Classroom Management Begins with Knowing your Students
When I say know your students, I don’t mean intimate knowledge of every detail of their lives. You need to know them by sight, know them by name and as quickly as possible, know them by nature.
In the drama classroom problems can be multiplied because you very often don’t have students contained in desks and in their ‘normal’ classroom mode. You are timetabled to an open space (a multi-purpose room, on-stage in the school auditorium or a purpose built drama space)
Learn to Exploit the Advantages You Have at the Start of Any Year
You have a few advantages at the start of any high school year:
(particularly if you are new to the school or these are students you have not taught previously).
1) Students may not know each other very well at the beginning.
2) They have not had a chance to group themselves.
3) They have not had a chance to work out your weaknesses. (You do have them! They will find them!)
4) Having come back from holidays they are more inclined to behave like individuals, not a mob.
(Does this sound like a pack of wolves looking for a kill? I hate to say this but in some circumstances it can be very much like this. These wolves don’t kill the body, they kill your confidence, your enthusiasm, your peace of mind and ‘worst case scenario’, your desire to ever teach again. I’ve been there. I know what I’m talking about.)
Take full advantage of the opportunities this presents because they won’t last long. If you put in place some good strategies you will have an excellent chance of establishing a positive teacher/student relationship and clear boundaries for behaviour that will continue throughout the year.
Key Management Strategies for the Drama Classroom
1) If you are in an open space, ALWAYS get students to sit in a circle at the beginning of each session and start with a circle-based activity. Concentration games are great to start with.
2) If you can obtain class lists with student photos from the school admin, GET THEM, study them and put names to faces as quickly as possible.
3) With a group that don’t know each other, play a number of icebreaker games to start off with and make it your goal to know every student by sight and name within the first two sessions. Name games are great for this. (there are a number of these in "The Games Box") You can train yourself to do this by establishing ‘memory pegs’, to remember students names.
4) Make a point of using as many names as you can when addressing students, so the rest are not sure whether you know who they are or not.
4) Start with some fun games that will also encourage students to exercise self-discipline in the drama space and get them to associate your classes with a positive attitude. One game that I have used in many different contexts and different age group is ‘Lawyer’. ( Players sit in circle. The leader ('The Lawyer'), standing in the centre, says to the players, "Starting from now, when I look at you, you must not answer any questions I have asked, nod your head, shake your head or smile. The person on your left must answer for you.” Repeat this instruction two or three times and then turn to one player and ask “Do you understand?” The player will most likely answer „Yes‟ or „No‟, in which case tell them they are out. Then say that was just a practice. 'The Lawyer' then starts rapidly asking players, at random, questions and eliminating those players who respond wrongly.)
5) Start each session with games, at the beginning, then move into some easy drama warm-up games that are not challenging for any of the students.
6) Don’t move on to challenging material until you feel you have the students with you. That does not mean they won’t complain about tasks they are given, but that they are predisposed to accept your direction. If you don’t already know what I mean by this you will when you get there.
7) In the initial session, after some fun introductory circle games, establish clear boundaries for behaviour. Point out any 'out of bounds' areas in the big space or give clear directions in regard to the space the class activities will take place in. eg. Not in the seating banks in an auditorium
8) I find the ‘five finger rule’ works very well with students of all ages. Hold your hand up and count to five. At the end of the count ALL students should be still and silent. After the count to five you start counting again and each count is one minutes detention for the class until the space is still and silent. Any minutes accrued can be worked off with attentive, respectful and productive behaviour in the class.
Follow up Beginning Strategies With a Consistent Set of Management Strategies
I don't want to give the impression that applying the above is some sort of magic formula that will turn your drama classrooms into hives of productive, disciplined activity but I have found these to be a great starting point. To fully succeed in the management of any classroom takes careful observation, a raft of positive and occasionally negative interactions with students of all personality and behaviour types. However, if you can establish a positive interaction with all or as many students in the class as possible, from the start, you will create a foundation from which to build over time. Having worked extensively in jobs outside teaching I can attest to the fact that it is one of the most challenging jobs around. It is your interactions with students on a moment by moment basis, the myriad of decisions that you have to make in how to effectively deal with each situation as they arise, a consistent positive mental attitude and an inner confidence and authority, that ensure ongoing success. There is no substitute for the wisdom and experience gained over time.