According to a 2006 teacher survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, teachers identified help with classroom management as one of their greatest needs. Hence it is imperative to understand how contextual factors affect classroom management. Contextual factors in education are characteristics of the learning environment that influence the effectiveness of instruction. They can be divided into greater community factors, school factors and individual student characteristics.
Socioeconomic factors play a major role in classroom management. In fact, family income is directly correlated to the quality of education a child receives. Since U.S. schools are funded primarily by local property taxes, students living in affluent areas tend to perform better academically while students in impoverished areas are more apt to struggle and even drop out. Students from low-income families are also more likely to be subject to neglect and abuse, which can manifest in erratic behaviors in the classroom. Additionally, students from low-income families sometimes don’t have access to quality nutrition and therefore may be listless and slow to respond to prompts. Aside from income, social factors that can influence classroom management include parental education level, occupation and political affiliation.
A school’s geographic location can be urban, suburban or rural. The setting in which a school is located impacts the culture and values of its students and therefore their behaviors. For instance, suppose you teach in a rural school and ask a misbehaving student to stay after school. The student may rebel seemingly without a valid reason; however, he isn’t telling you that his parents count on him to arrive home promptly at 2:30 p.m. each day to assist with farm duties. Conversely, in an urban setting, the student might not be able to stay late because she relies on a city bus as her means of transportation home.
The ethnic and racial makeup of a classroom can drastically affect classroom management. In classrooms of mixed races, students may harbor prejudices passed down from their parents and may use offensive language when referring to students of a race different from their own; students who are recent immigrants or children of immigrants may be targets of stereotypes or verbal abuse, particularly those who don’t fully speak English. In these instances it is absolutely necessary for the teacher to take action and draw upon classroom management knowledge to ensure that the environment is emotionally safe and comfortable for all students.
The physical classroom itself can impact classroom management. The age of the building and decorations on the walls can subliminally influence students’ beliefs in their worthiness. The location of a classroom within the building may affect student behaviors; students in a room directly across from the main office may quiet down more quickly than those in an isolated room on the third floor. The layout of desks in a room is also a factor. Straight rows lend themselves to a teacher-directed style while circular arrangements or groups tend to lead to increased student interactions. In terms of student body, the size of a class is a key component of classroom management. The more students in a class, the more challenging classroom management becomes, and vice versa. Also, any assistants, aids, student teachers, observers or other adults in the classroom can have an impact. For instance, students may be on their best behavior if the principal is present.
Characteristics of individual students must be considered when employing classroom management strategies. For example, children with special needs such as autism cannot respond to the same cues as their peers; students whose parents are going through a divorce may become withdrawn or, conversely, act out in an appeal for attention.
- Rural Countryside image by Joy Prescott from Fotolia.com