Being defensive

Being responsible

Punishment no-nos

Every teacher, no matter how good, will have students who are disruptive or annoying in some way. It comes with the territory. Despite the effect they have on you, it is useful to remember that their behavior is rarely directed at you. In fact, looking at it as magnanimously as possible, their misbehavior is a cry for help. These are troubled kids who are not satisfied with themselves or their lot. They may be kids who are victimized by family problems or learning deficiencies. However annoying, they are only seeking what we all want, a sense of worth and belonging. It is a disservice to them and to yourself to respond defensively.

However, none of this is to say that you should put up with their antics, regardless of the motivation. In recent years, it has become fashionable for teachers to be expected to deal with any form of aberrant behavior. This is a perversion of our duty, though. Never forget that your primary responsibility is to those who are ready to cooperate and learn. You are a teacher of Science or English or whatever. Schools have counselors and principals to deal with those who substantially interfere with the teaching/learning process. Rather than a sign of weakness, it is a sign of professionalism to turn over the incorrigible student to these specialists. Some students are so troubled that the solution to their problems is beyond your reach. You should feel no sense of inadequacy in this. After all, no doctor cures all his patients, and no lawyer wins all his cases. In this entry we will discuss techniques for dealing with such students and the criteria for deciding when to turn them over to others.

Few teachers would call in professionals at the first sign of disruptive behavior. Unfortunately, though, many respond with punitive measures as a first step. Punishment, used as an ongoing tool, only serves to increase fear, resentment and defiance while demeaning personal worth and destroying mutual respect. You have only to consider how you would feel if your principal punished you. You would be horrified if he told you to write a hundred sentences or made you sit in a corner after school. To make matters worse, we often impose such punishments publicly and during the peak of our anger. As mentioned earlier in this website, young teens sense they are becoming adults. Such tactics are belittling and humiliating. At best, punishment imposed in this manner will have only a short-term effect. At its worst, it will create more problems than it solves. You also stand the risk of other students empathizing with the one being punished and sharing his resentment. Also, using punishment as a management tool tends to shift responsibility for actions to the teacher. Students seem to be challenging the teacher to define limits through the imposition of punishment. The phrase is that they are “testing” us. Finally, one who relies on punishment will find that the students are only good when the teacher is in the room.

So, punishment can be eliminated as a means for controlling misbehavior altogether. That is not to say that inappropriate behavior should be allowed to continue with impunity. The concept of logical consequences (which appears on the surface to be punishment but is not) will be explored later. But, there are many lesser steps to be taken first.

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The Disruptive Student

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