Because I began my career as a special education teacher working with students who had very extreme emotional and behavior disabilities, I get a lot of knocks on my classroom door from fellow teachers, who have bloodshot eyes, clenched fists, and are in the midst of heart palpitations.
They come seeking advice about a particular student or group of students who are “struggling” with following rules, causing disruptions, throwing tantrums or (insert annoying behavior here) in their classroom.
I empathize with their struggle. Throughout my teaching tenure, I have experienced student induced heart palpitations, blood shot eyes, and clenched fists more times than I prefer to remember. I haven’t discovered a quick fix or complete cure, but I have managed to stay somewhat sane most of the time and employed.
If you are, or ever have been, a teacher, then you know that EVERY teacher, at least once in their career, (but usually many, many more times) has a little darling that has caused them to reevaluate their career choice.
These are the kids who you have nightmares about, and even many years after this student has left your classroom. You still cringe when you hear their first name. It doesn’t have to be a conversation about that particular student, only the mention of that particular name causes your fists to immediately clench, and heart palpitations to ensue.
When I see a teacher straining to maintain his/her sanity while grappling with these circumstances, I do my best to provide basic strategies and tactics to ease his or her suffering. I am no Guru or Expert or Child Whisperer, but I like to share what works for me!! These are just a few of the very basic actions that I think we forget to use while in the midst of struggling to educate and love our more challenging little angels.
1. Listen to them when they talk.
I don’t mean listening to them when they shout out in class, or when they are screaming at the top of their lungs. I think that we sometimes forget that most students act out for avoidance or attention. If attention, is what your little angel is seeking, this is a preemptive strike that can sometimes decrease the number of more serious tantrums and fits during instructional time.
When students are speaking to you, you should turn your body toward them, and look them in the eye. This shows interest in their thoughts and opinions, and that you value them. This increases their self-confidence too, and may cut down on behavior incidents that occur due to insecurity. It also begins to create or positively enhances your relationship with the student, and we know that relationships with our students are vital for optimum learning.
As teachers, we have at least a million things to do in a 6 or 7 hour day, but I believe stopping to pay attention to our students when they speak is a very small gesture that can make a HUGE difference.
2. Caution: This one is VERY DIFFICULT!
My mentor teacher taught me this strategy when I was a first year teacher, and 10 years later, there are still times when I mess up this strategy!
It goes like this:
You, plain and simply, IGNORE their bad behavior. ALL of it. No matter what, you ignore them. It sounds quite easy, but if you ever really try it, it is near impossible when you are just beginning to try it out. This takes practice—and A LOT of it. It also takes the ability to put your ego aside. Sometimes we feel we must respond to student behavior because they simply are “making us look bad” to other students and teachers. But this totally undermines this intervention.
My mentor teacher once told me: If you want a behavior to go away, ignore it. It sounds crazy, but it works.
The other side to this is you PRAISE their good behavior. Give the good acts all the attention you can. Make BIG DEAL of all their good choices, and share their victories with parents and other teachers. Let them hear you praising their efforts and accomplishments to others. Everyone needs to feel a sense of pride for a job well done, even that kid who makes you crave Xanax on a daily basis!
Eventually, if you are consistent, you will see the bad behaviors decrease, and the good behaviors increase. Remember, this is a process. It requires consistency, patience, and time, but it will work!!!
3. Always, Always Be Happy to See Them
My Grandmother gave me this advice when my children were small. She said that many, many of kids’ behavior and self esteem problems would be solved if their parents were simply always happy to see them.
I think this applies to teachers and their students too. If you always let them know you are happy they are in your room, and they are an important part of the group, it builds a feeling of community. If these feelings continue to grow and be nourished by the teacher, a sense of responsibility to the group will also come naturally.
In today’s high stress, super fast, crazy society, I think that we often forget the very basic human social needs of children that are not getting fulfilled, like a sense of belonging, being cared for, and a sense of security in their surroundings.
This is a very basic list, but sometimes, when we are at our wits’ end, I think it is important to return to the basics and start rebuilding student relationships there.