This is a follow-up to my previous post on the Teacher’s Voice and its impact on classroom management.
They’re Not Bored, You’re Boring
A lot of teachers feel that it’s not their job to entertain students, and it’s not—but it is your job to be interesting and if you can entertain them, that’s a bonus. I’m supported here by the California Standards for the Teaching Profession which make engaging students one of their requirements.
I’d estimate that 90% of student misbehavior can be stopped by increasing student engagement and participation. Frequently students are acting up because they’re bored.
In the same way that it’s better to pre-teach a concept to students who are going to have a hard time comprehending it rather than constantly reteaching it, it’s better to talk about expected behavior before that behavior is needed.
If you’re going to an assembly, talk about appropriate auditorium behavior before getting to the auditorium. If you haven’t had that conversation, once you’re in the auditorium and students are acting up, it’s too late…it’s not their fault, it’s yours. Your post-assembly discussion should focus on debriefing how students did in regards to living up to the expectations you set. If you set no expectations, then your conversation is just going to be you complaining to students about their awful behavior and they’re going to start tuning you out quickly (reread the part about engaging students).
Understand that just because you’ve set up clear expectations for the classroom, every new situation needs a new set of expectations and a quick refresher course never does harm. If students have already internalized the expectations, then they can tell you what appropriate auditorium behavior is.
Have Clear Boundaries
Students need to know exactly where you draw the line.
I worked with a teacher at a school with many trees. She had a rule, “No tree climbing.” But there was a student who liked to climb trees. For him, the rule was “No tree climbing…but if you climb, don’t go past the third branch.” But once he had climbed to the fifth branch, she changed the rule. Once he reached the top, the rule became, “No jumping off the top of trees.” Once he jumped off the tree and landed with a thud on the ground, she changed the rule back to “No tree climbing” but it was too late. If you bend the boundaries you can’t get them back. Students learn that they make the rules, not you.
So in my classroom, I do allows students to talk while they write. I do allow them to get up when they need a pencil or a Kleenex. But I do insist that when another student or I are addressing the whole class, they do not talk or get up and move around. That’s my boundary. It should not be crossed.
Finding a way to channel student misbehavior into something productive is your first line of attack.
Students who misbehave have talents that school does little to bring out. Students who are ringleaders have leadership qualities that we’d be wise to nurture rather than stigmatize. We want them to use their talents for good instead of evil but what do we do to give them that opportunity? Sitting and being quiet is not appealing to a leader.
When we were filming our class movies, every twenty minutes or so we’d need it to be “quiet on the set” so that groups of students could record their voiceovers. I had one student who I knew was going to have a hard time being quiet. So I made him the engineer. He was the one who called for “quiet on the set” and he was the one who pushed the button to start the recording. It was totally quiet in my room. Instead of allowing James to be the guy who ruined our class projects by yapping, he became our trusted engineer. He felt good about it and the class appreciated him for it.
Teachers who have students who have trouble wandering around the room might make those kids the paper or door monitors so they have a reason to wander and wander with a purpose that’s productive for the classroom. If students have a problem with talking in the classroom, you might arrange your seats in groups rather than isolated tables so that learning can be more social and project based.
But What Then?
No matter how clear your expectations, no matter how firm your boundaries, some students will test those boundaries. Don’t be surprised by this; expect it. Plan for it.
The consequence of breaking a boundary should logically follow the offense. If the ball monitor doesn’t hold the ball, they get a warning. But if they do it again, they’re fired from that job and I choose a new ball monitor. I don’t mess around with changing cards or handing out money all year. Not all parents care if their child had a red day or a fuscia one and kids who misbehave don’t care either. I need for students to feel the disappointment of their actions immediately with something that seems reasonable to them and to me. Missing a field trip because a ball monitor couldn’t hold the ball is silly because it’s out of whack and it doesn’t make sense given the offense.
The student understands when they’ve made a mistake and it’s easier for you to follow through when your consequence is reasonable. The most appropriate consequence should always be missing out on the activity that the rest of the class is doing for an amount of time equal to their age.
I Don’t Care
What about those students who say they don’t care about missing out. If they say they don’t care, it’s usually because they really do care (see Aesop’s Fox and the Grapes origin of “sour grapes”). If they really don’t care then reread the part about student engagement. If it doesn’t bother students to miss out on your activities then your activities aren’t that interesting.
Your Own Dirty Laundry
Don’t send students out of the room. The office hates you when you send them your bad kids, but that’s not why I say don’t do it. A student often misbehaves because he’s bored…he then misbehaves…you send him to the office. Sounds like a lot of fun for someone who thought your classroom was really boring in the first place. Don’t reward bad behavior in this way. It diminishes your own power and gives another incentive to misbehave.
What Do You Think?
Please leave your thoughts, exceptions, disagreements. I look forward to continuing the conversation.