Maybe it’s just one class. Maybe it’s three.
Maybe it’s your first year. Maybe it’s your 14th.
Maybe it’s first graders. Maybe it’s freshmen.
However you’ve found yourself in SOS mode with a class, we want to say first: We’ve been there. All of us. Even the teacher down the hall or on TikTok who seems to have it all together.
You know what you’re supposed to do with a tough class. Document behavior. Call parents. Ask administrators for support. You’ve either tried these with no luck, or your school doesn’t have systems in place to back you up.
While there are plenty of great behavior-management solutions that require lots of time or training, when you’re in SOS mode, you don’t have those luxuries. You need simple, practical strategies you can implement overnight to give you control of your class while you re-strategize for the long game.
That’s where we come in. Between our teachers on staff and advice in our Helpline group, these were the quickest, easiest, and most effective tips we gathered.
1. Change up the seating arrangement.
If you have students in groups or long rows facing each other, switch it up to have all students facing in the same direction. This way, you minimize students having a reason to be distracted by each other’s sweet faces. Once you have better control over your SOS class, you can readjust the seating arrangement again.
2. Identify and separate your main rascals.
Put troublemakers in seats that are the farthest apart and facing opposite directions. Other things you can try:
- For a temporary fix when things get tough, find a teacher who is willing to house one of your rascals while they work in their room.
- Send them to a teacher with a nothing note.
- For rascals who feed off each other’s energy, see if you can get one moved to a different class period of yours (this is, of course, easier at the secondary level).
3. Try this Secret Student strategy.
All you need is a sticky note!
4. Use timers to transition between activities.
Limiting the amount of time for transitions keeps things from getting too squirrelly. Luckily, it’s very easy to gamify this: “I’m going to see if you can beat my earlier class’s record of 25 seconds to have every student get their journal open to a new page and have a writing utensil in hand. Do you think you can do it?” Here’s our roundup of some great online timers.
5. Post any instructions or expectations where all students can easily read them.
This cuts down on the number of times you have to repeat directions. Similarly, it makes it very difficult for students to justify being off-task by claiming they didn’t know what they were supposed to be doing. Students will inevitably still ask what they should be doing, but you’ll have to say “It’s on the board” exactly twice before your class will respond on your behalf.
6. Check out this Uno strategy.
You can listen to Monica Genta talk about it on her podcast episode starting at 9:15, but here is the gist of it: Each class starts at 100 points, a deadline that you set (I would go with a short deadline at first with an SOS class), and a particular reward. When they meet an expectation, they get to flip an Uno card in the deck for that number of points off their total as they try to get to 1.
7. Have a “reset” day where students work on computers or read silently.
When I was a new teacher, I remember worrying that I had to be directly teaching every day. Not the case! Reducing the number of distractions and expectations for a whole class period can restore your confidence and sense of control while you strategize for what’s ahead.
8. Listen to this teacher explain the clipboard strategy he swears by.
I wish I’d known this when I was in the classroom!
How do you manage a class in SOS mode? Let us know in the comments!
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