I work in an inner city middle school that has a student population that is roughly 99% free and reduced meals, and contains many first generation students so needless to say it can be a challenge. I like it though and I like working with the students and my fellow teachers. Like at all schools some days are better than others for both the staff and the students. Over the 10+ years I have been working there my school has constantly ranked amongst the highest in the city for referrals and other disciplinary measures. The root cause of this has also come from a variety of factors including poor classroom management, acting out by low performing students, language barriers, and not keeping the students engaged.
As for me, I usually write about 1 to 2 referrals a year usually at the beginning of the year as students are trying to see how much they can get away with. In my class it is not a whole lot, and I am not the only teacher at my school that is like that so what do teachers with low referral counts do differently when others are writing so many? In my observations and conversations with those teachers that do not write many referrals, I have come to the conclusion those with the best classroom management provide both positive and negative consequences for their students.
So how does this work? For me what I do is set up simple rules and keep all students accountable. For example, if a student shows up late and does not have a pass then they are tardy and receive a negative consequence. For it to be a successful deterrent, the negative consequence has to be something that makes the student not want to do whatever it was again. Whether it is stay after class or extra assignments it has to be something that gets their attention that you the teacher are not going to put up with it. Plus there can be no favorites, in my room it does not matter if you are the best student that I have or my star soccer player if you are late you are like everybody else and you will receive the same negative consequence as everybody else. Having no favorites helps end any arguments of why do I have to do it when so and so did not. In my class by this point in the year 9 times out of 10 if a student shows up late they already know where to go and what to do.
On the flip side it cannot be all negative there has to be some positive consequences or you just become the mean teacher that the students are just itching to rebel against. Positive consequences can come in a variety of ways. I know my students like to work in groups and I like it too because it leads to better discussions when they are on task. However for them to work in groups on something like a study guide for a test or something other than a group project they have to earn it. I want them to study on their own and pay better attention in class the students on the other hand want to work in groups so when it comes to seeing if they will work in groups I will ask each of them in turn a question about the chapter. If they get it right they stay seated if they get it wrong they move to the back of the room. If there are more people sitting then standing they get to work in groups. Other times to reward good behavior or when they go above in beyond my expectations I provide them with a treat or call home to let their parents know that I am proud of what their student did in class that day.
If you are struggling with classroom management develop procedures for both positive and negative consequences. Treat all your students the same and give none of them the position of class favorite. If you do those simple things your class will have structure and though it will not make all your students happy they will respect you in the end.