Handling Behavior Issues
There are a few "tried and true" methods for responding to misbehaviors that all classroom teachers learn to use. Some of these methods will prove effective in your classroom. However, don't hesitate to talk with administration or veteran colleagues to seek help in responding to behavior situations. Everyone began as a first year teacher, so everyone had to learn to respond to behavior problems in the classroom. It's not a sign of weakness to ask for help. Veterans will always advise beginning teachers to "start the year strict!" because once you've establish control of your classroom, you can always relax. If you don't begin by establishing your control, you never can relax.
When it is necessary to deal with misbehavior, be sure that your discipline methods "punish the behavior and not the child". There is no inappropriate behavior which justifies demeaning students or treating them with disrespect and sarcasm. Don't overreact to discipline problems. Discipline must be a plan of addressing inappropriate behavior and not a reaction to your own frustration, impatience or anger.
In a nutshell, your discipline methods must be firm, fair and consistent. You must be equitable so that misbehavior meets the same response each time no matter who the student is.
It is necessary to have, and to express, a healthy sense of humor. It not only enhances your learning environment. It is also a factor in your good health, if not your sanity during the first year of teaching!
Some short and quick methods you might use for general behavior problems include the following suggestions provided by Harrison and Spuler in their book, Hot Tips for Teachers:
a) Shoot for New Vibes: While you continue teaching, walk over to a troublesome student and stand next to him or her. This puts you more in control of the student who may straighten up just because of your physical presence.
b) Shoot for a Distraction: Call on the misbehaving student to give a response to a question, to read a passage aloud, to point to a place on the map, or to do any other thing you can think up. This temporarily takes the student's mind off being troublesome and puts it on the work where it belongs.
c) Shoot for the Look! Give the troublesome student a direct look that would rot socks! This acknowledges that the student is acting inappropriately and that you find the behavior unacceptable. This special stare, which you must work to perfect, does not disturb others who are working.
d) Shoot the Word! Use a brief phrase, a one liner that is stated with authority and requires no response. "Cool it" or "Let's knock it off" may well catch more than one misbehaving student who needs to have attention refocused.
e) Shoot with a Direct Statement! Speak directly to the misbehavior. Be sure to separate the behavior from the student - they are not the same. For example, say, "Your talking is distracting the class" rather than "You are distracting the class".
f) Shoot for a Time Out! Physically move the student to a predetermined "time out” spot in your classroom.
g) Shoot for Counseling! Speak to the troublesome student outside the classroom. You may ask a student to wait for you outside the classroom, but since you are legally responsible for the student, you must retain him in your field of vision. When you step to the door to speak individually to the student, you must not lose your temper. Give the student options; for example, "You may return to class if you will stop interrupting the others; or, you may choose to leave class and report to the office".
h) Shoot with a Note! Write a brief note to the troublesome student's parent describing the child's behavior and the methods you have used to try to eliminate the behavior. Include the effects, which the behavior is having on the student.
i) Shoot with a Phone Call! Calling the parent is a very successful step in eliminating unacceptable behavior. It is important that you realize that the parent may be angry with the child but that the anger may be displaced temporarily to you. Never lose your temper. Listen quietly, and then ask the parent to help you with the child. The message you want to convey is that you care about the student and want to help with the behavior problems so the student can benefit from instruction.
j) Shoot for a Conference! Arrange for a conference with the child's parent. Describe the misconduct and ask for the parent's help in eliminating the unacceptable behavior. Seek suggestions and arrange to get together again to discuss improvements.
k) Shoot for help from the Office! Let the school principal or assistant principal know that you are having trouble with a student. Let them know, in advance if possible, what steps you've taken and ask for suggestions. Different schools use different procedures and forms for office discipline referrals. Be sure that you have the appropriate forms and that you understand the procedure to use so that when it becomes necessary, you can "send the child to the office".
Don't "take" the child to the office. Remember that you are responsible for all of the students in your classroom rather than just the misbehaving child and you can't leave a room full of children to escort one child to the office. Be sure you know, in advance, how your school principal expects students to be "sent to the office". Some principals want you to send for them, others want you to send the child with a discipline referral - ask first!
Control is a Key to Classroom Management
The key to effective classroom management is control because the atmosphere, or climate, in a classroom depends largely upon who is in control. Either you have control or they have control or you spend the days fighting each other for control!
Teachers who experience discipline problems in the classroom tend to lose control early in the year. If you do not have control over the classroom, you can't teach and they can't learn.
Of course, your ultimate goal is helping students develop self-control but you must provide the classroom environment and structure to allow that development to occur. There are a few tips which veteran teachers offer for maintaining control:
a) Never give in to Anger! Once the student or students have misbehaved to the point where the teacher loses his or her temper, the students have gained control over the classroom and the teacher. If you have to count to ten, or twenty or twelve hundred, maintain your own composure and temper.
b) Set Limits and Enforce Them! It is necessary to identify behavior expectations from the very beginning and be prepared to enforce those expectations throughout the year. It is a part of growing up that children must test teachers from time to time to be sure the rules or parameters haven't changed. Be consistent and stick to your expectations.
c) Use Your Voice for Control! Nothing delights a classroom more than the teacher who screams and shouts, rants and raves because no adult can "out scream" or "out talk" a single child and certainly adults lose in volume to a group of children at any age! Once you are forced to raise your voice and shout to gain attention or action, the children have gained control of your classroom. Use a firm voice and don't fear that firmness is a contradiction to a warm and caring atmosphere. Use a low and controlled voice and when control struggles erupt, drop both your volume and tone. Use silence, too! You will find that waiting quietly gains students' attention much more effectively than shouting at them.
d) Use Signals! Veteran teachers employ a host of signals, gestures and body language to gain attention from students. It is necessary to settle on signals and their meaning in advance and "teach" the signals to the students. Remind them frequently about the signals and their meanings. For example, one teacher always moves physically to a podium as a signal to the students that he is ready to begin the lesson another teacher taps a pencil on the desk to alert everyone that it is time to start. Your signal doesn't have to be a sports whistle or speaker's gavel - simple body language works beautifully if you use it consistently and remind the children of the meaning!