When I Have to Micromanage Students

Students come to my classroom with lots of different abilities, strengths, and shortcomings. That’s to be expected, and it’s why teachers utilize so many different strategies to scaffold information for their students. Every day I teach, re-teach, re-explain, ask questions, and help. It takes a lot of time, attention, and energy on my part, but I’m happy to do it because that’s how we learn, and that’s what my students need.

It’s totally cool to have questions and ask for help, but some students need a lot more help than others. They need my attention, reminders, and redirection in order to do anything. The most basic of tasks. Things they’re not even graded on, like taking out a piece of paper. It takes so much extra effort from me to get these students to a similar spot as everyone else. I estimate that they take as much time and attention as 5 students. And I already have 34 other students to look after in the same class period!

I want to write about the topic of micromanaging as a teacher because it can be a big problem and it makes my job a lot harder. I learned some tips and tricks over the years to help with these kinds of situations and students. In this blog post, I write about what micromanaging looks like, why it’s a problem for teachers and students, and 4 things I learned to help with these types of situations:

  • Document everything and call home
  • Talk to other teachers
  • Give them credit for being there
  • Classroom routines

What Does Micromanaging Look Like?

A student who I need to micromanage is one who doesn’t want to do anything. I have to remind them to take out a pencil and their science notebook every day. Every single day. When we transition to another part of the lesson, I need to give them the directions again, or a reminder so they can complete whatever the task was. They don’t write much on notes or assignments. Even when it is just copying from the board. They would rather do nothing than participate at all. Without my persistent coaching, they would just sit at their desk with their head down. Or choose to scribble or do graffiti.

This kind of behavior sounds extreme, but I am pretty sure I have had at least one every single year since I started teaching. I might even have a few of these students on my roster every single year.

Why is Micromanaging Students a Problem?

The workload in teaching has always felt overbearing to me. Teaching in a classroom is a full time job, and I have to lesson plan, grade, and set-up labs on top of that. Extra phone calls home, conversations with other teachers, and discussions with counseling or administration put a burden on teachers. It’s a part of the job, of course, but it can get out of control. Usually I have to do this stuff outside of school hours and on my personal time. That means I am off the clock and not getting paid. It also means that my actual life is consumed with my work. That’s fine for all the professional ladder climbers out there, but there’s no promotion, pay raise, or bonus awarded to me. My reward is personal satisfaction and the honor of doing my job.

Another reason why micromanaging is a problem is because unless a student improves and adapts new skills, they will continue to lack the skills necessary to be successful in work and life after school. In the real world, if you don’t do your job, you get fired. A college professor or a boss is not going to hold their hand and walk them through everything. If I just do everything for them, it creates an unrealistic picture of the world. I have to find a way to support them without enabling them.

Call Home and Document Everything

When an incident occurs in my classroom, I take out my special little notebook and write it down. The name of the student, the date, the time, and a description of what happened. There’s so much that goes on in a class period and during the school day that if I don’t write it down, I will likely forget some of the details. I also write down the same details for all communications I make, whether it is a phone call home or an email to parents. The notebook stays in my desk and serves as my personal record of behavior and discipline in my classroom.

If I go to administration about a discipline or behavior issue, the first thing they are going to ask me is, Did you call home? They can’t, or won’t, get involved in a situation unless the parents have been informed. They also might have a specific school discipline procedure in place that I need to follow. For instance, they might not get involved until 3 incidences have occurred. No problem, I just keep track in my special little notebook and I have all the details ready when it’s time to make a move.

I witnessed some of the most profound change from students as a result of working together with their parents. At the end of the day, it’s usually an extra layer of support for the student. Parents and guardians are also the gatekeepers to all the cool stuff my students really want. Time to hang out with their friends, phones, video games, sports. Students shouldn’t get to do these things if they are failing their classes and torturing their teachers. Parents have a lot more leverage with their children than I have.

Talk to Other Teachers

If you’re a teacher, does all this sound familiar? Maybe it’s just me! Haha. I know it’s not because teachers talk to each other. They care about their students and they follow up on them through the years. We also like to commiserate with each other! Especially at lunch and after school. If a student is a pain in the butt for one teacher, there’s a good chance they’re doing similarly annoying stuff in their other classes too.

I talk to the student’s other teachers so we can compare strategies and discuss successes. They can offer simple solutions I didn’t try yet, for example reminding the student to write down the homework at the end of class everyday. Talking to each other helps us to see patterns. Sometimes we determine that the student needs more supports. Parent conferences, involvement of the students’ guidance counselor, and even special education referrals have been some of the next steps. As always, a phone call home is the very first step so parents are aware of the issue. Sometimes a phone call home and the extra support from home can make all the difference.

Give Them Some Credit for Being There

Aside from talking to other teachers, and calling home, the most important thing I learned to deal with underperforming students is how I grade in general. So something I learned to do is to give points every class period. These daily points reward students for showing up and doing work. It is positive motivation for all students, but particularly for those who are accustomed to failing.

If all my students ever see in the gradebook is a big fat zero, they will give up before they even begin. It is also difficult, maybe even impossible, to make-up work and earn a passing grade from 0%. There should be a numerical difference in the grades between someone who never attends class and doesn’t turn anything in, and someone who comes to class regularly but doesn’t turn anything in. I feel like if a student made the effort to come to class, they should get some credit for being there.

These little daily grades are beneficial for everyone, myself included. It gives us all a big picture idea of how someone is doing in my class when we don’t have a ton of big assignments, projects, and tests in the gradebook yet. It shows the degree to which someone is participating, consistently doing work, and staying on track. These little assignments are good opportunities to provide students with some daily feedback as well.

