Teachers, Not Students, Need to Be in Control of the Classroom

April 14, 2022 Updated: April 14, 2022


Suppose you walk into a Grade 8 classroom. There is one teacher and 25 students in the room. Who should be in charge?

Hopefully, you said the teacher. Since the teacher is a trained professional who is held accountable for what happens in the classroom, it makes sense for the teacher to take charge. It would be the height of folly to describe the teacher and students as “co-learners” who must work together in a learning partnership.

And yet this is the type of nonsense that prospective teachers are often subjected to during their education courses. One of the most common sayings in faculties of education is that a teacher should be a “guide on the side” rather than a “sage on the stage.” However, it’s hard to stay in control of a classroom filled with rambunctious students when you relegate yourself to the role of guide.

Teachers are granted authority, and they are paid because they have the knowledge and skills to teach students. If teachers are not better versed in the subject than their students, and if they cannot promote a greater understanding of the subject matter, then they should not be teachers at all.

By encouraging prospective teachers to stay off to the side rather than stand in the front of the room, education professors make it harder for new teachers to establish their authority. This puts new teachers at a disadvantage right from day one. We need to give teachers a better start than that.

In other words, teachers will only be able to teach effectively when they take charge of their classrooms. There’s no need to “co-create” classroom rules or to “co-construct” assessment methods with students.

Imagine a pilot telling her passengers that she is a “co-flyer” together with her passengers or a doctor telling his patients that he will work together with them as a “co-healer.” That would be ridiculous. By the same token, a lawyer is not a “co-litigator” with his clients, nor is a psychiatrist a “co-therapist” with her patients.

No one in these professions tolerates this kind of silliness because they know that one of the fastest ways to undermine a profession is to deny the unique skillset of the people who work in that field. Teachers should stand up for the integrity of their profession and refuse to be downgraded to mere guides, advisors, or co-learners.

Instead of pushing theories that don’t work, education professors need to show prospective teachers how to effectively run a classroom with as many as 25 or 30 students.

Here are a few tips to consider.

First and foremost, teachers must let students know right away who is in charge. It is important that teachers set a firm, but fair, tone on the very first day. This doesn’t mean giving a long lecture about classroom rules, but it does mean making the behavioural standards clear. It’s much easier to loosen the reins later in the year than it is to tighten them.

In addition, teachers need to be confident in their subject-matter knowledge and be ready to share this knowledge with their students. While teachers can and do learn new things while teaching, a teacher should have far more expertise in the subject being taught than any of the students. If they don’t, then the wrong person is in front of the room.

Simply put, it’s important to have clarity of roles. Teachers and students are two separate roles, and we should not blur the distinction.

Teachers must also keep their emotions in check. Students often test a teacher’s limits, particularly when that teacher is new. When they do this, they are looking for an emotional reaction. Teachers shouldn’t give them this reaction.

Finally, teachers should not be afraid to ask their colleagues, particularly those with significant classroom experience, for advice. Anyone who has survived in the classroom for a long time almost certainly has some worthwhile advice to share. There is no shame in asking a fellow teacher for help. In fact, it’s a mark of professionalism to know when help is needed.

In the end, teachers, not students, need to be in control of the classroom. There should be no doubt in any classroom about who is really in charge.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher, a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, and author of “A Sage on the Stage: Common Sense Reflections on Teaching and Learning.”