Rethinking Classroom Management: Teaching and Learning with Students

By Metzger, Devon | Social Studies Review, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

Rethinking Classroom Management: Teaching and Learning with Students


Metzger, Devon, Social Studies Review


Classroom management is big business. Entire schools or school districts are known to have subscribed to one management system or another. Teachers must, of course, make thoughtful and very careful decisions about how they will approach the learning environment, and, as might be expected, a voluminous amount of reading exists to inform and to persuade teachers to adopt one management approach over another. The stakes are high. Decisions about how teachers decide to approach classroom management have everything to do with the social and intellectual growth of the child, the quality of life and learning in the classroom and, by extension, with the school, the parents, the community and the larger society in which we live. As new teachers enter the teaching profession and as experienced teachers examine or reflect on how they approach classroom management, it is useful to know that there are educators who judge the popular term "management" as a misleading goal for students living and learning in a democratic society. Critics argue that the term management implies a perspective and practice that places the emphasis on training and control, rather than on working with students to learn, through experience, what it means to be a young democratic citizen.

Should a teacher control students or work with students? Should the classroom be a share community or a place where teachers lead and students follow? Should students learn how to become self-disciplined and selfdirected, or are students to learn how to solely rely on obedience and the voice of authority? While any reasonable person would agree that teachers must be in charge of their students, critics suggest that the use of the word management tends to favor control over sharing or collaboration. "Control not only is unnecessary for fostering academic motivation; it undermines its development, substituting reluctant compliance for the excitement that comes from the experience of self-determination" (Kohn, 18).

In simple terms, management, in the control context, is deemed to be more applicable for the training of animals than for educating young citizens living and learning in a democratic society. After all, one of the primary purposes of public schools, if not the primary purpose, is to prepare students to live within our chosen democratic society. Therefore, it is useful, when considering classroom management choices, to examine such questions as: What does education for democracy mean? How does learning to live a democracy translate into classroom practice? Is the traditional concept of classroom "management" consistent with learning to become a democratic citizen? What message do the needs of a democratic society send to teachers about the ideal nature of interaction between students and teachers? The following descriptions represent positions about how teachers who subscribe to a traditional management approach tend to view students: Institutional schooling teaches that children need to conform in order to learn; they need to sit still, to listen, to obey, and to follow directions. Children are not to wiggle, not to talk, not to disturb, and not to interrupt the planned curriculum. These patterns of behavior are restrictive and controlling, particularly if students do not see the relevance and purpose (Wink and Almanzo, 214).

As one survey of American schools after another has confirmed, students are rarely invited to become acfive participants in their own education. Schooling is typically about doing things to children, not working with them. An array of punishments and rewards is used to enforce compliance with an agenda that students rarely have any opportunity to influence. Much of what is disturbing about students' attitudes and behavior may be a function of the fact that they have little to say about what happens to them all day. They are compelled to follow someone else's rules, study someone else's curriculum, and submit continually to someone else's evaluation.

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