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Harry K. Wong
And the Real Meaning
Of Classroom Management

Meet Harry K. Wong, the author of The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher, and learn the secret to your success in the classroom!

Harry K. Wong, a former high-school science teacher in Menlo Park, California, is now one of the country's leading speakers in the field of education. Harry Wong Image

Wong took time to talk to Education World about and the real meaning of classroom management.


Don't miss Education World's review of the latest edition of The First Days of School. Click here to read that review.

Education World: Dr. Wong, can you tell us what inspired you to write The First Days of School?

Dr. Wong: It wasn't inspiration as much as demand. I'd left teaching high school after 17 years and begun to travel around the country talking to educators about the importance of classroom management. Many of the teachers who attended my early in-service lectures came prepared to be bored. Afterward, they'd say, "Your lecture was so sensible and practical! I wish I'd come prepared to take notes. Do you have anything I can take with me?" At the time, I didn't. Eventually, we created videotapes of my talks, but teachers still asked for a book. So I decided to write one.


The First Days of School Book Cover

EW: Both you and your wife, Rosemary Wong, have backgrounds in education. Did you write the book together?

Wong: I wrote the book. My wife was the editor and designer. My wife feels strongly that teachers are often treated as second-class citizens and that little or no money is spent on providing such amenities as comfortable teachers' lounges or professional materials. She wanted to design a book that would be worthy of the professional educator.

EW: Why did you decide to focus on classroom management?

Wong: Student achievement. The bottom line is that classroom management has a tremendous impact on student achievement.

EW: What's the most common mistake teachers make in classroom management?

Wong: The most common mistake is that teachers don't do classroom management. They present lessons, and if something goes wrong, they discipline.

EW: What's the difference between classroom management and discipline?

Wong: Classroom management is not discipline. You manage a store. You don't discipline a store. You manage a team. You don't discipline a team. You manage a classroom. You don't discipline a classroom.

EW: Can you give us a definition of classroom management?

Wong: Classroom management is the practices and procedures that allow teachers to teach and students to learn.

EW: How can teachers begin to manage their classrooms?

Wong: The very first day, the very first minute, the very first second of school, teachers should begin to structure and organize their classrooms, to establish procedures and routines.

EW: What are the most important procedures and routines teachers should establish?

Wong: The most common management routine is to have the students begin work as soon as they walk into the classroom. That means an assignment is already posted, it's there every day, and it's in the same place every day.

The second most common procedure is one teachers use to quiet the class. One I describe in my book is the 'Give Me Five' technique. The teacher says, "Give Me Five," and the students go through five steps:

  1. Eyes on speaker
  2. Quiet
  3. Be still
  4. Hands free
  5. Listen

In five seconds, the class is quiet.

EW: You didn't mention classroom rules. Why not?

Wong: I talk very little about rules. A procedure is not a rule. A procedure is a task. Procedures reduce the need for rules and discipline.

EW: You say in your book that the first few minutes of the school year can make or break a teacher. What do you tell teachers who don't establish classroom management techniques soon enough? If they've missed the first week or month of school, is it too late?

Wong: I'm asked this question all the time. I tell the teachers who ask it to go home and ask themselves, "What one procedure can I establish tomorrow?" Then I tell them to work out the steps for that procedure. The next day, they introduce that one procedure to the students. They explain it, model it, and rehearse it and rehearse it and rehearse it. The next week they introduce another procedure -- and so on.

EW: Don't all those procedures and routines interfere with students' creativity?

Wong: All teachers know that students learn best by doing. The only way a teacher can have a classroom in which kids can learn by doing, by discovery, by activity, is to establish routines and procedures. Students cannot be free to create without procedures and routines.

EW: Do you believe the traditional advice to new teachers -- the advice that says, "Don't smile until Christmas?"

Wong: I believe that all teachers are talented, that all teachers can be creative and loving and funny and successful -- only if the classroom hums with procedures and routines. A teacher cannot be funny or loving or creative in chaos.

EW: Why did you choose to publish The First Days of School yourselves?

Wong: We felt that most education books were drab. We wanted to lay this book out in a more graphically pleasing way. It was very important to us to give teachers as high a quality book as possible. We import our paper from Germany. Our books are printed by a company in Singapore that specializes in museum-quality books. Our binding is thread-sewn so the books don't fall apart with use. We wanted to give teachers a product that brought dignity to the profession.

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2005 Education World


Updated 09/6/2006