7 Ways I Improved My Classroom Management

7 Ways I Improved My Classroom Management

Classroom management, ie: behavior management in my case, was always my biggest struggle. The kids seemed to like me, I seemed to be getting through to them and encouraging them to like math, but man oh man my classroom sounded more like a cafeteria than it did a math classroom.

But I got better! A lot better! And if you struggle with classroom management, you will too.

Here are the 7 ways I was able to improve my classroom management:

1: The Teacher Stare

7 Ways I Improved My Classroom Management - the Teacher Stare

Holding eye contact is always super uncomfortable. Forcing myself to embrace the Teacher Stare helped me improve my classroom management. 

There's no smile associated with the Teacher Stare. The goal here is to make the unruly student uncomfortable without losing your cool. Here's how it works for me:

Unruly student: Throwing stuff, talking, making noises, looking at the back corner of the room (what is even back there?), on phone, etc.  

Teacher: Calmly and silently stares at student as if time itself has stood still.

Unruly student: Notices and stops behavior.

Teacher: Continues to stare for an additional 5 seconds. 

That additional stare time after the unwanted behavior has already stopped is key. The Teacher Stare is nothing without that moment of awkward silence. 

2: "Stop talking."

It took a long time for me to be able to say these two words. I would say please. I would give reasons. Kids don't need reasons to stop talking when it's not time to talk; they just need to stop. Here's how it looks for me:

Unruly student: Talking to friend instead of listening to mini-lesson or working.

Teacher: Calmly walks over, crouches down to eye level of student, looks student in the eye. "Stop talking."

The crouching and talking just to the student is the part that makes this effective. 

3: Allow students to save face

7 Ways I Improved My Classroom Management - allowing students to save face ad not be embarrassed

My favorite principal gave me two really good pieces of advice:

"Kids just want to save face".

"Kids will win every time."

Yelling at a student, especially in front of other students, never, ever, ever works. They win. They always win. Their one goal in life is to look cool in front of their friends, and what could be cooler than winning an argument against the teacher? The Teacher Stare and "stop talking" are both based in me remembering to allow students to save face. 

4: Consistent warm-ups

7 Ways I Improved My Classroom Management - consistent warm-ups

Every veteran teacher will emphasize some sort of routine. For me, classroom routine starts with our warm-up. When I first started teaching, I didn't even know what a warm-up was. It was actually on my evaluation to improve my warm-up routine! Oh man.

I use warm-ups to review from the previous day. Students know exactly where our warm-ups are (in a basket at the front of the room) and I'm always there pointing to it when they accidentally forget to grab one. 

I have created a bunch of math warm-up templates that can be downloaded free from this post:


5: A timer

7 Ways I Improved My Classroom Management - using a timer to create a little urgency

I use a digital one or this online candle timer. I don't time everything, just assignments that seem to be taking longer than they should, if students are socializing a little too much or if I just need to keep myself from running out of time. The timer isn't meant to penalize the students for talking; it's meant to add some urgency. Here's how it may look:

Teacher: "OK kids, let's get moving on the activity."

Students: (chatter, chatter, chatter)

Teacher: OK kids, I'm putting 6 minutes on the timer and then I'm collecting your work.

Students: "But what if we need more time??"

Teacher" "We'll talk about that in 6 minutes."

In my experience 10 minutes it too much time. It's not an urgent enough time frame for kids who are used to things happening instantaneously. At the end of the 6 minutes, if students were putting in a good effort and are still not done, I will always extend the time. Some kids need that urgency to push themselves and that's what the timer is all about.

6: Quick checks and closers

The same principal who had given me the best advice of my career also liked to come in with his clipboard the last 5 to 10 minutes of class when my students were milling around the room and lining up at the door. How stressful! This is how I learned to keep the kids in their seats (for the most part):

Students: Starting to get up from their seats 5 minutes before the bell.

Teacher: "I'm handing out this quick check. it's worth 10 points."

Students: "What? Class is over!"

Teacher: "Not quite yet. We have 5 minutes."

Those last 5 minutes can feel like an absolute eternity. The quick checks and closers I use are the same ones from "4: Consistent warm-ups" so the kids know what to expect. Like the timer, I never use closers to penalize, just to keep everyone in their seats in case admin walks in. I do grade them but may or may not enter them into my grade book.

There are more free ideas for closers in this post:

7 hacks that will change your disrupted math class

7: Word walls

7 Ways I Improved My Classroom Management - adding a math word wall to my classroom

Of any change I've made to improve my classroom management, adding a math word wall to my classroom made the most difference. 

When students have questions unrelated to the current topic, I can quickly point to a reminder on our word wall to move them past their confusion. Here's a scenario that happened a few times the year before I added an algebra word wall to my algebra 2 classroom:

Teacher: "The a value in the graph of an absolute value function is a lot like slope."

Confused Student: "What is slope?"

I used to stop class and draw a linear graph on the board to remind that student what slope was. This freed up time for my other students to completely derail. I could have just moved on and left that confused student to keep wondering, but he wouldn't have heard a thing I said past "slope". So I do stop for these kids.

With our math word wall I don't have to take the time to draw to explain to that student (and the 3 others who are too shy to say anything). I can just point to the wall, take 15 minutes to link back to that previous topic and move ahead with our current lesson. Our classroom math word walls have changed so much about the way I have been able to manage my class.

During independent work, students can use the word wall for help, allowing them to work and feel more independent and allowing me to work more closely with students who need more help. That independence is empowering.

Bonus management tip:

I'm editing to add a super important classroom management tip-- maybe even the biggest one (and I'm wondering why it wasn't first on my mind!).

No empty threats.

Student: Throws pencil a third time.

Teacher: "If you throw that again I will give you a detention."

Student: Throws pencil a fourth time.

Teacher: "I'm serious, do you want a detention?!"

Give the detention. There has to be 100% follow through with everything in the classroom. If you say you will give a detention, give it. If the student doesn't come to the detention, notify the office.

Follow through with absolutely everything. If there is ever a time when you can't for some reason follow through, talk about why you can't. 

I'm in no way a classroom management expert but I have improved so much since 2004 when my classes were absolute train wrecks! 

I hope you have a great year!


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7 Ways I Improved My Classroom Management and you can too!


  1. Great blog post! It was reassuring and informative!!

    1. Thanks Tina! It sure took a while for my classroom management to get decent! :)

  2. Hi first of all many thanks, but please I have a question, I m science teacher from Egypt , and I was wondering if detention is psychologically abusive or unhealthy for our students? And how do you manage to punish uunruled students, many thanks

    1. I don't think that detention is a bad thing. I do think that withholding recess from kids is a bad thing. Kids need to run around, especially those kids who have a lot of energy and tend to get themselves into trouble. But detention can be a good time for some one-on-one time with students to build a better relationship.