Currently working alongside a veteran teacher, Maria Lopez is a little nervous about how she'll handle her own high school math classes next year.
While she's confident in her teaching abilities, it's all the other stuff that leaves her hesitant -- inattentive students, keeping control of the classroom and dealing with other behavioral issues.
All the extra things it takes to run a classroom make up what educators call classroom management, a concept, leaders say, that is severely underplayed in most teacher preparation programs.
On Friday, the Public Education Foundation in Chattanooga brought in national teaching consultant Chelonnda Seroyer, a former high school English teacher in Madison, Ala., to help teach new and upcoming teachers like Lopez how to better run their classrooms.
Lopez, currently in her residency year with TEACH/Here, an urban teacher residency program, said classroom management is key to providing any worthwhile instruction.
"I feel like, once they're settled, we can actually teach," she said. "We can make math really interesting and engaging. But if they're not paying attention, it doesn't matter how well you teach."
To teach math and science, TEACH/Here recruits would-be teachers from noneducation fields. The yearlong residency program pairs recruits with master teachers in urban schools in Chattanooga and Knoxville. Students gain teaching certification, a year's teaching experience and a master's degree in education through the program. They receive a stipend during the first year, after which they commit to teaching in urban schools for at least four years.
Seroyer said her college years left her unprepared to manage her own group of students.
"Basically, they told me if my lessons were interesting enough, the kids would pay attention," she said.
A winner of numerous teaching awards, Seroyer left the classroom to teach her methods to other teachers -- both veterans and new teachers. She said classroom management isn't just about discipline. It should include policies and rules for all aspects of being in class.
"It's all-inclusive," she said. "There is a discipline plan. But the bigger picture is that it addresses everything -- procedures for everything."
A good management plan is hard to spot, she said.
"It's very invisible," she said. "You don't know what you're looking for."
But it's easy to tell when a teacher has no control of her classroom, she said.
Seroyer said teachers need to plan rules for how students should ask questions, how they turn in papers, how they go to sharpen pencils and what they should do when they finish work early. All those could lead to distractions if students don't know the expectations, she said.
TEACH/Here Director Cheri Dedmon said classroom management is sorely lacking in teacher training programs at universities.
"This is something we thought the professors would have taught them," she said.
Dedmon said she brought in Seroyer to give TEACH/Here's 30 or so resident and first-year teachers a leg up for their classrooms. Members of the group's first class started their first year of solo teaching this year.
She said veteran educators, including education professors, sometimes can get so far removed from their rookie days of teaching that they forget the early struggles.
"I think I forgot what it's like to be by yourself in that classroom in the first few months," she said, "just how overwhelming that is and how isolating it can be."