Where the Buck Stops: Classroom Management and The Teacher Effect

May 22, 2009 at 4:19 pm 2 comments

posted by Pam Jones ‘05, Bank Street advisor and instructor

pamjonesMichelle, a 1st grade teacher, is a spirited and demonstrative teacher whose personal management philosophy is driven by her belief that students should monitor their own behavior with little direction from the teacher.  One day, she stood at the back of her classroom completely aghast—wondering how her class of well-behaved students had unraveled.  Michelle said, “Stop, look, and listen!”  Students had been instructed to respond, “Okay” when they heard these three words.  These were the magic words she had hoped would transform her class from boisterous and inattentive to calm and silent.  Unfortunately, only 2 students responded and the noise continued.  This pattern of behavior persisted and one day Michelle asked her colleague, “What is going on with these kids?  I tell you, they’re not like my class from last year; that class listened.  Why can’t they just listen and behave?  Don’t they know how to behave?!”


The vignette above is one of countless examples of a teacher who is not fully cognizant of the dynamics of her classroom; specifically, it seems that she is unaware of why her students behave as they do and the effect that she has on her own classroom of students.  Teachers who find themselves in this situation, and teachers in general, need to acquaint themselves with the 5 dimensions.  My personal experience in the classroom and research on best practices in classroom management have lead me to believe that 5 factors (in particular) converge to determine the success or failure of any given classroom:  (1) Knowing Yourself as an Educator, (2) Knowing Your Students and Hearing their Voices, (3) Building Community in the Classroom, (4) Collaborating with Families, and (5) Collaborating with Colleagues.  Each of these 5 factors is of equal importance in the equation of classroom design and management.  This article, the 2nd in a series of six, will focus on that first factor:  Knowing Yourself as an Educator.  You may be asking yourself why I’ve decided to address this factor first?  The answer to this question will be provided throughout the course of this discussion, but I will say this:  You must know who you are—what makes you think and behave as you do—before you can begin to delve into any other factor of this equation.


In my opinion, the most under-emphasized and perhaps least-researched area of teacher education programs is something that I call “the teacher effect.”  “The teacher effect” can be defined as the “undeniable impact that a teacher has on his or her own classroom of students.”  The teacher effect can exert a positive or negative influence on any given classroom.  A number of key factors contribute to and influence any classroom and its students—specifically, the 5 dimensions discussed above.  In my work with pre-service teachers, I consider no lesson more important to their future success than helping them understand the impact they have on their own classrooms.  The teacher—his/her personality, temperament, communication style, learning style, and attention span—affect every aspect of classroom life.  Believe me when I say that I understand that there are situations that arise that are well beyond our control:  students with severe behavioral and emotional challenges, an unsupportive and even destructive administrative structure, and a host of other factors (as I have faced these challenges myself); however, learning to master what is in your control is the first step to building a strong classroom—and one that endures.


All too often, teachers stand back amidst the chaos of the classroom wondering why:  Why the students speak at a certain volume?  Why students aren’t listening to directions?  How is it that after reviewing and practicing the classroom routines students still don’t understand what is expected of them?  As I review the images of my own classrooms, as well as the many classrooms I have visited over the years, the level of cohesion and function are a direct reflection of the teacher’s actions.  Oftentimes, when you walk into a classroom where students are engaged in minds-on activities and systems are running smoothly, it is a direct result of the teacher’s clarity, consistency, and level of communication—at least in large part.

“Why aren’t they listening?  I’ve told them a million times how to line up for lunch.  Why don’t they just do it?!”  Sound familiar?  If so, it is probably because this is a common refrain.  Good teaching and management are not the result of happenstance but rather, the outgrowth of an approach that can be best described as planful, consistent, and clear.  While effective classroom managers certainly welcome the organic “teachable moment,” they more often rely upon thoughtful, careful planning to guide their practice.


In my course “Designing and Managing Classroom Environments,” the semester begins with this first and most important factor.  Time does not allow for a gradual introduction into this topic; rather, students are quickly immersed in activities that compel them to come face-to-face with who they are and how they affect their classrooms.  Some activities that I have designed for sessions on “the teacher effect” include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Lifelines: Identify and Plot the Most Important Events In My Life that Led Me to Teaching
  • Learning Styles Inventories: How I Learn
  • Structured conversations about select articles that pertain to the topic of “Teacher Dispositions”

These experiences are aimed at acquainting students with their teacher-selves.  My students are encouraged to continue engaging in activities and thinking that will help them become fully aware of who they are as teachers and learners.


Ultimately, my goal is to have the teachers in my course factor themselves into the equation and to hold a mirror up to themselves—to begin to understand how, why, and when they effect change in their own classrooms.  I consider these efforts a success if and when teachers leave my course with a lasting understanding of the undeniable existence of “the teacher effect.”  In short, the buck stops with us—and this is how it should be.

Pam Jones is an advisor and instructor in the Special Education Department at Bank Street.  Pam has also worked as a learning specialist for grades K and 1, as a 3rd grade general education teacher in an inclusive setting, and as a 5th grade teacher in a general education classroom. Her first article/posting Far More Than Meets The Eye introduced us to a comprehensive approach to classroom management.

Entry filed under: classroom management, classrooms, professional development.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Roberta Bernhard  |  June 9, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    The summary of Designing and Managing Classroom Environments is a message I, as an early childhood director, have tried to pass onto my teachers. However, I am not always successful. I find that teachers who pursue the alternate route of the NJ Preschool through Third grade endorsement are at a loss regarding the impact they make as teachers in their classroom. Excuses I often hear are: “It’s the children’s fault; or my teacher assistant does not work with me”. These factors may be true, but in my experience once support is given to alleviate some of these difficulties, teachers still have difficulty taking responsibility for their own actions.

  • 2. Kristen  |  June 13, 2009 at 11:04 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts on teachers and classroom management. I remember as a student how every teacher’s style was so different and you could usually tell by the end of the first week how things were going to go the whole year. It was amazing. I found a book you might appreciate called The Wolf Pack Classroom Management Plan. It shares ideas of how to make a classroom that is peaceful, harmonious, and filled with good communication between teacher and student.

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