Musings of a classroom management guru, teacher and parent.

Teacher or Zookeeper?

How would you complete the following prompt?

Managing a classroom is like…

I teach an undergraduate introduction to education course, which consists primarily of college sophomores interested in teaching elementary school. In this particular course, they are not exposed to much formal instruction on classroom management. However, they do spend a good deal of time in elementary classrooms. I recently administrated my final exam and included this prompt. I was surprised by how many students created metaphors or similes that compared elementary students to things such as wild animals or teachers to something along the lines of a zookeeper.

As a teacher and a parent, I was disturbed and saddened by these responses. In all my years of teaching elementary school, I am confident that I never equated my students to wild animals. In addition, as a parent of a 7 year old, I most definitely do not see my son as a wild animal in need of “taming.” I certainly don’t want him to have teachers who view him and his peers that way.

I can’t help but wonder where my students’ beliefs originated? Are they seeing practices that are causing them to develop these beliefs? If these beliefs aren’t challenged soon, how will these beliefs impact their practice in their own classrooms? Are we just perpetuating a cycle of ineffective classroom management practices? I also can’t help but wonder how a class of preservice teachers interested in teaching high school may have answered this prompt. Would their answers reflect the same disturbing comparisons or do they see older students in a different light?

The lesson I learned from this experience is that we all still have a lot of work to do if we are going to see more classrooms implementing effective classroom management practices. For example, classroom teachers need to reflect on what classroom management practices they are currently implementing and what those practices imply about their beliefs about students. In addition, how do those practices influence student teachers’ beliefs about students? Next, student teachers should not just blindly emulate their cooperating teachers’ practices. Reflect, analyze and question practices before deciding what matches your teaching philosophy. Finally, teacher educators need to continue to advocate for courses in their teacher education program with an explicit focus on classroom management. This will allow future teachers to develop an understanding of the overall goal of effective classroom management and best practices to accomplish that goal.


  • Very thoughtful post…examining beliefs is essential to shifting practice…it’s at the core of professional growth, I think…

  • Oh my goodness!! This makes me so sad. I’m not a parent yet, but I feel very strongly about my students, and it really gets under my skin when other teachers talk about them like that. I’m sure that feeling would only be amplified when I become a parent. I’m so glad someone is talking about this!!!

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Meet Dr. Tracey Garrett

Dr. Tracey Garrett

Dr. Tracey Garrett is a professor in the Department of Teacher Education at Rider University in New Jersey and was recently awarded the University Distinguished Teaching Award. She earned her Ed.D. in elementary and early childhood education with a specialization in classroom management from The Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University. She is also a former elementary teacher with experience teaching at the 3rd, 4th and 5th grade level. Tracey’s unique combination of classroom management knowledge and 24 years of practical experience allows her to successfully facilitate teacher growth.

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