Dealing with Secondary School Behavior Problems
Classroom management is a broad category that encompasses a great deal of teacher activities. One of those activities is behavior management. It is perhaps the most difficult for the beginning teacher and seems the easiest for the veteran. It is what is most often the reason that intelligent and dedicated individuals give up and leave the classroom. General management of all issues in the classroom impacts the behavior situation. Therefore managing the classroom solves 20% of the behavior issues, solid lesson planning solves 60% of the problems and effective dealing with behavior issues resolves the rest. Consequently, developing strengths in three areas will provide a teacher with the tools to deal with secondary school students. A fourth factor is necessary to compliment the three strengths of a teacher. Understanding the adolescent is vital to implementing the opportunity to teach.
Management of a classroom involves taking attendance, collecting paperwork (homework or school forms), regulating classroom environment as best as possible (heat, cool, windows, lighting, etc), dealing with administrative interruptions, fire drills, school announcements, entering and leaving the classroom, etc. The rookie teacher usually fails to account for these basic non-teaching tasks. Experience teaches the teacher to expect interruptions and be prepared to deal with them. It is these interruptions that causes the teachers to lose focus with the class and the result can be chaos. Adolescent students who find an opening to escape from the rigors of a classroom activity will take advantage of it. With experience, teachers learn to have a method to deal with interruptions. For example, when the assistant-principal-in-charge-of-teen-interrogation (APICOT) appears at your door and beacons you into the hall, what do you do with the class full of teens? Rookie teachers usually say nothing and step into the hall. That’s fine if the consultation lasts three seconds. After that three seconds the teens realize that the eye, i.e., the teacher, has left the room. No one is watching! Pencils fly, paper floats, girls gab, boys taunt, the chatter is directly proportional to the length of the interruption. After a minute, the APICOT’s eyes shift from the teacher to the classroom where the increasing noise level has captured his attention. The teacher feels embarrassed and assumes that the assistant principal will report the inability to “control the class.” In most cases the interruption is not that important that it couldn’t have waited. Now the class is lost and by the time the teacher regains “control,” the period is over.
Good solid lesson planning is the best defense in maintaining an orderly classroom. (Please do not equate orderly with quiet). The principles of good lesson planning should have been developed in course work in preparation to teach and in the months of student teaching. A good lesson plan involves: (1) A goal to strive for during the lesson (s), (2) an opening activity (bell ringer, the hook, board activity, motivational opening, etc) (3) main class activity with specific tasks and assignments that involve students (4) The close. Time is the essence in secondary schools. The teacher’s day is controlled by the clock. First period starts at 8:30, Second starts at 9:50 and so forth. The class period is 45 minutes. The teacher is a performer on live TV. As soon as the 45 minutes are up the bell rings and the audience charges out. Careful awareness of the clock is vital to a successful plan. Lesson planning is juggling activities to fill the allotted time slot. The teacher is writer, producer, director, and host of the Classroom Show. This audience participation game works only if the teacher is able to motivate and lead the audience through the program.
All this is the preliminary action. Good preparation and careful presentation avoids many behavior problems. It will not avoid all. Understanding the adolescent is a lifetime’s pursuit for the secondary school teacher. Most of the understanding comes from first hand experience. There are certain “rules” that should be followed.
Rule 1: Most behavior issues are not personal. Try to understand the reason for the behavior problem. Adolescents “act out” for a variety of reasons.
- Hormones create an amazing amount of stress. That often leads to an explosion at the least opportune times.
- Problems at home are often carried into the classroom.
- Teens often mimic a behavior observed by another student or a TV character or even a parent.
- Social awkwardness creates behavior problems.
- “Showing off” is a reason for some teens to mouth off or “act out.”
- Anger or fear often get expressed as a behavior problem.
The list goes on and on. The important thing is to try to figure out the cause for the outbreak.
Rule 2: Never, ever, ever confront a student in front of a class. Two things can happen. First, the student will be humiliated and becomes a ticking bomb that could explode at any time. (Of course the teacher can defuse the alarm by talking to the student after class or away from his classmates. This writer has found that starting with an apology followed by an explanation that it was a mistake to disagree in front a group and in the future that needs to avoided. A discussion on the right of a student to disagree is completely acceptable but it might be best to disagree aside from the other issues that are being worked on in class). Second, the teacher will be humiliated and made to look the fool. This is not good! The teacher that loses in front of class in a behavior issue may well spark off more issues in the future. Always try to isolate the student so that a confrontation is avoided in front of an audience. Teens nor teachers want to lose in front of an audience.
Rule 3: The teacher’s task is help the student grow. Behavior issues are opportunities for learning situations. Only experience will help the teacher. Just like the teen, behavior problems and confrontations help the teacher to grow. Trial and error is want makes teachers and teens grow. No two teens are alike but behavior problems are often similar. Rookie teachers get frustrated because they have not yet had the opportunity to grow in helping teens solve their problem. It is a key for the teacher to separate their problem from the teen’s problem. Teacher’s do have problems and sometimes they take them out on the teens.
Rule 4: Do everything in your power to make the teen feel as if he has won. