Teacher-Caused Student Misbehavior
Bad kids are just bad kids, right? And no matter what you do, you can't control bad kids in the classroom?
In fact, there are a variety of teacher-caused student misbehaviors. Yes, that's right—you probably don't want to hear it, but if your classroom is out of control, it might actually be at least partially your fault and you may not even realize it! Luckily, once you identify your own missteps and mixed signals, you can take steps to correct your actions. Whether you are currently struggling to manage your class or want to learn the skills you'll need to prevent problems in the future, this list can help you identify the causes of common teacher-caused student misbehaviors.
Are you Capricious?
Do you have a clearly-presented set of classroom rules that you follow every single time? If not, you may be encouraging students to test your limits. If you appear to arbitrarily enforce rules by punishing a behavior sometimes but not others, or by giving out inconsistent punishments, students may be tempted to act out just to see what you will do. Also, if students realize they can get away with things, they will. Even so-called good kids will be tempted to misbehave if you hardly ever punish for minor infractions.
For example, I remember one particular class in high school with a very capricious teacher. This was an AP/IB class filled with good students, but when we realized the teacher either didn't notice or didn't call us out when we ate in class, kids started opening snacking during instruction. Then when we realized she didn't say anything if we were standing at the wrong lab table, we started hanging out with other lab groups when we should have been conducting experiments. The teacher didn't even break up an on-going chess game until it had lasted for about three class periods! We were all good kids, but the teacher's apparent lack of instruction made us see what we could get away with just for the fun of it.
Fortunately, this problem is preventable. On the first day of class, hand out a set of classroom rules. Keep them simple, to the point, and stated in the positive. For example, say "By the time the tardy bell rings, students will be in their seats and working on the bell ringer question." It is concise and tells students exactly what they will do, not what they will not do. Make sure they understand the rules—you can even quiz them on them at the end of the first week!
If you started the year without rules, introducing them part way through the course will be difficult, but you can make it work. You need to write up classroom rules as soon as possible and enforce them every single time. You're not making friends with the students if you let them get away with small misbehaviors—you are causing them to abandon any respect they had for you and tempting them to act out even more.
You must always "keep the small things big" by correcting every infraction of your classroom rules, even minor ones. If you don't enforce the small rules, students will escalate their behavior to test your limits.
Do You Assign Extra Work as Punishment?
Assigning extra work, whether it is additional reading or writing, is a traditional punishment, but it is also highly ineffective and, in fact, detrimental. After a certain age, most students aren't thrilled about showing up for school in the morning. If you heap extra work on them, you strengthen their belief that school is a miserable chore. They will show up to class sullen and not excited or eager to learn. Writing sentences or copying pages, another traditional punishment, is also inappropriate, creates resentment, and encourages students to hate educational activities.
This one is really easy to fix: Don't assign extra work as punishment for misbehavior! Instead, consider taking something away, like points, time, or extra credit. Make sure the punishment fits the crime, so to speak, and is directed only at the students responsible.
Do you Give Group Punishments?
If you are showing an educational video and several students keep talking during the presentation, it may be tempting to give an unannounced quiz on the video's content. Just like assigning extra work, this is an inappropriate punishment that will only anger students and make them defiant, especially those that were genuinely trying to pay attention (but couldn't hear over the chatting). If you make a habit of group punishments in response to a small number of students acting up, your class will quickly become disrespectful, or even downright hostile.
Once again, this is really easy to fix. Don't give group punishments. It is very tempting sometimes, but it is short-sighted vindictiveness, not an appropriate classroom management technique. Instead, focus the punishment only on the students who were involved.
Classroom Management Strategies
While there are many reasons students act out, if you do not enforce your rules (or enforce them only haphazardly), assign extra work as punishment, or punish the group for the individual's misbehavior, your class' behavior problems will increase throughout the year.
Fortunately, these three major causes of teacher-caused student misbehavior are easy to identify and correct. If you've already committed one or more of these errors this semester, it may be difficult to regain control of your class, but it is possible. The First Day of School is the best-selling classroom management book on the market and it can help you regain control, no matter how late in the year it is. If you are about to start a new course, make sure to create a clear list of rules and expectations and diligently enforce them to prevent these misbehaviors from erupting in your classroom.