The credit they receive for being present and doing this basic classwork is not going to be enough to pass the class. They need to do actual work and turn it in in order to pass. Work that shows thinking, like lab reports and projects. These are not free points, but they are relatively easy to earn. There’s no reason everyone should not be earning them. And they don’t just get the points for showing up, they really have to do whatever the minimum is to get the points.

Assignment ideas for daily points:

  • Play a review game like Quizizz, Quizlet, or Kahoot. As long as they fully participate, they get points for doing their best. Quizizz is my favorite of the 3 because I can export reports from the game.
  • Create a Dividing Page. I provide students with the vocabulary terms, and they make a colorful and creative dividing page in their science notebook. They write the terms, and draw images to fill the page.
  • Watch a video and complete a movie viewing guide worksheet. We can go over the answers together and I can go around and stamp them all for completion.
  • Watch a video and take notes. For some easy note taking ideas, check out my blog post, 5 Ways to Take Notes Without a Worksheet.
  • Individual assignments that I can grade for completion, like a foldable. If they get started but don’t finish, they can receive partial credit for what they did in class.
  • Self graded quizzes are great practice, and I can stamp for completion.
  • A group assignment or activity. Group members work together. Once they agree on the answer, the Recorder writes it down on the group answer sheet that is turned in for a group grade. Everyone also writes down the answers on their own worksheet for their science notebook and the next notebook check.
  • Check-ins are easy to administer on a daily basis. Google Forms grades them for me and I just need to enter the scores in the gradebook. Check out my blog post How I Use “Check-ins” to Check for Understanding and Inform My Teaching.
  • Warm-ups can make great daily point assignments. I personally wait to give points for warm-ups until notebook checks. But if this was my choice for a daily point assignment, I think I would combine it with a check-in at the end of the period. 5 points for the warm-up and 5 points for the check-in for a daily total of 10 points.

Classroom Routines

Classroom routines are another game changer for me in dealing with disengaged students. Classroom routines encompass everything from how students enter and move about the room, to my lesson structure, routine assignments like warm-ups and check-ins, how students collaborate, and even how I ask questions and get students to contribute and participate.

By utilizing classroom routines, my struggling students come to learn what to expect. They get lots of practice, and gain more confidence and autonomy. Overtime, they become a more independent student, and I can lessen my micromanagement. One of the best classroom routines is group roles. With group roles they learn from, and teach one another. They have responsibility in their group, and that means I don’t need to insert myself into their affairs all the time. I’m working on a blog post on group roles, so stay tuned for that! For now, check out my blog post My Go-To Lesson Structure and 8 Classroom Routines for Better Classroom Management.

These classroom routines are really easy to implement and would be a great starting point:

Why Don’t I Just Let Them Fail?

I think some people will read this and say, If a student won’t do anything, just leave them alone and let them fail! And that totally makes sense to me! If I just let these students be, and they stayed disengaged, would they fail? O yea! The reality of school, work, and life is that there are consequences for our actions. So why don’t I just let them fail? Well, truly a big reason is that I am a professional. My boss, the principal, can walk by at any time and it doesn’t reflect well on me and my classroom if someone has their head down or is totally checked out.

Another reason why this kind of student behavior is so detrimental and why I cannot allow it in my classroom is that it can negatively influence the culture of my classroom and the behavior of other students. One bad apple really can spoil the bunch. Other students are aware and they ask, Why do I need to do it but they don’t? A checked out student can make a terrible partner or group member. It’s not fair to those students who need to work with them. They bring everyone down.

Lastly, I’ll be honest that I have felt a lot of pressure from Counseling and Administration to keep a student from failing. I have been asked to excuse assignments to give a student a passing grade. Retaking a course in summer school or afterschool credit recovery can be a big burden on a struggling student. Especially if they are failing everything. It can be a burden on families as well.

Micromanaging is Just One of the Problems in the Education System

Generally speaking, if I have to micromanage a student at the beginning of the year, they will show growth and improvement as the school year progresses. They can find confidence they didn’t know they had. They feel capable again. They are actually proud of themselves. This is the change I want to see in my students. One of the most amazing things that can happen as a teacher is when a student opens themselves up to learning.

But yes, the micromanaging is not something I can keep up with all year long. Learning can be intimidating, especially math and science for some students. My students need my help to navigate their work and solve problems. In theory, it sounds nice to just help those who want to be helped. But if I only did that, kids would slip through the cracks and I would be letting them down. They would know that I didn’t care about them. Sadly, that’s how some already feel. A lot of them are ignored because they just sit there.

Micromanaging students is just a part of a lot of problems that are hampering teachers from providing the best education possible. Micromanagement can only treat the symptoms of a struggling student. Micromanaging will not fix what’s broken, and it will not determine the root cause. It does however reveal that students are struggling. The students I need to micromanage are often not equipped with the skills they need in order to succeed. Despite gaps in their learning, and not meeting the standards, they continue to advance and progress into higher grade levels. It’s not fair to the student or the teachers. I wrote more about how my students are struggling in my blog post, My Students are Struggling and it Makes my Job Harder as a Teacher if you are interested in reading more about that.

I wrote this blog post to raise awareness, help other teachers feel heard, share some ideas from my own experiences, and hopefully be a part of bigger solutions to problems like these that plague the education system. Thank you for reading this blog post. If you would like to share your thoughts, please leave a comment. I would love to hear from you! If you want to read more about me and my classroom, check out the blog posts below!

Published by How She Teaches

I teach Biology and Earth and Space Science in high school and middle school. I want to share my personal experiences and teaching milestones with anyone who wants to learn.

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