Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG
Chansophea Ing teaching at Lafayette Elementary School in Long Beach in September of 2016.

It doesn’t get the attention that curriculums and test scores do, but classroom management — the art and craft of keeping a room full of 20 eight-year-olds, or 35 teenagers, engaged and under control — is among the most challenging aspects of a teacher’s job.

And it’s something for which new teachers are often the least prepared. Historically, a typical teacher credentialing program in California offered a one-credit course in classroom management, and some not even that, according to interviews with teachers, school administrators and those who run the programs.

A 2012 survey cited in a report by the National Council on Teacher Quality found that over 40 percent of new teachers reported feeling either “not at all prepared” or “only somewhat prepared” to handle a range of classroom management or discipline situations. The same report said it was “the top problem” identified by teachers.

“Classroom management is extraordinarily absent in teaching certification programs,” said Mike Lombardo, director of prevention supports and services for the Placer County Office of Education.

But this is beginning to change. California school districts, responding to pressure from parent groups, youth advocates and the state, are eschewing punitive discipline, such as suspensions and expulsions, and asking teachers to focus much more on the social and emotional needs of their students.

A big push is coming from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which is responsible for establishing best practices in teaching, from subject area standards to special education. In June of last year, the commission rolled out a revised set of performance expectations that, among other things, require new teachers to be steeped in alternatives to traditional discipline.

Using “principles of positive behavior intervention” and implementing practices that “provide a safe and caring classroom climate” are key aspects of the credentialing commission’s new expectations.

“This has been a much bigger change than in years past,” said Teri Clark, the credentialing commission’s director of special services.

New rules in an era of discipline reform

The changes in teacher performance expectations, along with a similar overhaul of the expectations for school administrators, are the latest signal that teachers are no longer as free to remove disruptive students from their classrooms as they were in the past.

In recent years the state Legislature has outlawed suspensions for willful defiance of school authorities and disruption for grades K-3 as data have overwhelmingly showed that these suspensions are disproportionately meted out to students of color and those with disabilities. A handful of districts, including Oakland Unified and Los Angeles Unified, have outlawed willful defiance/disruption suspensions for all grades.

And some school boards — including those overseeing the Los Angeles and San Diego unified school districts — are passing measures like a “school climate bill of rights,” which, among other things, mandates that schools employ restorative justice as an alternative to traditional discipline when students get into fights or cause other trouble.

Finally, suspension and expulsion rates are one of the indicators that are included in the California School Dashboard, the centerpiece of the state’s new school accountability system. Using color-coded symbols, the dashboard measures a school’s success is reducing suspension rates along with other indicators, including English and math test scores and English learner progress.

Among the alternatives being emphasized in the new performance expectations is restorative justice, a practice that prioritizes relationship building and making amends over punishment when someone misbehaves.

“[Beginning teachers should] promote students’ social-emotional growth, development and individual responsibility using positive interventions and supports, restorative justice and conflict resolution practices to foster a caring community where each student is treated fairly and respectfully by adults and peers,” according to the new expectations.

Also emphasized is trauma-informed teaching, which addresses how the trauma children experience at home and in their neighborhoods affects their behavior and learning at school.

The new expectations call for teachers-in-training who began a credentialing program in September 2017 to not only have studied these new behavior management approaches, but demonstrate proficiency of them in the classroom by the time they graduate in June 2019.

“Before this year it was much more hit and miss across the different cohorts,” said. J. Kris Rodenberg, associate director of the School of Teacher Education at San Diego State University. “Some would give more attention to classroom management and behavior interventions than others. Now we have much more uniformity — we know that in class X the professor must address Y number of standards.”

A lack of expertise?

But establishing the standards is just a start, say Rodenberg and others who run teacher credentialing programs. They still need to find the faculty in teacher preparation programs who have practical experience with approaches like restorative justice and PBIS, then find student teaching placements, and eventually jobs, where new teachers can practice those skills.

