5 Surefire Tips For Handling Misbehavior

Joel Wagner (@sywtt) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. So You Want To Teach? is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

306214_dog_pileLaniza over at Walk Tall has posed the question, how do you handle students who continually test the rules? She writes:

I have about 3-4 students in each of my classes that I’m going to have to keep a tight leash on, at least for the first couple of months.

My response is that I find warnings basically give the kids a free pass to misbehave once before getting in trouble. I give a warning at the beginning of the year and from then on, any misbehavior is fair game to punishment.

When I first was learning how to do it, I would have the kids call home and tell whoever answered the phone what they did. I learned quickly to ensure that they knew what they had done wrong before calling. Otherwise it was, “umm, hi, my teacher wants to talk to you.” That was far less effective than “I interrupted the class twice today without permission.”

Parents generally like it when you or their kids call them to let them know of misbehavior. The ones whose parents don’t care will usually be the ones who continue to give you trouble. Detention doesn’t work. They view it as penance for their misbehavior rather the correction. So just how do you handle those lovable bundles of joy you hate to love, love to hate, and yet hate to hate?

Here are some things that I do.

  1. Remain in control
    Be in control of your anger. Be in control of your actions. Stephen Covey calls responsibility the ability to respond. Children react. Adults respond. Preempt problems by knowing what might happen and how you will respond.
  2. Accept responsibility when you are wrong
    Children will misbehave much less when they know that you are fully aware that you’re not perfect. The testing the limits is often their way of showing off for other students. When you don’t give them a chance to prove you wrong, then you remove a chance for them to show off.
  3. Do not make empty threats
    If I tell a student that something will happen, I have to be sure that it will. The exception is listed below. If you tell a student they will lose X privilege, they will lose it. On the rare occasion that I make this exception, I will talk with the student privately and explain to them that they totally do not deserve to do X because of their misbehavior. I then introduce the concept of grace — getting something we do not deserve. I will then go on to explain how my allowing them to do X is an example of grace given to them. I make sure they know I respect them and know they will not let me down again.
  4. Add levity to a tense situation
    Come up with creative expletives. One of my high school math teachers would literally say “Bad Words!” when we did something she didn’t like. I’ve known people who just use nonsensical words (e.g. dinglehopper, flarfenations). Call a student by a (non-offensive) nickname. Here is where I may do an empty threat if it’s not a confrontational situation. It really depends on the age of the student here. I have, with a smile, threatened to meet the offender by the bike racks or flagpole after school to settle it. Obviously I wasn’t really going to do this… The key to any of these is in the delivery. The smile must be present, and genuine.
  5. Say what you have to say and move on
    Don’t even give them a chance to respond. “Alfredo, I’ve already told you to stop talking. Don’t talk, don’t respond! Thank you. Now let’s open our books to page 14…” Shuts them up faster than most anything else. When the spotlight is turned off so quickly, they have no idea what to do about it.
READ  Three Basic Classroom Skills

BONUS
Of course, there are also times when they like to occupy the corner. Misbehaving students do not belong in the same setting as students who care. Bad behavior and bad attitudes are like cancer. They must be aggressively cut off as soon as possible because they spread so quickly. A student who chooses not to participate correctly, even after effort has been made to refocus him, must be removed from the position to rob other students of their education. The corner is sometimes the best place for that.

19 Comments on 5 Surefire Tips For Handling Misbehavior

  1. Thank you for the sage advice. I’m in my 2nd year of teaching and one of my goals this year is getting a good handle on classroom management. While my 1st day this year is ten times better than last year, I still have work to do–mainly finding ways to nip the children’s bad behavior in the bud before it becomes a chronic issue.

  2. I think that the third one is simultaneously the most effective and the most difficult point to get to. It’s so easy to make a threat that you have no intention of following through with when you are angry. The good thing is that when you are aware of it, it becomes a bit easier.

  3. Something that really stuck out to me was those teachers who would make the empty threats. Like we all knew they weren’t going to follow through. The best bet is to simply not make a threat while you are angry; to simply say something like, “I’ll let you know tomorrow what’s going to happen. It won’t be good, but don’t worry about it too much.”

    They HATE that…

  4. Peer pressure also works wonders! Offering a reward to the whole class makes everyone help monitor the acting out student. Of course you will need to help them earn the reward so they can taste success at least once. This will make this technique stronger when you use it again.

