Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Handling Beligerent Unruly Students

The following question was asked of me via email and I thought I'd share my answer in this blog with the hopes that it will help other new teachers facing the same issues.

Question: When teaching high school students how do you handle a beligerent, unruly individual?

It depends on several factors. However, usually there is a reason behind the belligerence in any student. Take some time to talk with your student and find out what is going on. It could be that the student feels he/she must be rude or belligerent to maintain a reputation in class. It could be the student feels unable to keep up in class and turns to acting out in order to mask his or her frustration. There may be issues going on at home, with his or her friends, with a boyfriend/girlfriend, or at work that are causing this behavior. Often it is a lack of self-esteem where the student feels that he/she is not smart, not good, not able, etc. and these feelings are turned outward in the form of misbehavior.

The best way to begin is by talking one on one with the student. This will not be easy and it will not resolve the problem immediately. In fact, more than likely your overtures will be rebuffed by the student and you'll probably be treated to more rude behavior. You will need to persevere. The one thing that really gets to every student is a teacher (or adult) who cares. The problem is that many try the "caring" route without actually caring about the student. After a couple of name calling sessions, rude actions, and deliberate attempts on the part of the student to be as annoying as possible, those teachers/adults back off. The student then "proves" to himself/herself that the teacher never really cared in the first place. This only adds fuel to the misbehavior. You cannot give up and you must believe that it is important to you to be a part of that student's life. It is the only way you will reach him/her.

When rebuffed, ridiculed, etc. by the student, you need to respond with, "I don't care that you are acting like this. I care about you anyway and I really want to know what's going on. I'm here to help." You need to reassure the student every day. Greet the student with a smile and ask about his/her day. Make an effort every day to try and get to know the student better so you understand what is going on underneath. After a while (and I don't mean a couple of days), the student will finally figure out that he/she isn't going to shake you and will begin to talk. Use those opportunities to talk to the student about class and what you can do to help.

Can the student help you? Is this person someone who has leadership potential? Oftentimes the ones with the most potential are the ones who fall the hardest into misbehavior if they are not guided and encouraged. Find out what the student likes and figure out how to bring those topics into lessons. Once the student begins to open up to you, bring your talks around to asking why the student behaves as he/she does during class. What can you do to help make class a place he/she wants to be? Don't just ask the questions - listen to the answers and try to address the issues raised. When the student sees you are interested in him/her as a person and listen to their opinions seriously, you will find yourself with an advocate within the classroom. That student who once gave you so much trouble will often become your best ally.

This is not always the case, but it happens quite often. The difference is in how you approach the student, how much you persevere, and how much of a relationship you build with the student. When the student sees that you truly care, you will begin to see a difference.

There is no quick fix to this kind of problem. I cannot tell you to use one magic strategy and make the problem go away. We are in the business of working with human beings who are independent. Each responds a different way to different strategies. However, I can tell you that by focusing on positives rather than negatives you have a much higher chance of getting the student to willingly change his/her behavior. Punishment will not work. It will only worsen the situation for you.

I highly recommend reading Jim Fay's book, "Teaching with Love and Logic." It is a wonderful book that I think you may find helpful.

I'm sorry there is no quick-fix for this type of situation, but I encourage you to develop a positive relationship with this student. It will not only help make your year of teaching better, but it will help your student become a better person as well!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Keeping Parents Informed and Involved

Research shows us that parent involvement has a higher impact on student success than does any other factor, including culture and socio-economic status. For teachers, simply calling parents when a problem arises is not enough to keep them involved. It also does not promote a positive relationship between teacher and parent. Children and adolescents need their parent(s) to play an active role in their academic careers. As teachers we must foster active parent participation as much as possible. How can we do this?

· Routinely invite parents into the classrooms and schools for assemblies, special classroom
events, and project presentations.
· Enlist parents as volunteers whenever possible.
· Keep parents informed about classroom events and procedures.
· Help parents understand the meaning behind education phrases used in communications.
· Keep parents informed of educational strategies used in the school and classroom.
· “Train” parents on how to effectively help their children develop good study/work habits.