Kasandra on March 14, 2020:
Is it just me or does anyone have the most difficult time delivering consequences?! Or perhaps it isn’t the delivering...it’s the fact that I literally don’t know what to do for consequences....especially now that you have said that assigning extra work is a no no....now I really don’t know what to do! Help!
Martha Padilla on June 14, 2016:
I have to say that the title caught my attention, and while reading, I could see my first teaching years´discipline ways flash by... I remember a time when my coordinator told me: "This is a very disciplined group, I don´t want that to change", then it hit me!... I wasn´t being consistent and I was using vendictive punishments.
But sometimes we don´t like to recognize our faults as teachers. I like to bring up interesting and sometimes playful activities while teaching and I strongly believe that when you enjoy the work (as a student) you´ll learn better and want to have more of that, but playful activities are often misunderstood (again, if rules aren´t clear) and the class can be taken just as a "fun time" and not serious. I try to keep it balanced, but it is a really thin line...
Thank you so much for illustrating it so well!!
AB on May 05, 2016:
Hi, this was an enlightening post. I'm substituting for HS Gov't and have found that most of the kids spend 80% to 90% of their time on their phones watching videos or texting with friends both in and outside of school. There's a strict policy about no phones in class, but there's no bite on the part of the administration - they leave the teachers hanging.
So I've gotten a bit wiser, and have started giving exercises that are easy to complete while emphasizing the points gained by completing quickly. I'm also playing Phillip Glass or Chopin while they're working, which almost without fail has a calming effect. At first their reactions were goofy, but after I explained that my senior year in HS it was common practice for my AP teachers to play classical music for us over 150 students bought into the idea. Not only did they start using their phones for research, but they stopped hopping up randomly and running around like 2nd graders. There's just something about the music that helps them feel more industrious maybe?
I've also started having one-on-one conversations with the most difficult students, got them laughing about something silly about how easy it will be for them to do really well if they look at the assignments as challenges rather than time-wasters. After a couple weeks of subbing my six periods have started to turn a corner.
Of course this could all change in an instant. Over the past weeks they've had up's and down's that seem bizarre, as though there's something else going on around school which I'm unaware of. So I've worked pretty hard at making my boring subject a refuge for them. We've talked a lot about how they are about to join the outside world, and taking responsibility for their right to vote and contribute to the local community has lit a few fires apparently. As a result I've had tons of late homework turned in, extra credit assignments turned in without request, and numerous inquiries about what else they can do. Now it's starting to be fun.
karen on April 30, 2016:
Exactly, a whole list of rules were given the first day of school but the teachers never kept them. We now have a very unruly class because there was no follow through or condistency. I beliee it could have been avoided. Great advice. Thank you, it is very discouraging to see this happen. I am a teaching assistant and was told the teachers would handle discipline, still waiting!
ignugent17 on February 16, 2016:
As a teacher you should know your students. It is really important to talk with them in a way that shows respect to them as an individual. That is why all teachers study psychology to prepare them how to mold their students and become a good person.
muhammad abdullah javed on February 15, 2016:
Great hub Natasha thanks for sharing. True, a teacher plays a pivotal role in teaching her students how to reach to the top. What all needed is her outstanding sense of understanding the students mind.
Nikki on February 08, 2016:
"You must always keep the small things big". I actually agree with this but in my first year of teaching was reprimanded by the principal who stated I shouldn't be bothered with little things. Of course after 3 years at the school my only conclusion is that I was correct as they have the worst behaviour in the city...not to mention the student behaviour! I have used group punishment...not often but on occasion when something is geared at teamwork...yes, I'll use it. After five weeks at the start of year I had very few behaviour issues in class.
William A. Howard IV from Baltimore Maryland (USA) on December 31, 2015:
There was a time when all this was true. However, over the past 20 years I have spent in the classroom, the rules and the culture has changed. The Media teaches children disrespect is cool. The music has grown more profane and more children have absent parents and at-risk lifestyles.
