A critique of the TFA ‘Classroom Management & Culture’ booklet

A critique of the TFA ‘Classroom Managment & Culture’ booklet.

At the institute they use as a text a series of books that comprise the institute curriculum. Who wrote these books, I’m really not sure. But looking over the 162 page ‘Classroom Management & Culture’ booklet, I get a lot of information about what sorts of things TFA is currently stressing.

I have a copy of the 2006 booklet. It’s possible that this is very different from the 2008 booklet, but I doubt it. (TFA is very slow to change. They have a tendency to ignore criticism.)

I’ll go through the first few pages and make some comments.

Page 1: It’s misleading to lump classroom management and culture as one thing. It implies that you should first establish your classroom culture and then you can focus on management. I’d say it’s the other way around. Plenty of good teachers have management without having established the classroom culture. They then have this CM reflection about how her kids were upset because they were going on a field trip and were not going to learn as much that day. This is very unrealistic. Kids, even really motivated ones, like to go on field trips where they can learn in the ‘non-traditional’ way. Why should this be the first thing CMs read about when they’re trying to tackle the vital topic of classroom management?

Pages 16-17: Here they have a chart with examples of ‘rules to follow’ and ‘rules to avoid.’ The three guidelines they layout are “1) Phrase your rules in the form of a positive statement, 2) State your rules clearly, and 3) Minimize your list of rules (most teachers have 3-5 rules).”

I like guidelines 2 and 3, but I don’t agree with guideline 1. I think it contradicts guideline 2. It’s OK to phrase some rules in the negative. It makes it clear. Look at the examples they have as ‘good’ rules like “Class time is for class activities” and the ‘bad’ rules like “No gum, food, or drink in class. Bring your homework, book, notebook, and pen to class everyday. Be on time. No profanity. No leaving the room without permission.” I think those ‘bad’ rules are pretty clear. There’s only 5 of them also.

Page 19: Here’s a pretty dangerous ‘consequence list’ that they advise.
“1. Warning 2. Short detention after class or school 3. Written plan for
improvement 4. Guardian contact 5. Severe clause: Sent to principal” Any consequence ‘ladder’ that begins with ‘warning’ is going to be a disaster, especially if you post that on your wall or tell them that’s the first consequence. It’s like giving everyone a free pass. Read my blog entry on why you shouldn’t post consequences and watch my video #3 if you want to see how these consequences can backfire.

Page 24: “Some teachers establish their rules and consequences before students arrive and without student input, while others develop them collaboratively with students. Student participation in setting the expectations can increase their investment in them. However, since new teachers must focus on establishing their authority in the classroom, new teachers often find it most effective to develop the rules and consequences themselves in order to communicate to their students firm guidelines for behavior from the beginning.” They then go on with some examples of teachers who have successfully used the ‘students help make the rules’ activity. Then they say “Irrespective of the approach you choose …” as if you might decide you should do it in your first year.

They should be more decisive and say that new teachers should NEVER let the students help make the rules. They use weak language like ‘new teachers often find it most effective to’ rather than telling it like it is and saying ‘new teachers should always.’ Letting the kids brainstorm the rules is the kind of thing that works for someone after their first year. I know a lot of good elementary teachers who make that work. But it’s not good for a first year and it should only be mentioned in a book like this as something that should wait until the second year.

I know the argument “When the students help make the rules they’ll be more likely to follow them. If they don’t follow them, all you’ll have to do is say ‘You’re breaking the rules that you created!’.”

If your classroom management depends on the power of irony, you’re in a lot of trouble.

I’m out of steam on this. The booklet isn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. I’m actually happy about that.

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2 Responses to A critique of the TFA ‘Classroom Management & Culture’ booklet

  1. Krizia says:

    In the 2008 CMC text, the ‘bad’ rules (“No gum, food, or drink in class. Bring your homework, book, notebook, and pen to class everyday. Be on time. No profanity. No leaving the room without permission”) are specifically and explicitly categorized to provide as “examples to avoid” for “rules should be few” and not “rules should be in the form of a positive statement.”

    “Class time is for class activities” is clear if you put it into context for your students. It’s up to the teacher to break down the rules for the students. Of course it’s vague, but it has to be an umbrella over the near-infinite things that need to be done in the classroom. It’s my responsibility to break down this big rule during the first 1-2 months, and really model for my class exactly what “class activities” look like, and what they don’t look like.

    Maybe, to be more clear about your position on guideline 1, you could give some examples of good general classroom rules that could be phrased in the negative. Keep in mind that these guidelines are meant for creating the general class rules. They are different (but not separate) from class procedures (e.g., working quietly during independent practice time, keeping hands to one’s self while in line, being prepared for lessons each morning, etc.) which are also taught aside from the general rules.

  2. Krizia says:

    P.S. I just want to question your methods b/c there are a lot of suggestions you’ve made that I really like, and before I decide to try them in the fall, I just want to be sure that I’m understanding them clearly.

    Also, how much would you say that some of your suggestions may strictly be “level-specific”? I mean, do you think that your advice could/should be taken across grades 1 through 12 (or 1-8)? (I’m mostly referring to your post before this one “Common Teacher Mistake #4”). I personally can see doing away with ALL 4 stuff, but if I happen to teach 1st grade in the fall, I feel like they don’t have the capacity to even consider that I’m not an experienced teacher.

    So many mixed messages! It’s making me confused >_

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