then keep the list posted in the room. Feel free to add new ones later.

There are also some unwritten rules, which the teacher should establish as regular habits. For example:


Sometimes a classroom starts to get out of control. This is not necessarily a bad thing, because it might mean that the children are so involved in an activity that they forget themselves. But whatever the reason, there are times when the teacher needs to make everyone snap to attention.

Of course, the easiest way to make everyone quiet down is to shout. But this should be the last resort. It's not effective when overused. It increases the noise level in the room and encourages the children to talk over you. Even the most experienced classroom teachers do shout sometimes, but teachers who shout too much will lose the affection and respect of their class.

Instead, choose a signal that signifies it's time to be quiet. Here are some techniques that may work:


Think positive! In most cases, it's easier to get a child to do what you want by rewarding good behavior than by punishing bad behavior. Focus on the desired behavior, not the one to be avoided. The better you are at encouraging good behavior, the less time and energy you will spend correcting misbehavior.

Positive reinforcement should always outweigh negative comments. Throughout life, people are more likely to be criticized for bad behavior than praised for good behavior, but it should be the other way around: whenever possible, the praise should outweigh the correction.

Some children feel such a strong need for any attention at all that they misbehave just to get it. If you give them more attention for behaving well, they would rather be "good" than "bad" in order to get attention. Try to catch them being good!

Positive recognition is the appreciation you show for a student's good behavior. If used consistently, it will:

To make the praise most effective:

Here are some examples of negative and positive statements:

What were you thinking? What would you like to do about it?
What's the matter with you? How are you feeling about... ?
How could you be so...? Do you have an idea about how we could...?
You should know better. Can you help me with...?
We have talked about this before. What can I do to help you with...?
Why can't you be like...? What do you think happened?


Discipline is not intended to punish, but to teach children to behave better, so that it will become a habit.

The teacher should know in advance what to do if a child misbehaves in a certain way. Then the teacher won't be caught off guard or left wondering about how to respond. The children should know the consequences of their actions, but they might not understand them completely until the teacher puts them into effect.

Begin enforcing rules and guidelines on the very first day of the program. Be firm and fair. It is much easier to establish routines of accepted behavior and respect from the very beginning than to go easy at first. When you've lost control, it's hard to get it back.

One dilemma for the teacher almost a contradiction is to be very firm most of the time, yet able to compromise so that you don't get stuck in a corner. Consequences should not be set in stone. Teachers who go strictly "by the book" do not take advantage of the individuality of the child. Rules should be enforced as consistently as possible, but on an individual basis. What works for one child may not work for another. The teacher sometimes must be creative in explaining to the class why one child is treated slightly differently from another.

Discipline stems from the teacher's character, personality and common sense. When the children get to know the teacher, they will find that he or she is consistent as a person, which is more important than being absolutely consistent to a set of rules.

When a child needs to be disciplined, it is important for the consequences to be handed out quickly. Time seems to go much more slowly for children than for adults, and if you wait too long, the children's memory of the infraction will fade and the disciplinary lesson will be lost.

Discuss the broken rules with the child and work together to figure out possible options for how to handle the situation if it occurs again. Limiting free time immediately following an infraction is often effective. Afterward, the child deserves a fresh start as long as he is not endangering anyone.

Consequences do not have to be severe in order to be effective. The key is that they be used consistently for each individual child. It is the inevitability of the consequence, not the severity, that makes it effective. Minimal consequences, such as 5 minutes working away from the group, can be just as effective as being excluded from an entire recess. If the consequence is related to a certain amount of time on the bench or away from the group, try to keep track of the time so that the child will know you are being fair.

Consequences should be presented to the child as a choice. This places responsibility on the child. For example: "Our class rule is no teasing. You have a choice: either stop teasing, or go and sit by yourself. It's your choice. What do you want to do?" If the child starts teasing again, the teacher may say: "You're teasing. You have chosen to sit by yourself at the table in the back of the room."



Some experts discourage the use of punishment and rewards, and instead recommend the use of natural and logical consequences. Logical consequences must be related to the behavior to be effective. For example, if a child makes a mess and doesn't clean it up, it is logical to ask the child to do some cleaning. It is not logical to take away the child's favorite game at recess. That is a form of punishment that will not benefit the child.

The first time a child makes a mistake that causes an inconvenience, it's probably better to forgive the child and do everything to help. But if the mistake becomes a habit, the child needs to learn the results of his actions. The teacher doesn't have to scold because logical consequences are effective teachers all by themselves.

If a child creates problems on a field trip, it might be necessary to ground the child from the next field trip. That is a logical, natural reminder that appropriate actions are a requirement for the privilege of going on field trips. The staff may ask the child to say, through speaking or writing, what he or she will be differently on future field trips.

Here are some other examples of logical consequences:


When a child shows a pattern of misbehavior, it's important to examine the reasons behind it so that you can address the problem. Ask the child questions about his behavior and really listen to the answers. Talk with the child's parents and other relatives, and any other adults who know the child. Ensure them that this information will remain confidential, and that your only motive is to help the child.

Sometimes the teacher can solve the problem by making changes in the classroom. Here are some reasons for misbehavior:

Strategies for dealing with misbehavior:


For young children who continue to misbehave despite repeated warnings, it's natural for the teacher to say, "That's enough now you need a TIME OUT! Sit or stand here and think about why hitting (or pushing or throwing things) is not allowed in our school."

