When I was a young high school and college student, I fantasized about the wonderful things I would do when I finally became a teacher. I would mold; I would inspire. I would pull Michelle Pfeiffers and save inner city youth from a life of drugs and crime. Students would love me. I would plan lessons worthy of teaching awards. You get the picture. It was easy to be idealistic since I had no actual classroom experience. Then the day came that I actually had real students and was a real teacher. I quickly realized there is a whole side to teaching they never tell you about in your teacher-preparation program (because they know if they did, you’d likely not want to become a teacher anymore): Housekeeping. You know what I’m talking about. Attendance, picking up papers, passing out papers, keeping track of notebooks, collecting locker money, managing tardies, calling home, parent-teacher conferences that aren’t on conference night, IEP meetings, 504 meetings, staff meetings, testing trainings, professional development…the list goes on.
Start looking into any teacher evaluation program around and you will find one of the big measuring tools is the amount of TOT (time on task) for students. Are you teaching bell-to-bell? Are students engaged all the time? Are you able to effectively manage your classroom because it runs so smoothly you don’t really even need to be there? This is hard to do if you haven’t mastered how to deal with the issues in the above paragraph. I started to notice that I was losing valuable TOT at the beginning and end of every class period. It took me way too long to take attendance, pass out papers, pass out notebooks (and other materials), and get students seated and focused on their work. I was losing a good 5-10 minutes a class period, which comes out to 2-4 entire days of instruction. We’re talking about nearly a whole week, people! And if you add that to all the days we already lose for pictures and assemblies and testing and don’t even forget the time each day devoted to the morning show or periodic announcements that interrupt instructional time, and you’re talking about valuable minutes you should be using to teach important concepts and material.
What to do? First, to combat how long it took to take attendance, I began assigning seats to my students. This way, I could just look at which seats were empty and know right away who wasn’t there. For many of the other tasks, I realized that if I wanted my class to run smoothly and efficiently, my students should be responsible and take ownership of the classroom. Thus, I created the class captains. I took all the menial tasks that were sucking the life out of my first and last 5 minutes of class and assigned students to those roles. I even made up applications and students had to “apply” for the “job”. I had a paper captain, a notebook captain, and absent binder captain, an errand captain, and a fill-in captain. My paper captain handed out graded papers and picked up daily assignments for me. My notebook captain passed out any books, journals, folders, etc. My absent binder captain maintained the absent binder students would use after they came back from an absence. The errand captain was the only person allowed to leave the room for runs to the office (This saved SO much time…if an announcement came on that we were supposed to run something down to the office, rather than taking time to pick someone to do it and listen to everyone else whine, I had someone ready to go.). The fill-in captain did any job in case of an absent captain. I “hired” new captains each quarter.
[Side note: I did this in a 7th grade classroom. This idea is actually used relatively frequently by elementary school teachers, but it is successful in middle school as well. My background is in middle childhood education, so I actually came up with it on my own, but realized I had reinvented the wheel when I was discussing it one day with a friend of mine who teaches second grade. Once I moved to high school, I ditched the “cutesy” idea of captains but still had students who routinely did those menial tasks for me each day. And I kept the seating charts…yes, even in high school. The one exception to that was for my seniors. They sat in the same seats every day anyway, so it was pretty much the same thing.]
By using these captains, I was able to devote more time to managing my classroom at the beginning of class, which meant I could focus more on getting students straight to work. I could also teach right up to the bell because I didn’t have to stop to collect things at the end of class: my captains did it. The class ran so smoothly that I never worried about losing instructional time for the menial housekeeping activities ever again.
My class captain matrix is part of my classroom management super-bundle, which can be found here.