Online Classroom Management

I officially had my first discipline referral this year. In an online learning environment, it does feel a little bit embarrassing to have discipline issues, but, I guess it is just as easy to break the rules from home as it is in-person. Maybe even easier.

In an average, pre-COVID year I would have had a few discipline issues already. The kid sneaking the phone under their desk during a quiz, another who yells at you for a bad grade before storming off and out of the building, the clown who, despite your redirection, will just not put away the Rubik cube they have been noisily playing with all warmup.

I will confess, I am a classroom micromanager. I set high behavior expectations on day one, teach and reinforce them in the first few weeks, and hold my students accountable for misbehavior. If you are disrupting the learning of another student, it is not going to fly in my room.

The best analogy I ever read about classroom management said you should think of discipline like being the referee at a sporting event. You see the rule being broken, address it with the warning, but never let it affect you. It isn’t personal to enforce the rules, just your job so the game can keep moving along. Yellow card, red card- doesn’t matter. You flash one, point to the spot of the foul, and move on to the penalty.

Even though I try to be that impartial referee, teaching is personal, and misbehavior can get under your skin. Sometimes I get annoyed when I have to remind the same student to put their phone away at the start of class….for the third day in a row. Even worse, high schoolers hold grudges. The student who got sent out of the room for flipping a chair, comes back to class the next day still mad at you.

I know online learning has its challenges (it is certainly not my best teaching every day), but I do find myself reflecting on how much I enjoy my student interactions when there are so few disciplinary issues. Online teaching didn’t make me a better teacher; it just made me a less controlling one. It’s harder to redirect a student for being on their phone when you can’t see them on it. It’s easy for a student who gets mad at you (or is bored, or just having a bad day) to storm off when they are in their own home. It’s less annoying to have a student goofing around when there is no one near them being distracted by it.

I don’t know what my takeaway is with this reflection. It can’t be to ignore every misbehavior, because my class would explode into chaos. It’s the enforcement of the rules when they are broken that keeps the learning happening. Maybe it is to be more like that referee and let the personal reactions slide off; although, I’m sure even the best referees go home stressed after they get yelled out by a player for giving a yellow card. For now, I think I’ll just try to enjoy this unplanned perk of online teaching.


Rachel Perugini

I am originally from Pennsylvania where I earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Shippensburg University. In 2012, I moved to Arizona to teach on the Navajo Reservation; I liked the state so much I decided to stay. I taught language arts, reading, and journalism for three years at Many Farms High School. During that time, I earned a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction for Reading. In 2015, I moved to Flagstaff where I currently teach 10th and 11th grade English. I have been an avid reader all my life, so I love that my job gives me that chance to read amazing books with my students all day long.

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