First, by inviting parents into your school and classroom on a regular basis, you are promoting a general feeling of welcome and openness. When parents feel welcome to come into a school or classroom, they are more likely to be involved as a volunteer and not just a spectator (or complainer). Parents will then be the very best PR for you and your school as they tell other parents, the district, and community members how pleased they are with the school and teacher. They will also be a strong motivator and supporter of what you do in the classroom and will be a positive influence on their child in the school.

On the other hand, even the most involved parents and those actively seeking to be a part of their child’s academic life will tend to stay away from a school and classroom where they do not feel welcomed. This will cause tension and frustration on the part of the parent. You may then find yourself the recipient of complaints and bad PR. Parents who feel frustrated and tense about their child’s school frequently make themselves heard to other parents, the district, and other members of the community. If others feel the same lack of welcome, you will find yourself facing an overwhelming lack of support for everything you do. These parents will not support you in anything you try to do within the classroom and often will exert a negative influence on their child towards you.

Second, enlisting parents as volunteers serves two purposes. The first is that it shares the workload. When we have parents willing to help, why must we do everything ourselves? You may find yourself with a parent who would enjoy helping you put up a bulletin board, post student work, laminate and pull together materials for lessons, or even read one-on-one with students who need extra help. You may also find that you have very talented parents who are willing to share their knowledge as a guest speaker or demonstrate a skill as part of a unit you are studying. Rather than ignoring these resources, find out what you have available and use them as they are willing!

Additionally, many parents are quite anxious to know what is happening in their child/teen’s life during school hours. As a volunteer, the parent is in a position where he/she can see what is happening on a regular basis. This in turn eases their many fears and questions. The parent is also able to meet the other children/teens interacting with their child. In turn, the child sees that his/her parent is an active part of their school life. The parent is informed of what is happening in the classroom and so the child is unable to pull the wool over the parent’s eyes, so to speak. This kind of knowledge also helps the parent encourage the child to be a better student.

Third, it is important to keep parents informed of classroom procedures and events. Again, many parents want to know what is happening with their child in school. What is being learned? What does the teacher expect of the students? What can the parent do to help support the teacher at home? Knowledge is an enabler. It gives parents the ability to help their child and you. When a parent understands what is happening in the classroom and why, he/she is more likely to support you. Parents will strongly encourage homework to be completed correctly and behaviors to be appropriate for school when they know what is expected.

A newsletter or website is an excellent way to keep parents informed. A newsletter can go home monthly with important information for parents. Within a newsletter you can share:
· Main objectives or goals from the curriculum
· Important dates for assignments, field trips, or school events
· Birthdays
· Wish list of items needed for lessons
· Ideas for parents to do at home to support learning

A website is a more permanent and flexible tool that will allow you to keep older information and update it as necessary. With a website you are able to share:
· Topics of study, objectives or goals from the curriculum
· Homework assignments
· Important dates for projects due, events, or field trips
· Vocabulary for current unit of study
· Tips on how to extend learning at home – what parents can do with their child to support what
you are teaching
· Star Student profiles
· Communicate with both students and parents
· Explain educational phrases used or strategies for specific skills – helps parents understand
what is being taught and HOW it is being taught

Explaining educational phrases and strategies is another tool you can provide parents to help you at home. When parents understand how their child is being taught or what phrases to use when helping with homework, it makes your job easier. Often homework is done incorrectly at home because the parent doesn’t understand the “new” way of teaching/learning the skill. Methods and phrases used in education tend to change rapidly as we discover new research about how students learn best. Most parents, however, do not have this information and will help their child in the only way they know how – as they were taught __ number of years ago. This causes confusion within the child and ends up hindering what we are trying to teach in the classroom.

However, when we keep parents informed of the words/phrases to use and the procedure to follow for skills being practiced, we enable them to help their child in a way that supports what is happening in the classroom. A website is an excellent way to keep parents informed of this information because you only need to upload it once. You might make a section on your website for “Educational Phrases and their meanings” and “Tips for Helping Your Child with Homework” to give parents the information they need. As new skills are being taught, add another post with information to help the parent understand what you expect from your students.

When we keep our parents informed and offer them tools and strategies for helping their child in the learning process, we are actually helping ourselves. We create positive PR for our school and classrooms within the community. We gain much needed help with time-consuming tasks. We develop positive relationships with people who will support us. We enable intelligent adults to continue the teaching at home in a way that sustains what is learned in the classroom. In the end we get students who are successful learners.