Since 1969, Fred Jones has offered teachers advice about how to manage students and classrooms effectively. Today, Jones-- author of three books on classroom management-- shares his thoughts about the difficulties teachers face in classrooms today. Included: Jones talks about the failure of the nation's colleges and universities to provide future teachers with adequate training and how legislators make teachers' jobs even tougher!
The name Fred Jones is familiar to many classroom teachers. Since 1969, Jones has been giving teachers advice about managing their classrooms effectively. He created his seminars and three books-- Positive Classroom Discipline (McGraw Hill 1987), Positive Classroom Instruction (McGraw Hill 1987), and Tools for Teaching (Fredric H. Jones & Associates 2000)-- to help teachers manage their classrooms-- and their stress levels.
Jones's interest in classroom management began at home. His mother and several aunts were teachers, as was his wife, Jo Lynne. During the early part of his career, Jones focused on clinical psychology. He specialized in working with schools and families, particularly on helping children with severe emotional disorders. When he first began to study teachers by visiting their classrooms, Jones noticed a dramatic difference between teachers who could and teachers who could not manage their students. He quickly dismissed the notion that there are "natural-born teachers." Instead, Jones determined that those teachers who calmly managed their classes incorporated several strategies to keep students in check and on task. Any teacher, he contended, could earn those strategies.
In 2000, as Jones readied Tools for Teaching for publication, he took time to talk with Education World news editor Diane Weaver Dunne. Jones shared his views on the state of teacher training, the problems teachers face in classrooms, and why teachers have a tougher job now than they did even a decade ago. Excerpts from that interview appear below.
Education World: Do teachers think that classroom discipline is a more-serious problem than it used to be?
Fred Jones: Student behavior problems are more severe and more intense, and teachers have more problem children per classroom now. A teacher often has at least half a dozen real problem children, yet he or she still must teach the curriculum to the rest of the class.
There are many reasons for the increase in the number of problem children. Legislatively mandated placement of children in the least-restrictive environment has sent special education students back to regular classrooms without a reduction in class sizes.
All that teachers know is they are experiencing a whole lot of stress. Teachers tend to have three different groups in their classrooms: age appropriate, fairly severely impaired, and an in-between group of kids who are "babyish," below age level.
The everyday realities of the classroom will not make the six o'clock news. There may be more violence in schools, which sends up warning flags to society in general, but on a day-to-day basis, teachers deal with the stressors I described.
EW: In your seminars and classroom research, what are the most common complaints you hear about student behavior?
Jones: Classrooms are pretty similar. There is the same cast of characters in every classroom. At the seminars and workshops I conduct, teachers may say different things initially, but they all end up saying how stressful it is and how understaffed their schools are. With the funneling of special education students into their classrooms-- some with serious disabilities-- they don't receive additional help.
They also complain "Why weren't we given this information about classroom discipline 20 years ago?" They say that they became teachers without having the tools for classroom management.
EW: Many people say that our schools of education do not properly prepare students to become teachers. What do you think colleges should do to teach future educators discipline techniques?
Jones: That is a very complex issue. Teachers have been complaining about the lack of training for 40 years. Colleges and universities fail at that job because they don't really train teachers explicitly, as the old Normal Schools once did. Schools of education are usually managed by a dean of arts and sciences. Students take a series of survey courses that do not offer training. It is a glaring omission.
Training is very labor intensive: It's practicum and practice. Like basketball players, teachers need to practice on the "court" in order to learn the skills. It's not [about] sitting in a lecture hall with 300 other students. Arts and science curriculums back away from training because it's not in the budget, but they go through the motions, funding survey courses. Then legislators are amazed that teachers aren't trained.
There is no unified national teacher education plan. The focus has been on testing and standards. What's the point of curriculum standards if you can't get [students] to stay on task more than 20 percent of the time?
Teacher testing may weed out the incompetent teachers regarding subject content. But for classroom management, there is no paper-and-pencil test .
The problem, especially for new teachers, is that many haven't yet raised children, so they are not child-savvy. Therefore, we lose more than a third of our teachers within two years.
Teacher training needs to go back to the approach of the Normal Schools of the 1930s. Students practiced, presented, and received mentoring for two solid years. The current education system rewards professors with tenure for publishing research papers-- not for training teachers.
Don't get romantic about the Normal Schools. Some were very mediocre. But they were practical, so teachers trained there knew how to get kids into their seats and on task. How can you teach if you can't get students into their seats?
EW: Is it ever too late to initiate a new classroom management strategy?
Jones: No, it's never too late. I've conducted workshops in schools as late as February and early May. Within two weeks, the teachers have doubled the time on task and have an average of 80 percent fewer disruptions. Some are even able to reduce disruptions by 90 to 95 percent.
EW: If you had only enough time in a seminar to share one remedy, what would that remedy be?
Jones: There is no one thing. It is unrealistic, and if one thing worked, everybody would probably do it. People can't blame children for fooling around. Kids migrate to the least effective form of management.
EW: In some urban and rural school districts, a majority of students are labeled "at risk." What remedies do you highlight for teachers in school districts that historically have more student behavior problems?
Jones: First, stories of unmanageable kids [in poorer districts] are totally overrated. If you were listening to monologues on this and that, it would be difficult for you to stay focused. I went to a school where most of the kids went on to college, and we would have given that teacher [instructing through a monologue] a hard time. I've visited schools [in poorer districts], and many teachers run pretty boring classes.
Students hate being bored, and they hate to sit passively. They want to do something. [Some kids] haven't been read to as much [as students from more affluent, educated households have], so urban teachers have to have a more kinetic approach to running a classroom. They need to give students more breaks. Children can't sit for five hours!
EW: What makes teachers' jobs so tough?
Jones: Almost everything has made the teacher's job tougher. Legislators have mandated Band-Aids for years and haven't helped. They don't understand how complex it is. For example, when they mandate so many minutes of instruction, they know only how to make it work on paper.
What happens when students have only three minutes to pass in the hallways between classes because of the mandates for instruction? It's impossible to walk from one class to another in that amount of time, so teachers blow off tardiness and then no one has hall passes. If you mandate punishment for kids who swear, they'll do it to get out of class.
Legislators are in fantasyland and offer no solutions on how to run schools. Legislators have the notion that we can produce excellence in the classroom through testing. There is no substitute for experience in the classroom. That is the bottom line.
Diane Weaver Dunne
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