No Iron Fist Necessary

cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by leunix


People give new teachers all kinds of advice. In one of my practicums I remember being told not to say “please” or “sorry” to my students because it gives them too much power. I don’t know if it comes from a need to protect the newbies, or maybe from memories of things that went wrong in the beginning of their careers, whatever it is, new teachers can be sometimes steered down the wrong road by us old vets. Especially if it goes against the personality and style that is comfortable for that new teacher.


If there is one line of advice I find myself disagreeing with the most its the idea that you need to “rule with an iron fist” often followed by “at least until Christmas”. This would have NEVER worked for me. It doesn’t fit with my style of teaching or my personality. I think it is the worry about the quality of classroom management new teachers are able to bring to the table that causes people to always give them this pearl of wisdom. I get that, it is hard in the beginning, and a lot of new teachers struggle. What I don’t get is why this is the answer? Is this how we hope teachers will develop good classroom management? By being strict, inflexible and controlling?


The big start-of-the-year push now is for expectations developed BY our students, WITH our students and focused on what we hope to see, not what we don’t want to see. This is all about showing the students that we trust them to be altruistic and cooperative. That we believe they are intelligent enough to be part of this process. We hope to connect with our kids and show them that its about learning with us not from us. If we believe in this idea of developing a classroom culture, then we must also believe in the idea that we want our teachers to develop rapport with their students, to be respectful and understanding of the differences each student brings to our buildings and to see the grey instead of just black and white. If this is what we want our teachers to do when it comes to classroom management, why would we advise them to start their careers by utilizing strategies that are in direct conflict with this idea?

If I want a student to improve at a skill, I want them to practice that skill, exactly how they should perform it, the right way, from the beginning. I think this should also be true for us as teachers. We don’t have new teachers come in and teach easier curriculum until they are ready, or give them half as many kids until they are ready, we treat them as the professionals they are and have trained to be. If fostering a more respectful environment is our goal, then there should be no message that contradicts this, especially when working with new teachers.

My advice?

Relax. As a new teacher, you are going to be eager, and probably a little on edge. Just try to relax. Give the kids time to think, time to work, and time to be kids. Take the time to get to know them, learn something unique about each one, and try to find something you share in common, so that you can always have a conversation that has nothing to do with school. Let students make mistakes, they are supposed to, they’re kids. Help them learn from the mistakes, they are great moments for teaching. Laugh about anything and everything. If they spill their drink, forget a pencil, or if they do something stupid, laugh about it with them. It shows them you are human and not a tyrant and that you can have fun as well.

When it comes to expectations, it is good to be clear about them and consistent in the follow up. What you don’t have to do is crush them when they don’t meet the expectations. Talk to them, and teach them, with a caring and open heart, a sense of humour and respectful manner. No iron fist is necessary when you care about your students. Good luck this year to any new teachers, I hope you enjoy every moment of the ride!


4 thoughts on “No Iron Fist Necessary

  1. Great advice, Jesse! I was told not to smile until Christmas (I broke the rule 5 minutes in…). Advice I would share: Be Yourself. You were hired because your principal believes you will have a positive impact on your school and your students. Remember that. She or he doesn’t want you to pretend to be someone you’re not.

  2. I was fortunate enough that none of my direct supervisors shared the advice you received, although it was freely available in the staff room. My early words of wisdom that have stuck and worked were that students would respond to “certainty, not severity.” I hope you’re enjoying your new gig! You’ll make a wonderfully positive impact no matter where your journey takes you.

  3. Great post Jesse! Ruling w/ an iron fist mentality only serves to make it more difficult to develop a positive relationship once we move “past Christmas.” The rule or policy that I think should override all other policies is the rule of being “fair and reasonable” which requires no fist at all. Good luck this year! Tom

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