Anyone who has ever been in a classroom knows that classroom management matters.  Teachers may aim to deliver top-notch instruction all the time, but there will still be plenty of misses — especially during a teacher’s early years. Keeping students engaged and well-behaved through those misses — so only seconds are wasted rather than entire class periods — is critical to advancing student learning.

Good classroom management is especially important for teachers in high-need schools. Challenges in this area are frequently cited as a deterrent for teachers considering a job in these schools; data from the 2007-08 Schools and Staffing Survey show that teachers in high-poverty schools have more concerns about student behavior than teachers in low-poverty schools. If teachers felt adequately prepared to manage potentially challenging classrooms, they might be more willing to take on tougher assignments in schools that need them most. But preparation programs are not doing their part to equip teachers with these skills.

In its new report, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) identifies five key classroom management strategies in which all teachers should be well-trained: explicit rules, consistent routines, praise, consequences for misbehavior, and student engagement. NCTQ labels these the “Big Five,” and in an analysis of 122 programs, finds that only 17 percent of programs are clearly teaching all of these strategies. And this is despite clear research that supports the teaching of these strategies.

While nearly all programs do cover some classroom management content, teacher candidates, on average, spend the equivalent of just eight class periods — less than 5 percent of their total coursework — learning about classroom management. More troubling, in nearly all programs, NCTQ found instruction in classroom management to be haphazard and disorganized, leaving teacher candidates on their own to piece together bits of information from various courses and to translate these into classroom practice.

States can play a role in changing this. And given programs’ track records on this, it is appropriate and important for them to provide greater guidance in this area. As NCTQ recommends, state leaders and advocates should prioritize two things:

  1.  Make sure that state regulations on teacher preparation address the specific classroom management strategies that all teacher candidates should receive; and
  2. Ensure that all performance assessments used in the certification of a teacher assess a teacher’s knowledge and ability to manage a classroom.

Classroom management is just one of many areas where preparation programs are doing a disservice to teacher and school leader candidates. It is imperative that we improve the quality of teacher preparation in this country — to be fair to teachers but most importantly to give all students the teachers they need and deserve.