  5. Awesome. Just awesome. This is exactly what I think about, too. It’s much easier to be proactive than reactive, and that’s real. I need to post my own stuff, but yes, this is good. Peace …

  6. Your #4 is one I use ALL the time. Some standards are, “I’ll staple your ears to your sneakers,” and “You will leave this room by the window,” (My room is on the third floor.) and “Your seats will be so far apart, you will forget what each looks like!”

    In every freshman class, though, there is at least one boy who will say, “Cool!”

    Ah well.

  7. Ahh yes, the beloved peer pressure! On Friday, I informed my band that I had checked grades and that 12 out of 17 trumpet players are failing one or more classes. In Texas, this means that if they fail on the six weeks, they are intelligible to participate in extracurricular activities until they bring all of their grades up to passing on either the progress report or the next report card. Hopefully some peer pressure will kick in there to get their grades in check!

  8. Positive attention to those who are behaving often does wonders for the whole class too. I have a rubber chicken. When the kids are good they might get a “chicken lick’n” where I fake beat them with the rubber chicken. Third graders find this hilarious and everyone wants to be on the receiving end of this.

  9. There are many models for classroom management. The one that I always go back to is “Discipline without Stress, Punishments, or Rewards” developed by Marvin Marshall. http://www.marvinmarshall.com/in-housedetails.html.

    I encourage you to take a look at his Web site to get a taste of this system. It was refreshing to realize that I was not the cause of student misbehavior, rather it is a choice that students make. It is the teacher’s job to make sure that the student understands that.

  10. I have a rough 5th grade class. most of them are hol overs and have behavioral problmes. There is too much attitudes(girls) there is no self control and self dicipline (two boys) what should I do. I’ve called parentsand it works for two days. I,ve take nots and had parents visit the school and no cigar. Give me advice. I see myslef sometimes not teaching for a good 10 minutes which is horrible. Most of the time i have to bribe them with candy oir snacks. But how far does that take me? I need a respons asap. thanx.

  11. I love the “bad words” idea – you insert “bad words” where one might actually say a bad word. Love it. You can tell this was written by some one with actual teaching experience. Teachers are only human – some of the best humans- but human nonetheless. Only someone who is not a teacher would expect us to be perfect.

  12. I’m currently in my 2nd year of teaching, and I still struggle with the making empty threats. 1) Has anyone else struggled with that? and 2) What would you say has helped you most in stopping that?

    • I still do it from time to time. I think the best prevention that I have found is just planning out in advance how it is that I’m going to respond if something happens. Kinda like you go through all sorts of hypothetical situations in your mind and have a pretty clear course of action already laid out.

      If something happens when I’m afraid that I might say something I will soon regret, I like to say, “We’ll discuss the consequences later,” and sort of let the kids get scared for a little bit.

      As far as threatening the whole class, just be sure you don’t make a threat that you’re not willing to keep.

      “If you don’t tell me who threw that, you’re not going home.”

      Now obviously, they will go home sooner or later. It’s just a matter of figuring out how much class time they will get you to waste. Better to not have said anything at all than paint yourself into a corner and set yourself up to wimp out on them! :)

  13. I had a lot of trouble with the empty threats last year – heard a student telling someone else I had just ‘threatened’ say ‘she’ll never go through with it’.

    This year I actually have a class I can trust more (although they are younger than last years) and I find that a) I’m not making as many threats and b) because I’m only making them when I need them, I go through with them better.

    Yesterday, a child came up to a good compromise to a situation – usually when students don’t finish their work, teachers make them work outside the staffroom. This student asked to work on the little landing/verandah outside our classroom. It gave her space to breathe and calm down and stop seeing me as the big baddy, and she got her work done and kept working well for the rest of the day. If she’d felt humiliated outside the staffroom for everyone to see, she would have kept up the sulks all day, so this was perfect. Because I can trust my students to work down there, I’ll probably use that idea again.

  14. Joel these are great points. Especially like the issue of following through on threats, remaining in control and getting the job done and moving on.
    Far too often, a teacher will take thing personally, get upset worse than the kids, drag out an episode until it becomes confrontational, and as soon as this happens, the game is up and the teacher loses. Then it becomes office referral, principal involvement, parents upset at the teacher who can’t handle the class.
    One thing I might add is to that a teacher needs to make the climate/culture/expectations known early on. It is easier to back off as one’s “Personal Power” becomes stronger than it is to start out easy and try to impose a structure/response after the inmates have taken over the asylum.
    Oh, and with regard to humor… a definite plus if you can pull it off naturally and honestly. Otherwise, kids see through it, and will take advantage of you.

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