The Troubleshooting Mechanic

Every teacher needs to think of their classroom as a well oiled machine that must run efficiently and tirelessly for an entire school year.  Your machine will likely hit a few bumps along the way, sputter, stall and need to go back to the shop for maintenance.

Your job as the driver of the classroom, is to constantly maintain your machine and troubleshoot any problems along the way.  You cannot ignore any warning signs of trouble.  You need to address them and determine a way to fix the problem.

Teachers are the ultimate mechanic and the best of the best, are the ones who have the greatest maintenance track record.

If you find yourself day after day dealing with the same issues, with the same students, then you need to figure out a way to fix it. You need to troubleshoot until you find a way to fix the problem.  It may take a while, but the pay off is huge if it is fixed.


  • pencil sharpener constantly being used

SOLUTION Collect all miscellaneous used pencils from students, with students keeping one at their desk. Place a bag over the sharpener with a closed sign and have the box of the used pencils sharpened and ready to go. When students need a sharp pencil, they can place their dull, broken pencils in the To Be Sharpened box and take a sharp pencil. Wipe off the pencils at the end of the day with a disinfecting wipe and sharpen them ready to go for the next day. Reopen the sharpener when it is an appropriate time.

  • taking too long in washroom

SOLUTION: Use an egg timer to time those who spend too long in the washroom.  Set the timer for an appropriate amount of time and if student has not returned, have another student or adult go check on the student.

  • very frequent washroom users

SOLUTION: Create a boys and girls class list on a grid with last names removed (for student confidentiality) and have multiple copies of a girls list and boys list put on two separate mini clip boards. When a student is leaving to use the washroom, have them put a check mark in a free box beside their name and when they return, put a line through the check mark.  You will quickly see a pattern of washroom use and who is using it excessively.

  • students interrupting small group instruction for washroom break

SOLUTION: Have students approach you quietly to make eye contact with you and have them use the universal sign language symbol for washroom. 

  • student speaking out of turn

SOLUTION:  Provide the student with 3 tokens for the day.  Every time the student speaks out of turn, take a token.  Once all three are gone, the student will be removed from the group to another spot in the classroom, and no longer be able to participate in the lesson.  When a new lesson begins, provide him with 2 tokens using the same process and then 1 token.  Very soon this student will have more success regulating his speaking out.  

  • student who accomplishes very little

SOLUTION: When the student is given work to complete, record the time on his sheet and check in periodically with him to see how much he has accomplished.  Record the time beside what he has completed.  It will soon become evident how much or how little he is accomplishing in a work period.

Final Thoughts

These are just a few of the many little problems highlighted that occur regularly in any classroom. When these problems are met with viable solutions, a smoother running classroom will result.  Time spent to find solutions to daily classroom problems, is time well spent in long run for everyone.


3 thoughts on “The Troubleshooting Mechanic

  1. I love the idea of writing the time on a students paper to indicate their progress. I’ll be using that idea. Just today I was noticing a number of students making little progress and wondering how I could track it. That’s just what I needed.
    On the other hand, I have never liked electric pencil sharpeners. A mechanical sharpener works better/faster and makes far less noise. I watched a high school student, whose pencil was already usably sharp, spend ten minutes grinding it down to a nub that jammed the machine. I haven’t had one in my class since and am thankful for the calm.


    • Recording the time on their paper certainly gives everyone a clear picture of the work that is being completed or not completed. Once that is established then perhaps the reason for the lack of production can be investigated. Thanks for the comment and hope the suggestion helps!


  2. Pingback: Breathe New Life into your Classroom | smoothrunnin'

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