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NYC Helpline: How To: Teach Literacy

Managing Your Classroom Effectively
Arlyne LeSchack

All your lesson planning and good intentions are useless if you can’t manage your class effectively. One of my former principals used to say there were some teachers who just have to look at the kids and the kids would do the right things; the rest of us need to put systems in place. In order to work, any system must be consistently applied and, I believe, should be a positive system as well. Unfortunately, most teachers focus on poor behavior, and since very often students exhibit poor behavior to get attention, that poor behavior is going to continue.

If you can switch your attention to the students who are doing the right thing and acknowledge them verbally, you will find that very often other students will come around because they wish to be acknowledged as well. When I first started teaching, I was amazed to discover if I told a child that I liked they way he was sitting, ten children around him immediately sat in exactly the same way. Keep in mind that every student wants to be acknowledged and every student wants your approval, even if she acts otherwise.
In this month’s article I want to explore part of one particular system. It is taken from a book called 1 2 3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 by Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D. Initially, Dr. Phelan developed his system for parents who were having difficulty disciplining their children. However, in the second edition of the book, he discussed classroom management as well. Of course, the system works best when it is being used by all the child’s caretakers. When disciplining a child, there are behaviors you want to stop and behaviors you want to start. For now, let’s focus on behaviors you want to stop. Behaviors you want to stop include arguing, fighting, screaming, tantrum and teasing. For these behaviors, you will use Dr. Phelan’s 1 2 3 or “counting” procedure.

When a child does something wrong, you just say “That’s 1.” If it continues after a short pause, you say, “That’s 2.” If the behavior still continues, you say, “That’s 3. Take a 5 minute time out.” (You can match the number of minutes to the age of the child. For example, a 10 year old can take a 10-minute time out.) This counting will only work if you follow the “no talking, no emotion” rule. That’s because when you say, “That’s 1,” and you don’t say anything else, the behavior becomes the child’s responsibility. If you begin with explanations you’ve put yourself in charge and the child may feel he doesn’t have to shape up unless you give him or her four good reasons why. I am sure you have a lot of questions about how and why this works and for those answers I am going to suggest you read the book. For now, I want to move on to the classroom application of this theory.
It’s probably best to start using the 1 2 3 in September, but you could start anytime with a “start” discussion. At that time you would just explain the “countable” offenses. What happens at “3” obviously depends on the grade level. For pre-school through about 3rd grade, a time out will probably do. After that the “3” might provoke detention or some other removal of privileges. For children who keep repeating their misbehaviors, a follow-up system may be necessary. For example, the first time out might cause the child to lose a sticker (assuming you are giving stickers at the end of the day). The second time out could initiate a note or phone call to parents. The third time out might require a meeting with parents, principal and teacher.

You need to start out with a few simple rules and explain that if a student breaks those rules, you are not going to scream and yell, but you are just going to say, “That’s 1.” For many children this will be enough. For others, depending on their age, you may need a more concrete symbol, like moving a clothespin on to a different color on the stoplight or writing their names on the board. Either way, do it with no talking or emotion. If the misbehavior continues, just say, “That’s two,” and move on to the next color or put a check next to the name, again with no talking or emotion. One of the advantages of this program is that it gives the child the opportunity to shape up and the teacher a method for control. Try it and see if it works for you.


Phelen, T.W., (1995) 1 2 3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12, Child Management, Inc. Glen Ellen, Il


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