According to some experts, a better way of dealing with the problem is to offer an activity with an absolute beginning or end, such as a puzzle, worksheet or simple craft, and tell the child, "Let me know when you are finished. Then we will talk." The end of the activity is visual and concrete: the puzzle is complete, the beads are strung, the items are matched or sorted. The child is in control of the timing.

As children learn that this is the "time-out" technique used by a teacher, they might regulate the amount of time out they need. If they're not ready to return to the group, they will do the puzzle again or somehow delay finishing. The process of fitting pieces together, choosing the right color or shape, or doing another simple activity helps youngsters to calm down, focus on the specific task and feel in control of the situation and themselves.

When the child is ready, the adult can first talk about the completed activity, and then about the troublesome behavior. This technique helps the child to keep his self-esteem and lets positive learning take place. The child can re-enter the class in a positive manner.


If you're having a competition and children get upset because they are losing, try a smile break. Stop the activity and don't start again until everyone is smiling. If you're outdoors, try skipping: it puts children in a good mood.

Children who become frustrated by a task may become emotional and start crying. The best response is to help the child do the task himself, not to do it for the child. First acknowledge the children's emotion: "You're upset. I know it's hard when you're trying to do something and it doesn't come out the way you want."

If a child is crying, breathe with him. "OK, now we're going to take five deep long breaths, in and out, and you'll feel a lot calmer and better then." This gets the child's focus off being upset and onto breathing.

Continue to talk to the child: "I can see you're upset, and you can continue crying if you want, but crying is not going to get this problem solved for you. What is one thing you can do?" Help the child break the problem into manageable parts. Make sure the child follows what you are doing so that he can use this approach himself the next time.

If a child is crying, it sometimes helps to wash the child's face and wipe his eyes, while talking to him gently and sympathetically.

If a child has a temper tantrum resulting from a "me-first" attitude for example, if there's only one computer and the child insists on using it do not give in to the child. Tell the child that he has to share with others, and that he will get a turn. If the child continues to demand the computer, tell him that he won't be able to use it next time if he can't be responsible about sharing and waiting his turn.

If two or three children are squabbling about whose turn it is to do something, one good technique is to put the responsibility on the children themselves to settle their differences. Tell them that they must decide among themselves whose turn it is, and that no one will get a turn until they all reach the same decision. Once they realize what they need to do, they will learn to compromise. Many children are so surprised to be empowered that they will act unselfishly.

Make sure that each youth has one adult who knows him or her well.

If a child has trouble making friends and doesn't seem to be part of the group, have the class make a love poster for the child. Point out some of the child's good qualities, and ask people to draw pictures of them. Include things that the child likes, such as animals, candies or favorite TV shows. Put everything on a poster and hang it from the ceiling. Later, talk to a specific child in the class and ask him to be the lonely child's friend.


This is the number one problem of most classrooms. When children keep talking, it is distracting to other students and disruptive to teachers, throwing off their concentration and rhythm, and making them stop the lesson to try to quiet the class down.

If a classroom has one particularly talkative individual, one technique is to move close to the child while continuing to instruct. Often the child talking will become uncomfortable with your presence. Make eye contact or use gestures to alert a child of the need for self-control. This is most effective if you and a child have agreed on a special signal in advance.

If there are pairs of children who always seem to be talking to each other, separate them. Don't hesitate to play musical chairs. Remember the talkative combinations, and if they can't control their chatter, make them always sit apart.

Talkative children are usually seeking attention, and do not like to be isolated from the group. But sometimes it's necessary to isolate them so that the class can proceed. If the room is big enough, keep a chair in the far corner where a child can be sent if he can't control his talking. Make sure you have some work for the child to do if he's too far away to participate in the lesson.

Sometimes there's no remedy except to remove the child from the classroom. One recommended solution is to send the child to another teacher's classroom with work. Often a change of climate will cause a child's behavior to improve.


If the child's behavior presents a threat to the safety or well-being of other children, it's a good idea to remove some privileges that relate to the infraction.

If the child continues to break program rules and his behavior cannot be controlled by other methods, it is time to involve the parents.

The child's parents should be invited to a meeting. In some cases, children receive punishment when they return home after such a meeting, so the teacher must be careful to keep the tone optimistic, hopeful and sympathetic, and not criticize the child too harshly.

Never degrade a child. It's all right to say that a child's behavior is bad, but never the child.


When youth are involved in a conflict, use every effort to resolve the conflict fairly through discussion and negotiation.

Look upon your relationship with a child as a mutual learning experience. You can learn a lot from the way they resolve their own conflicts. In one music class, for example, the favorite percussion instrument was a Hello Kitty tambourine, which all the girls wanted to play. The teacher suggested throwing dice and letting the child with the highest score use the tambourine. But one child came up with a better solution: let all the girls take turns with it, each using the tambourine for one song, then passing it to another child. This turned out to be a much better solution because there were no winners and losers, and the class learned to practice cooperation and sharing.


Teachers might want to familiarize themselves with youth magazines and Web sites. Show an interest in learning about singers, actors and writers who are admired by the youth.

Teachers should remember that summer programs are different from the traditional classroom environment. Young adolescents should learn to manage their own behavior and exercise positive peer influence on one another. Guidelines are important. Having middle schoolers create and rise to expectations lays the groundwork for a successful, democratic program.