10 Strategies for Teachers: How to Deal with a Disruptive Class
Classroom Management Strategies
I am getting ready to start my 25th year of teaching. I have had many interesting experiences and have learned several classroom management strategies along the way.
I would like to share these important techniques with others, such as new teachers, veteran teachers, or anyone who deals with disruptive teens. Exercising good management strategies can be the difference between having a great year or a miserable year with your students or teens.
1. Have a sense of humor.
In the classroom, you have to have a sense of humor. If you do not, the kids will not like you and you will not like the kids because there will be a disconnect. Using a sense of humor with high schoolers is the best way to disarm a bad situation. You also have to be careful with your sense of humor. If you carry it too far and students do not understand their limits, you could have a potential rowdy class who thinks you are a clown who can be a push over. Dispel this notion by constantly giving the kids guidelines. Once they have the guidelines for classroom behavior, they will “get” your sense of humor.
2. Never raise your voice.
A disruptive class is just waiting for you to raise your voice or yell at them. They love it. It gives them a chance to raise their voice and argue back. They love retelling stories about the teachers who "lost it." They love knowing they were the ones who caused it. Be careful that you don't show up in their Twitter feeds. Do not give them the pleasure. Calm, cool, and collected is the key.
3. The silent stare.
When my classes are talking too much or out of their seats, I stand in front of the class and simple stare at the class. One of the students gets the hint. Then I hear, “Shhh, shhh, shhh!” all over the room. I act like I did not even recognize the loudness in the room, and I start or resume.
There have been a few times that it has taken a class too long to quiet down. In those few occasions, I say, “Obviously, you know what is going on today. The assignment is on the board. I am not wasting my time with you. You are on your own.” They are all aghast. I go back to my desk, and one at a time the kids trickle back asking for help. This may seem harsh, but it works. I do eventually go back to the front of the room and ask in a humorous, sarcastic tone, "Would you like me to explain?" They usually give a resounding, "Yes!"
Even though they would like to make you think you are unimportant at times, most of them know they need you.
4. Learn their names.
I have to admit, learning their names is the hardest part for me. I start looking at rosters over the summer.
If you have a troublemaker in class, you want to be able to call that student by name on the first day of school. Unfortunately, the ones who want to cause problems are the ones easiest to remember.
The kids who do not say much are the ones I need to work on most.
Remembering their names shows all your students that you care about who they are and what they do. Many times, just knowing a name will help stop a kid from creating trouble.
5. Send the first disrupter to the hall and the second to the office.
In the beginning of the year, you must set the tone.
If they are going to make trouble in my class, I give the first warning, “The first one goes to the hall and the second one goes to the office.” There are usually at least two pushing the buttons - many times together.
You must follow through with the threat so they know you mean business. When you show them in the beginning of the year that your objective is to teach them and not babysit them, they get the message quick.
Students love to test teachers. Not because they are "bad" but because they are kids. Try to remember your own school days so you can relate to them before it is irreparable.
When you send a kid to the hall, make time to discuss the problem clearly. Some students, even in high school, do not understand why they are being disciplined. Make it clear in a way that lets the student know you want their success.
The same goes for if you send a student to the office. Find a time to discuss what happened to lead to the discipline. If kids know you are still on their side, they will try harder to do better for you.
6. Let your administrators know about your class.
This past year, I had a class full of boys who were childhood friends and loved to have fun and aggravate. They wanted the tone to be a “them against the teacher” tone and made it clear from the beginning.
I went to the administration about it. They knew the boys already, not just from having them in their office but also knowing them in the community. These were not bad kids. They just wanted to have fun. I totally related. Letting the administrators know about the situation prepares you and them for any situation that might arise.
7. Have administrators visit.
After I let my administrators know, they would periodically show up in the room either a couple of them or just one. What I loved was that they never made it seem like a visit for discipline. They would come in, ask how I was doing, ask the kids how it was going, and actually conversed with them. It gave the kids a good feeling to be recognized by the administrators in a good light rather than in the cloak of shame when they are sitting in the office.
When you have a disruptive class, the administrators can really have a positive influence by just making an appearance and showing interest. You must let them in on the situation, and tell them you want them as a preventative measure, not a last resort.
8. Never let them know they are getting under your skin.
As soon as you let a disruptive class know that they have gotten under your skin, they have you right where they want you: angry, agitated, anxious, defensive. No, no, no! Do not allow this to happen.
Again, you have to set guidelines from the first day. You must also loosen up enough that you can find humor in something they just did that you would not otherwise find humorous. You will have a miserable year if you allow them to make you show what you are actually feeling. They love it when you “go off the deep end,” especially in the beginning when they do not know you.
Keep reminding yourself that their success is your success. You just need to control the type of success.
9. Treat students with respect.
From the first day, always remember you are the adult and they are the student. You must also show them respect if you want to receive it in return.
If a kid is constantly acting up in class and nothing has worked, go out in the hall with the kid and say, “Listen, you are disrupting class which is not good for anyone. There are students in there who want to learn, and you are keeping them from it. I know you are just having a good time, and I don’t think you are a bad kid. It is just that you and I each have a job to do in there. You need to be quiet and calm while I am teaching, and I need to keep my focus. There are appropriate times for this type of behavior, but in the middle of class or work time is not the time or the place. Now, let’s go back in and act like decent human beings to each other.”
That last line usually gets a smile. I treat a disruptor with respect (when their behavior hasn’t gone overboard), and in return we go back into the class and things are better. Kids need to know adults understand and respect them. Sometimes, the teacher does have to send the student to the office. Many times it can be handled one-on-one and a new respect for each other grows from those times.
There are times that you have to constantly work on that student-teacher relationship.
10. Tell the disruptive student you do not need his or her help.
It is inevitable. You will have one kid misbehaving, you tell the kid to stop talking or tapping his pencil or getting up and down out of his seat or whistling or whatever other annoying thing the kid can come up with to disrupt the class.
Once you tell the kid to stop, you have another kid mock you by saying, “Yeah, stop that. Don’t you know you are annoying everyone else?” These kids are in high school. Most completely understand the dynamics of the class: good and bad.
When a kid “appears” to be “helping” you with discipline, it is probably a case of mocking you to get a laugh or to get a group to start in on their buddy to create the drama. I simply say, “I have it handled, and I don’t need your help.” Abrupt and to the point. They know when they have crossed the line.
You are Going to be All Right
I hope these are helpful tips to get you started on a good school year.
It doesn't matter if you are a new teacher or a veteran teacher who sees a problem with a class of 35 – 40 students coming in; using clear strategies will help your year go by much smoother for you and your students.
The strategies also allow you to build relationships with students rather than letting constant tension control the classroom.
Some educators may disagree, but going in strong sets up the tone for the year. You can always loosen up as you see fit throughout the year.
© 2011 Susan Holland