5 Ways To Win When Children Test Your Limits

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.

snapshot200601041406042akI’m taking a break today from my Stress Reduction series and getting back to some real teaching issues. That’s why we’re here anyway, right?

So August and September have come and gone with great behavior. Now the students are beginning to do a lot more testing of the limits. It’s been a while since I have taught 7th & 8th graders and now I remember how much they like to get away with. Even the good students do things from time to time that just boggle my mind. WHY DID YOU DO THAT? It’s crazy.

How do I handle these misbehaving miscreants?

  1. Stick to your rules
    Consistency is the only way for success in this area. Just because a rule doesn’t work effectively one time does not mean the rule is bad. It may just be that circumstances kept it from working one time. Changing the rules midstream is never the best option. Especially if the only consistent thing is that the rules change.
  2. Don’t pick favorite students
    Okay, we all have favorite students. What we must avoid is giving them special treatment. I know teachers who let certain students stay after class to work on projects with them (and miss other classes) simply because they like them more.
  3. Be nice, but firm
    It’s so easy to lash out when children begin misbehaving. The other end of the spectrum is to just ignore it. Neither of these will solve the problem. We must respond and not react. We must be in control of ourselves, but we also must be in control of our classroom. We do all of these things, keeping in mind that the relationship we have with the students is one of concern and respect.
  4. Love your students
    Sometimes we despise their actions, but we can never get to the point where we despise the child. Everyone comes to you with a different background. Many have parents who instill fear or mistrust in authority. “Uh oh, there’s a cop. I wonder what he’s doing here.” When that spills over into the classroom, it’s often not so much the child’s fault as it is the child’s upbringing. That doesn’t relieve him of responsibility for his own actions, but it does give us a basis for understanding where they are coming from much of the time.
  5. Pacing
    Pacing is the rate at which we teach things. In other words, allow a little bit of downtime, but never a lot of it. Any time my children are not actively engaged, they find new and creative misbehaviors. As a band director, my job is different from most teachers in that it requires me to be involved in the entire learning process the entire time. I can’t just give them a worksheet or test or assignment and kick back for 10 minutes or an entire class period or whatever. This means that I have to be very involved in directly ensuring that learning is continuing. As a result, if I am boring, the students zone out. Pacing takes time to develop, but it is a skill that must be mastered in order to effectively teach and retain interest.
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7 Comments on 5 Ways To Win When Children Test Your Limits

  1. I would also say that let your student see your sense of humor. There is a lot of laughter in my classroom, so when I expect my students to hunker down on a bigger task, they seem more willing to do it for me.

  2. Of course! I am one of the funniest people I know. My students generally crack up throughout class. I am convinced that beginning band (and all middle school teaching to a certain degree) is almost entirely about entertaining the kids and helping them to love doing what they are doing.

  3. You’re telling me! I have ADD and have to fight to keep from getting distracted so much of the time. When it gets the best of me, they often will jump on the chance and also get the best of me.

  4. I’m glad to see that consistency was at the top of your list. You could have all those others but without consistency everything else goes right down the drain! What a great list.

  5. Laughter is the best medicine. I learned this the hard way. I started my first days with a very serious, stern, and keep a distance attitude.A few days passed and I did not like the dullness, so during the discussion I cracked a joke, but no laughter came, not because they did not get the joke but they were not sure lest they might break the routine. Since that day the students have become more involved and more productive.

  6. Shery, I started my fourth year out and told myself I was going to follow the “Don’t Smile Until Christmas” advice that year. It worked really well. Until the end of the first class period when I cracked and smiled at a dumb joke I made. There comes a point when there must be a mixture both of seriousness and levity.

  7. I’m glad to know I can be the fun me too. Sometimes kids say funny things. For instance, one of my boys has GI issues. I asked Ms. Hill for advice, and now he has a signal when he needs to go to the hallway. The point at which I cracked up though, was when he told me, “It’s an inherited trait.” Well, whether or not it is, I guess something I taught in science stuck!

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