“I don’t know if your average professor even has the background to talk about restorative justice and classroom management,” said Kelly Johnson, who is an adjunct professor in the teacher credentialing program at San Diego State University. “In many cases it’s been a long time since they’ve been in the classroom, or they weren’t a classroom teacher for very long and don’t know the tricks of the trade.”

Brad Strong, who is senior director for education policy at Children Now, an Oakland-based advocacy organization, was a member of the workgroup that helped the teacher credentialing commission write the new standards. He says they are a big step in the right direction, yet he’s concerned about how long it will take for them to take root in teacher preparation programs.

“We know there are tons of faculty paying considerable attention to this,” Strong said. “But we have a long way to go to ensure that candidates leave these programs with the knowledge and skills they need in the classroom.”

But that raises another question: If they do leave the programs with the necessary skills, will they go to a place where they can put them to good use? Interviews and a survey by EdSource reveal that awareness of restorative justice and other alternatives to traditional discipline is high, but implementation is spotty.

“When you land your first job, your go-to is not what was in your credentialing program, it’s the school’s policy,” Johnson said.

Rodenberg said students in San Diego State’s program are introduced to new approaches to classroom management and they practice them in class. “Once they go out into the field, we would hope that they try to apply it,” she said. “The reality though is it is very difficult to assess the degree to which our student teachers are able to apply what they learned in the classroom.”

Strong hopes that problem will be solved with better surveys of teachers in the field, which is part of the system overhaul and, going forward, a key component of the accreditation of teacher credentialing programs.

“I know there is much work to be done to ensure that positive school climates, classroom management and restorative justice are deeply imparted to candidates in the programs of professional preparation,” Strong said. “The cycle of accreditation is now going to be deeply informed by candidate surveys, mentor teacher surveys and school-site leader surveys on competence of student teachers in these areas.”

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  1. Rhianna Hawk 1 month ago1 month ago

    I definitely agree that teachers aren't being properly prepared for the classroom; my mom is a teacher and she's always overwhelmed by the lack of structure that the school gives her to work with in terms of disciplining the kids. Your suggestion of using restorative justice to build up relationships at the same time as working with a child that has misbehaved is a great idea, and I know that my mom would get behind … Read More

    I definitely agree that teachers aren’t being properly prepared for the classroom; my mom is a teacher and she’s always overwhelmed by the lack of structure that the school gives her to work with in terms of disciplining the kids. Your suggestion of using restorative justice to build up relationships at the same time as working with a child that has misbehaved is a great idea, and I know that my mom would get behind that one-hundred percent. We’re looking for a training of some kind that she can get to help her with her classroom, and we’ll be sure to look for a system that implements restorative justice, as you suggest.

  2. Delores L. McCollum 5 months ago5 months ago

    Soooooo, what is going to be DONE to respond to this decades old crisis? How do we convince Colleges of Education that classroom management training needs to be as important (if not more) as the integration of technology in their lessons and how t make beautiful bulletin boards? The miserable and widespread lack of genuine, rigorous, realistic classroom management training is a key component in the school-to-prison pipeline. Too many teachers lack … Read More

    Soooooo, what is going to be DONE to respond to this decades old crisis? How do we convince Colleges of Education that classroom management training needs to be as important (if not more) as the integration of technology in their lessons and how t make beautiful bulletin boards? The miserable and widespread lack of genuine, rigorous, realistic classroom management training is a key component in the school-to-prison pipeline. Too many teachers lack the training needed to build relationships with/among their students, de-escalation strategies and how to develop and implement lessons that connect what their students are learning and their real life experiences.
    It is better investment with greater returns than our prison investments

  3. Don 6 months ago6 months ago

    The main cause for disciple issues in a classroom is the failed universal social promotion policy. When students are moved up through the grades without the prerequisite content knowldge, they are placed in classrooms in which the material is inaccessible to them. Therefore, they cannot participate meaningfully in the classroom and instead act out their frustrations.

