I am a fifth grade teacher in a public school and I have a student who is always acting out in class with bad behavior. I have notified the parents who are not home and have not responded to my phone calls yet. They appear to work two jobs and are not home at the same time. The administrators in my school are aware of this student but have asked to send the student to their office only if it’s an emergency or a life-threatening situation. I feel like my other students are not learning as much as they can because this student chooses to be disruptive. Do you have any pointers on how to keep the student\’s bad behavior under control?
Thanks for the interesting question, but this is quite a can of worms that we are opening up. With that in mind, I don’t know what methods of intervention you have used beyond calling home and speaking with school administrators, the relative severity or specific type of behavior, country you are in, or specific student demographics beyond 5th grade (a bunch of confused, smelly, etc… “young adults”), so I will have to keep this pretty general. To begin, it is important to mention that part of being a teacher is working on breaking down barriers that might hinder the communication and development of ideas between you and your students. That means that it is a best practice to consider how your decisions might separate you, and subsequently your lessons, from them. Then avoid those decisions unless absolutely necessary, such as “if it’s an emergency or a life-threatening situation”. With that in mind, I suggest that when dealing with a disruptive student, to first work on noticing any patterns in their behavior as this might help you to design better, more inclusive, lessons that avoid triggers and/ or help students to overcome them. This can be quite challenging, but you might be able to nip the problem in the bud by simply using more, less, or various styles of group work, rearranging your classroom seats, or some other fix such as assigning a rotating list of classroom jobs. Next, and most importantly, I would recommend trying to find out why there is a need to act out by actually speaking with the student in question. This can be challenging though since a jerky student might not have a high emotional intelligence or, simply, a high level of “give-a-fuck”. In other words, you might have to find a non-threatening, non-loaded manner, to speak with the little devil. For instance, asking “Why were you behaving badly in class?” includes the ideas that the behavior is negative, the situation is prejudged, and that it is the responsibility of the student to mount a defense. And all that is happening before you even have a chance to hear out the student which puts you squarely at odds with the bugger. So, consider crafting a few questions that will encourage your student to think and consider their actions and environment while not feeling judged. This might just give you the information you need to create a better classroom environment for now and future classes. Now, your student might be bored, need special assignments, prefer a certain learning style, have an insecurity or home issue, or a variety of other possible reasons for their behavior. Regardless, by you working towards pinpointing the problem you can work towards a way to make your student love learning rather than act out. But be aware, all of this also means that you need to know where to draw the line to protect you and your other students. Still, you should do what you can to avoid letting another person fall through the cracks of the education system while realizing this is an excellent challenge to develop your teaching ability. To wrap this up, please remember that every teacher should find their own voice in how they discipline, and, likewise, they should become increasingly aware of their students and their culture(s) to do so effectively. Keep in mind that there isn’t always a simple fix, so take your time and hopefully your effort will pay off. If not, hopefully your student at least passes, which can be quite a win as a teacher! 3 Things to Remember & a Story on Culturally Appropriate Discipline: Learn to project your voice, it is a simple skill that can really help you maintain control of a classroom in a non-threatening way. Remember your students are people, they appreciate being listened to, validated and understood, which means they rather be led to a belief of right and wrong than told it. When you are dealing with a “jerky” student, and honestly any person individually, sometimes they do not realize their behavior. Leave presumptions to the side and see #2 above. Culturally Appropriate Discipline. The title above means not only being aware of the norms of discipline in the area you are teaching in but also the effects they will have on your student and any classroom relationships. To help you better understand what I mean, I once knew a teacher who told me about her discipline problems with a certain group of Native American students. At first she would separate them as a method of punishment, but this led to her realizing that the punishment, though seemingly minor to her and a quick fix to a problem, was devastating for her students due the community culture instilled in them. Now, this singular act placed her at odds with her students whom she punished, alienated the “poorly behaved” from their (learning and actual) community, caused a deep feeling of shame within those punished, and, most importantly, created even more boundaries between her students and what they were learning. To say the least, she was upset for a variety of reasons over this.