It’s well known in teaching that the names of the kids you learn first, are the names of the naughtiest or most challenging kids in the class. You may have even heard their name before you ever meet them face-to-face, as well meaning colleagues warn you to watch out for, ‘Jake, he’s a pain in the arse’ or ‘Ella, never shuts up’.
There’s a whole host of reasons that students cause trouble. Boredom (because the work’s too hard or too easy), habit (they’ve always been the ‘naughty’ kid), instability at home, hunger, hormones, a general disdain for school, they just don’t like you. What’s more, the kid that drives you nuts can be someone else’s favourite student. What do you do with these thorns in your side?
Well, I’ve got some dos and don’ts for you, taken from are own experience. Remember that when you’re reading the don’ts, I have actually made these mistakes. Feel free to gasp or chuckle at my expense.
Do: Start each day with a fresh slate.
The kid that knows his error on the first day will be held against him for the rest of the year has zero incentive to change his behaviour. Why change when it’ll make no difference? Everyone deserves a second chance, but children in particular may need a third or fifth or tenth chance. It’s in your power to let them know they stuffed up, but they can move forward from that.
Don’t: Be a pushover
Doling out the fresh slates doesn’t mean being a pushover. There still needs to be consequences for poor behaviour. These are likely guided by your school’s behaviour policies. Know the policies, apply them consistently, ask for outside help if the problem keeps going on.
Do: Use Restorative Practises
Restorative practise moves away from punishment to restorative justice. The best part is that it puts the onus back on the kid who did the wrong thing, to make things right. It also gives you an opportunity to dig into why that student is acting the way they are. Google it, or hunt out some PD opportunities.
Don’t: Turn every class into a restorative circle
You know when you go to a PD and you find something that is going to be great in your classroom? So you use it, and use it, and use it. And use it, and what? This again? Oh, and three of your colleagues went to the same PD, and thought it was great and they’ve been using it, and using it, and using it…You get the picture. If you over-use a technique like the restorative circle, not only will your students never be doing any actual classwork, but the technique will start to lose its effectiveness.
Do: Get the parents involved.
For some reason when kids hit high school parents back WAY off. Part of this is because their kids now look a lot more like adults, part of this is because their kids suddenly don’t want them involved, and some of this is because both teachers and parents often feel they’re at odds with each other. But the truth is, you need to see your student’s parents as your team-mates. Colleagues in another office even. There’s always going to be the parents who are defensive, belligerent, disinterested or just plain neglectful, but the vast majority of parents just want the best for their kids. So, get into the habit of regular contact, keep them in the loop and, where there’s behaviour issues, work together towards a solution.
Don’t: Ring a parent to talk about their child, leave a message on their answering machine, forget to hang-up, let rip to a colleague about said child, then realise the whole thing has been recorded.
Do: Be clear about your expectations.
I’m a huge fans of the idea that you should only have three classroom rules, mainly because this has worked brilliantly for me in the past. I can’t take credit for the concept, I was told it at a new-teachers PD, but I’ve found it very effective. Mine are always:
When I tell you to do something, you do it.
When I tell you to stop doing something, you stop it.
When someone is speaking to the class, you’re listening.
Not a lot a student can argue with really, super easy to remember, absolutely clear what the expectations are.
Don’t: Work as a class to create the rules
The idea is that if students create the class rules then they have ownership of them and will therefore be more inclined to follow them. But you know, and they know, that they really have no power in the situation because no matter how much you love your kids, and no matter how much they love you, there’s a power imbalance. After all, you can’t actually break the rules, can you? If you forget to bring a piece of equipment or talk over a student, you’re not actually going to be kept in at recess? So, don’t pretend anything different. You’re the boss, these are the (fair) rules. Your students will thank you for setting clear boundaries.
Do: Have a sense of humour
I once had a student who made a side business selling art supplies to other students. He stole the supplies from the Art storeroom and sold them on. Kids put in orders if he didn’t have stuff in stock. He’d even do lay-by for kids who didn’t have the money on them. Was this wrong? Yes. Was it innovative? Absolutely. I loved this kid and enjoyed having him in my classes. The Art faculty? Not so much. But the thing is, sometimes you just have to laugh at the creativity, and gall, of these little monsters. What else can you do?