School districts have changed the rules to the detriment of the classroom. At my son's high school, students who cuss-out or threaten teachers are sent right back to class. But, a second grader was suspended in the same district because he bit a pop tart in a shape that someone thought looked like a gun. The whole system is a mess.
The above techniques are good and can be effective, depending on where you are teaching.
Megs on December 19, 2015:
So VERY true. My son has medical issues (severe enough to warrant him a Make A Wish trip) and a teacher refused to believe them because he looks "ok" on the outside. He class was always all over the place and my son in one year went from an A/B student to a C/D/F student, all because of one teachers mismanagement of him and his class. We went to the principal about it (no such luck) and we've spent years trying to correct the hatred of school she brought forward.
McKenna Meyers on December 14, 2015:
As an adult looking back on my school years, the teachers I admire most were the strict ones -- the ones who really knew how to manage a classroom so lots of learning took place. You may not be liked at the time but, in the long-run, you'll be remembered as an outstanding educator.
Dawnielle on November 22, 2015:
I am not trying to be friends with my students, however I am trying to recognize different personalities... I work in 4th grade, first year teacher, and I do not always enforce the same consequences to negative behavior that I do towards positive behavior. I try to recognize the positive in every student, but if you are a student that is consistently disruptive vs a student who is noticed once for talking when you shouldn't be, my reaction is different. Over all, I still have a group that talks too much... What is my solution to this? Treat everyone the same? That doesn't seem productive to me.
Natasha (author) from Hawaii on October 14, 2012:
I agree - I had a bit of a negative reaction to my own title! I felt a little iffy about calling it what I did, but I think it's appropriate. I'm glad you agree and didn't leave angry! Thanks for stopping in.
Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on October 14, 2012:
I had a negative reaction to the tile..but having read the article I find I am in complete agreement with you. Good hub and well-made points. :)
MargaritaEden from Oregon on October 10, 2012:
You are so right! I can name some of those teachers I had with those annoying habits, who were causing problems themselves, very interesting hub!
Natasha (author) from Hawaii on October 05, 2012:
Oh, yes, being prepared is key! And having a backup activity on hand/a policy for what students should do after finishing in any-class work is also very important. If you don't have anything for kids to do, things are going to get noisy.
Dianna Mendez on October 04, 2012:
You point out some real truths in this post, we sometimes forget that our reactions to an incident will prove negative responses from students. I have always believed that if you are prepared, you eliminate most discipline problems in the classroom. I agree with you on the fact that group punishment does not work, unless everyone is involved in a dire circumstance (which is rare!). Voted up!
Natasha (author) from Hawaii on October 04, 2012:
You're absolutely right - students that are consistently punished inappropriately will eventually rebel, no matter how smart or nice or otherwise well behaved they are.
Ah! Firm, fair, and consistent. That mantra has been around so long and is so easy to remember - if only everyone could remember it!
Thank you for stopping by, pstraubie48. I'm off to (hopefully) teach some kids about history =)
Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on October 04, 2012:
This is true unfortunately. There are some teachers that cause students to put their worst foot forward often in a reactive way. Kids often will lash out if they are treated unfairly or if the guidelines are not consistent.
Kids of all ages need to know what the guidelines are: you cannot play the game if you do not know the rules or if the rules change from day to day
Group punishment just never is effective and if practiced over a long enough period of time totally fails to work, kids rebel. I saw it happen on more than one occasion.
For forty years I was in the classroom and learned early on to be : firm, fair, and consistent.
thank you for sharing this. Sometimes there are those who do not realize that they are the cause of the student misbehavior in their classroom. This can be a wake up call perhaps for them.
Natasha (author) from Hawaii on October 03, 2012:
Thank you, Billybuc. Yes, too many teachers are (sadly) under the impression they need their students to like them as a friend. If you're trying to get a bunch of adolescents to like you, you may need some professional assistance! You should never base your self-worth on what teenagers think of you.
Thanks for stopping by =)
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 03, 2012:
You know, I never had classroom management problems. I'm convinced there are some teachers who do it naturally without thought....then there are some who simply never learn. I have had several student teachers who struggled mightily with it...wanted to be the students' friend....and that never works.
Great hub as always!