It's no surprise that teachers encounter all kinds of personalities in their classrooms and have to navigate different methods of dealing with all of them. When new teachers ask me what is the best advice when dealing with student misbehavior, I say, it depends. There are so many different things I have tried over the years that to say "this works" and "this doesn't" is nearly impossible. Instead, I thought of a few different methods I've used multiple times over the course of the years.
I explain the behavior I was experiencing with several students and tactics I used that worked in those situations.
1. The student who does not stop talking when the teacher or other students are sharing with the group. I don't think you can call yourself a teacher unless you've dealt with excessive talking. It's just something that comes with the job and not something you necessarily want to curve completely. I am a little different in that I enjoy when students talk and have found, over the years, that students usually are talking about things related to the lesson, not usually about their weekend plans, though this does happen. There are several ways I have worked with this issue and found that if I give students opportunities to talk then when I need them to listen, it's more likely to happen. For example, I structure my teaching in a way that allows for most of the class time to be dedicated to students talking - and when I say talking, I mean one student is addressing the entire class. There is a protocol for it and I've taken the time to teach kids how to do it, so that there's not a chaotic mess of chatter. I have found that students respond really well to this method. When I point out to them that they will get their moments to share with each other, I usually get undivided attention for the 10-15 minutes I need for them to focus on me. They also want others to listen when they are talking, so this gives them more of an incentive to listen while others are talking. I explained that it is a two way street in our classroom. We will listen to you and you need to listen to us. I have used this with grades 3-6 and it's worked out really well.
2. The student who does not do any work. I have dealt with this issue many times and there is always a wide range of what I've seen. The number one piece of advice I have for dealing with this issue is to find out why the student does not want to work. In the past, my students have not done work because they do not think they are capable and are afraid of failure or have so much going on in their personal lives that they can't focus at all and so they don't even try. I've had a student who did nothing in my class because he wanted attention. Another student who didn't do a thing because he really didn't know how to be successful with the work. One year I had a student who didn't do anything because he was never held accountable by his parents or past teachers. I have had many students who are dealing with attention issues and that makes it really difficult for them to get started on work and/or complete any of it. So as you can tell, the range of why students don't perform is a wide one. What you will want to do is sit down and have a one-on-one conference with the student to figure out why he or she is refusing to do work. You can choose to have the parents involved at this point or not (but once a plan is in place, then a parent should be made aware), but the idea is to get the student to see you as someone who cares, who wants to know why they are not doing any school work SO THAT YOU CAN HELP THEM and that you want to come up with a plan TOGETHER to help him or her succeed. What I usually do is offer a few different plans that I think will entice them. The plans typically start off with a way for us to track work being done and then rewarded. I start off with giving rewards pretty frequently for "easy successes". One year I had a student who was really struggling and so I gave him rewards for sitting in the circle at morning circle. All he had to do was join us because he was refusing to even do that much at first. The strategy is to meet with the student to have a serious and thoughtful conversation about what is going on. Draft plans before you meet so that you have something to present as options to the student. And then decide TOGETHER on a plan. You should start to see a change almost immediately and then you can taper off with the rewards as time goes on and as the student becomes more successful. Soon being a part of the class and getting things done will be its own reward. Bottom line is - if a student sees that you genuinely care, they are more willing to work with you on helping themselves. I know that sounds crazy, but since we are dealing with kids, we need to be compassionate and realize that sometimes kids need us to be their support system even when they think they don't want one. No student truly wants to do nothing and fail at school.
3. The student who does not participate. Nine times out of ten, this comes down to self confidence and I LOVE when I see this turn around for students. I have had many conferences with students about why it’s important to ask questions, how smart people ask questions and how most likely, your question is one someone else has as well. All of this is helpful to articulate when you’re working with a student on participating more. But, there are specific tactics that I’ve used that have worked really well in conjunction with these conversations. For younger grades (think 3rd/4th), I have put incentive charts on their desks and given a sticker each time he or she asks or answers a question, participates in a conversation, etc. When the goal of the chart is met, I present the student with a small reward. Again, I have found that the students simply enjoy getting recognized when I mark on their incentive chart and the actual reward is a bonus. Sooner or later, they no longer need me to track anything. For my older students, we have tons of classroom discussions where they are showing me their understanding through conversation, so it’s pretty important that they participate. I have conversations with these students telling them that they need to participate in order for me to know that they are learning. Since we don’t do worksheets, reading quizzes or tests, this is my way of assessing them. Once they understand the importance (and some kids come to me WANTING to improve their participation), we can get to making a plan. In the past, I’ve had students say they will participate at least once during the class discussion and we start off with me silently signaling to them when I think it would be a good time to interject with a thought or question. Sometimes, I will even call on the student to share though the idea of class discussions is for me to be in the background while the kids take the lead. However, I make exceptions when I am trying to help a student gain confidence and participate in the conversation. It’s important to note that students who are working on participation in the group conversations come prepared for the discussion and have something to say. This obviously wouldn’t work if the students are not coming prepared for the lesson.
Dealing with misbehavior is not fun, but it can bring you closer to students and will definitely make you a better teacher. My confidence in my abilities as a teacher skyrocketed when I started to see changes in some of my most challenging students. If you are having trouble with a certain behavior that is not addressed here or you have tried these solutions and are still struggling, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can work on a plan together. Don't let student behavior be the reason you're having a bad day, week or school year and please don't let it be a reason one of your students is not succeeding.
Daughter of the King, wife and mother, former upper elementary teacher, curriculum and course developer