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Solving the Classroom Management Problem

Updated: Dec 29, 2023

Classroom Management

Teaching is a career that doubles as a calling. As careers go, it is not the easiest. But, as a calling, it is a doosy. You literally impact thousands of lives at a minimum; prevent suicides, stop bullies, potentially stand between a school shooter and your students and the list goes on. The endless ways teachers impact their students is a topic for another post.

In this post, I want to help teachers better understand how to deal with difficult students. To face 30-45 energetic children or rebellious adolescents each day is no small task. Just getting them to class on time and in their seats is impressive. Then you have to teach them. People are difficult enough to manage, but to lead children (and have them follow) that is perhaps the most difficult type of leadership of all.

In this post, I want to help teachers better understand how to deal with difficult students. To face 30-45 energetic children or rebellious adolescents each day is no small task. Just getting them to class on time and in their seats is impressive. Then you have to teach them. After nine years in the military and 25 years as an educator, I can tell you the military was easier. At least the soldiers under your command had to follow orders, were respectful, and chose to be there. What many teachers miss when it comes to classroom management is this: Despite what you might think, STUDENTS DO NOT HAVE TO OBEY YOU. You must earn their respect and build mutual trust if you want them to do as you ask. If you are a good teacher, all of this is fine. You must realize that your students are afraid, hurting, lonely, and seeking acceptance. The last thing they want you to do is call them out in front of the class. Some become compliant because they are afraid of angering the teacher, some adopt the persona of class clown, others simply rebel and almost ask to be sent to ISS or be suspended. How you respond to these students will forever shape their personalities. Your actions in response to a student's behavior will either reinforce that behavior or deter it. Too often, teachers issue office referrals as the only method of classroom management. You should be able to handle most of your behavior issues in the classroom. Students will test you, not because they hate you, but to see how you feel about them. Here are a few simple rules you might consider if you are having difficulty with student behaviors.

Rule 1: Stay in control. From the first day of school, students will show their fears. These fears manifest as classroom disruptions, inappropriate or ill-timed jokes, smart comments, or just silly responses. Remember, they are testing you. The worst thing you can do is let them set the tone of the class. Remain in control and respond in a way that surprises them. They are trying to knock you off balance. Knock them off balance instead. For example, if they made a witty comment, recognize it as such and acknowledge their intelligence. If it was funny, laugh. In other words, try to re-frame their behavior in a positive light that shows them you recognize their intelligence or talent (Even if they don't) . Sure, you could right them up or "give them a stern warning". But, if you do that, you have just allowed them to control your classroom. They have probably never had anyone point out their potential or the good in them. Be the first.

Rule 2: Be respectful and polite. Isn't this how you want your students to treat you? Odds are, they have never seen appropriate behavior modeled. They cannot give you what they have never themselves received. Be willing to take a few shots from your students if it means you are able to establish a better relationship with them. Ask them politely to take out their materials, Say thank you and please. Basically, put yourself in their shoes and treat them accordingly.

Rule 3: Be professional. This means speaking and dressing professionally. Stay calm always and follow the rules yourself. Don't speak negatively about other teachers, students, or administrators. Kids are smart. Remember, you are modeling good behavior and if they see you do it, this will give them license to do it to you. How can you set a standard of behavior for your students when you don't set one for yourself. Do as I say not as I do will not work in a classroom. The standard of conduct, like it or not, is higher for educators than for the general public. If students respect you and they know you respect and care about them the will be good in your class (even if they are not good in others classes).

Rule 4: Don't discourage your students. Give them an easily manageable workload. They have difficult lives outside of school that we as educators know nothing about. An eight hour day at school is demanding enough. Whatever else you do, never speak down to them and never yell. Teachers should always seek to inspire and encourage hope. Discipline may be necessary, but it should never be done while you are angry and should always be done in a way that the student knows it is for their good.

Rule 5: Use Response to Intervention. Some students have suffered so much trauma, abuse, and poor upbringing they may need targeted or even one-to-one interventions. Best practices suggest having these students fill out self-evaluations as part of periodic an academic intervention assessment. You may be surprised what the student is willing to tell you if given the opportunity to ask for help.

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