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Teachers & Teaching        < Previous        Next >



Teachers Who Get Kids to Behave


Q. Friends of ours had a daughter in a grade-school classroom with a teacher who kind of went off the deep end. Those kids were so out of control, and everything she did to react to their misbehavior just made things worse and worse. One time, because one child misbehaved, she made every pupil hold a large wooden craft stick between his or her teeth for an entire afternoon. They were humiliated and crying. Our friends wanted to pull their daughter out of that class or even that school, but didn't. They say their child learned next to nothing that year. Now that their daughter has a good teacher who has good rapport with the students, they can see how poor that other teacher's style really was. What does a good teacher do, to get kids to behave, and what should parents do when they don't and the teacher seems to be making things worse?


The surest sign of a teacher who is out of touch with the academic needs of her classroom is a teacher whose students are disrespectful and misbehaving. Major things must be wrong with the classroom environment and curriculum and instructional techniques, if a teacher like the one you describe resorts to concentration camp-style torture techniques. We can only hope that those parents turned her in for unprofessionalism, and that her principal and others strategized with her for the 14,000 OTHER things she could have done to preserve order and dignity in her classroom.


It's pretty sad, but the "dumbing down" of schools in order to "teach to the test" under standardized education, which has come to us through the federal education laws, Goals 2000 and No Child Left Behind, have created a mismatch between student abilities and an unchallenging or overly boring curriculum. Into that vacuum steps the ubiquitous class clown, entertaining and distracting until the misbehavior spreads. It can become a very tough situation for a teacher, and very un-fun for all.


But simple, quick-fix gimmicks don't solve classroom problems. Like that craft stick, they just shame the students and make their parents bad. True discipline is such that children and youth WANT to get along and comply; there are rewards for them if they do. People tend to respond better to positive discipline with some kind of a reward system, than to intimidations, threats and negative consequences.


However, it is important to clearly state what the expectations and rules are for each class, and the rewards and consequences that attach to either behavior or misbehavior.


Basically, here are some ways to de-stress the classroom for all, and get the kids to behave:


Routine. If the students know exactly what to do and what will happen, they can relax and won't be on edge. A student who knows to place his homework in the Homework Box and hurry to his desk to do the timed activity to get 1 extra credit point, aware of the day's objective written on the board and expecting to write a sentence about how the class covered that objective, is a student who feels secure and "safe." A predictable environment is key.


Practice that routine. The teacher should communicate the classroom procedures to the students, and then they should practice them sufficiently so that they are second nature. If the student can benefit from the organization that the teacher took time to instill, it will make the student feel respect and important, and a viable member of the classroom community. A good teacher will think ahead about how to minimize the hubbub when distributing materials with a good organizational system. A good teacher also will have quiet ways to command attention, such as flashing the lights or using hand signals. The students will be "trained" quickly, and stay "trained," if you practice, practice, practice.


Allow for differences. This year's class might have a lot of good readers, while last year's class had a lot of big talker. A good teacher can adjust for individual students, and group dynamics that may differ a great deal from year to year. You can do a lot to control the cut-ups and retain authority in the classroom with strategic furniture placement and a class rule that YOU dismiss the students, NOT the bell.


Accountability. A good teacher will send home a letter stating classroom expectations about compliance and behavior that both the parent and the student should sign. A good school will have a manual of student behavior that lists various misbehaviors and what the consequences are for each; a good teacher will make sure all parents and students have a copy and abide by it. Then, if you have to discipline a student, it's not YOU being the bad guy, it's the student code of conduct that must be followed.


Stop and smell the roses. A good teacher will be flexible enough to allow surprises into the class period - things she didn't expect to happen, even funny things that kids shout out of turn sometimes, that wind up teaching good material and/or being a highlight for the kids. Hey! This isn't a torture chamber. This is a classroom. It's SUPPOSED to be FUN, or at least engaging and interesting. A control freak won't like that kind of thing. But teachers who remember WHY they went into teaching - for the wondrous moments of serendipity, when adults and youngsters alike really learn something - tend to be those who don't plod through their lesson plans allowing no variances, but allow space within them for breathing, reflection, and spontaneity - human behavior, which isn't always perfect, but for the teacher's sake, ought to be reasonably close.


What if you believe your child's teacher is not doing these things very well, and that student behavior is going downhill, to everyone's academic detriment? Talk with other parents and get together to talk it over with the teacher. Then, if you have to, involve the principal and the school counselor. If you REALLY have to, go up to the central-office level and even to the school board. Remember your manners as you do this, and stay professional. Then they are more likely to stay calm, too.


Take a hold of that chain of command and give it a firm, but courteous, pull.


Homework: There's good information on this topic at:


Also review an eLearning course at:


By Susan Darst Williams Teachers 05 2008


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