Dealing with Poor Behavior in Your Classroom

teacher-students-02Though there are many behavior challenges teachers have to face in the classroom, three stand out in my classes that I have often had to overcome. These challenges can be listed as:

  • Speaking out of turn or speaking all the time
  • Distracting or annoying behavior during class time
  • Refusal to participate in classroom activities

These three behavior challenges can manifest themselves both in classes with children or adolescents as well as in classes with adults. There may be a couple of students who spend more time chatting than listening to the teacher. There may be a know-it-all adult who does not give others a chance to participate in the classroom exchange. There may be a boy who picks on his neighbors or the adult who insults or talks down to classmates. Finally, there can be a shy student in any age group who might feel embarrassed when called upon to participate.

Knowing that learners are all individuals, with differing reasons for studying, from being obliged to attend class to a natural curiosity about the material offered, will help teachers to be prepared for a challenge that can become an obstacle. No matter what the challenge, the teacher must face it; however, the student should be an integral part in reaching a solution and turning a behavior challenge into a learning opportunity.

I get a head-start on these behavior challenges by being clear about the expectations in classroom behavior, being consistent in observing them, evaluating the progress in meeting them and finally, being a rewarding person when expectations are met.

When making the list of “rules” for classroom behavior, I outline the most general, positive expectations for the group in question. For example, students are expected to:

1) Speak one at a time and listen when others speak

When we are speaking we can’t listen. Every member of the class has the right and responsibility to speak up. The teacher might do most of the speaking at times, when sharing information to be learned or explaining concepts. Students are expected to speak when answering questions or participating in the evolution of an idea.

Raising hands to get the floor often works in more formal classrooms. Passing the shell (“The Lord of the Flies”) makes it visually clear who should be speaking and who should be listening. Calling on all students equally shows that each student has a voice in the classroom. Speaking out of turn can be distracting and time consuming. I sometimes keep track of actual minutes that pass by without moving forward in the lesson. With this time measurement in hand, both students and the teacher can more easily evaluate how well everyone is meeting this expectation.

2) Help both the teacher and their peers in the group

Respect begins with empathy. Recognizing when a fellow student or even the teacher is having difficulty, giving a helping hand, participating in the solution are many of the steps on the road to respect. By fostering a helpful attitude and encouraging students to help one another, teachers can guide everyone towards the shared objectives of class time.

Letting students take on the role of teacher with their peers can give the student who understands the lesson a feeling of having helped the one who is still trying to “get it”. This helps that student who is still struggling with a concept through receiving a peer-level point-of-view on the subject.

3) Participate in all suggested activities

Anything that goes on in the classroom between the teacher and the students is an activity. Teachers spend a lot of time preparing these activities. Most will have some objective. By being clear about the objective of the activity, be it an exercise, a silent reading, a role-play, a period of anecdote sharing, teachers can pique the student’s interest and insure participation.

Being flexible in the activity itself makes it a living process and not simply a set of rules to be followed. Allowing students to modify the activity through their participation empowers them. Making participation equal and a rule lowers boredom levels that might lead to many disruptive behaviors.

Teachers also need to be consistent in their own behavior in the classroom. Following are some concepts that I try to keep in mind as a teacher:

Follow your own rules

The teacher should actually listen to what the student has to share, from a complaint to a suggestion, and respond positively to comments. The teacher should offer and ask for help in a friendly manner. The teacher needs to be an active participant in any activity to set a model for the students when asked to do activities on their own.

Review and evaluate

Ongoing evaluation of expectations not only lets the teacher and students know where they are. It also shows where the group has come from and where they are heading. Through regular evaluation, both students and the teacher can see where certain activities or methods triumphed over others. Evaluation becomes part of the evolution of the group, a moment where success can be highlighted and failure confronted with new ideas.

Reward good behavior

Finally, everyone likes to receive recognition. The teacher can receive that recognition through seeing the improvement in the classroom environment. The students might need more tangible milestones, from stickers to popcorn parties or extra recess or coffee break when the class is really moving forward. Day to day reminders along with periodic rewards can reinforce the original expectations of classroom behavior.

Having a pleasant classroom experience can animate both the teacher and the students to continue the life-long process of learning. Having these types of simple, general rules will help teachers to face not only the three problems outlined at the beginning of the discussion.

These guidelines will create a meaningful framework for classroom work, making all participants active members of the learning process. Many other problems can be nipped in the bud with these or similar “rules” or “guidelines” in the classroom.

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