  4. mr isaac 6 months ago6 months ago

    Classroom management is the most underrated element in achievement gap metrics. Three kids can shut down a class of thirty for a lesson, day, or a year. CM is not necessarily a 'teachable' skillset, however, especially at the credentialing level. I return to my previous assertions that district staff cannot alone contend with problem students that cause the most disruption. CM takes a village of outside resources that have yet to … Read More

    Classroom management is the most underrated element in achievement gap metrics. Three kids can shut down a class of thirty for a lesson, day, or a year. CM is not necessarily a ‘teachable’ skillset, however, especially at the credentialing level. I return to my previous assertions that district staff cannot alone contend with problem students that cause the most disruption. CM takes a village of outside resources that have yet to partner meaningfully with our schools.

  5. Wayne Bishop 6 months ago6 months ago

    "Historically, a typical teacher credentialing program in California offered a one-credit course in classroom management, and some not even that," And, judging from most education courses, that is probably one too many; a complete waste of time. Paid apprenticeships working with competent, experienced teachers would be far more effective than all of the required education program (not their academic content courses) for aspiring teachers. The "restorative justice" concept to avoid conducting responsible classrooms and schools only … Read More

    “Historically, a typical teacher credentialing program in California offered a one-credit course in classroom management, and some not even that,”

    And, judging from most education courses, that is probably one too many; a complete waste of time. Paid apprenticeships working with competent, experienced teachers would be far more effective than all of the required education program (not their academic content courses) for aspiring teachers.

    The “restorative justice” concept to avoid conducting responsible classrooms and schools only serves to continue the degradation of US public schools and communities that need it most. Competent, academically-oriented private schools tolerate none of such deliberate misnomer nonsense and actually educate their students. Every child should have that opportunity at public expense even if it means a voucher to St. Sensible right down the street.

  6. Denise Wolk 6 months ago6 months ago

    This article is spot on. Many new teachers graduate from programs that are long on content/standards/testing, but very short on practical classroom management - particularly for secondary students. What's more is the students that many of our veteran teachers see now are very different than the students they had starting out on their teaching journey. With shifting demographics, socio-economic pressures, and cultures in of our communities, many teachers struggle with classroom management and discipline … Read More

    This article is spot on. Many new teachers graduate from programs that are long on content/standards/testing, but very short on practical classroom management – particularly for secondary students. What’s more is the students that many of our veteran teachers see now are very different than the students they had starting out on their teaching journey. With shifting demographics, socio-economic pressures, and cultures in of our communities, many teachers struggle with classroom management and discipline issues in ways that are driving both new and veteran teachers from the profession. It is crucial that we focus on BOTH pre-service training AND ongoing, job-embedded professional development opportunities for teachers to support them with better serving our students and communities. There are a number of organizations (like mine – Engaging Schools) that provide that ongoing PD.

  7. Heidi Holmblad 6 months ago6 months ago

    Instead of waiting for others in the school system to "catch up" to newer disciplinary measures such as restorative justice, trauma informed, etc., teachers and administrators may want to look to their school psychologists. They have been getting training in behavior alternatives to suspension and expulsion, as well as classroom management through their graduate programs. Also, continuing education is widely encouraged among school psychologists because of the ever-changing nature of the profession. Sending one school … Read More

    Instead of waiting for others in the school system to “catch up” to newer disciplinary measures such as restorative justice, trauma informed, etc., teachers and administrators may want to look to their school psychologists. They have been getting training in behavior alternatives to suspension and expulsion, as well as classroom management through their graduate programs. Also, continuing education is widely encouraged among school psychologists because of the ever-changing nature of the profession. Sending one school psychologist to get training in the newest disciplinary measures — and asking that psychologist to share what was learned — can save time and money for schools and districts.

  8. Dr. Jonathan Dean 6 months ago6 months ago

    Classroom management is the key component to a successful teaching career! I’m happy to see more attention is being paid to it.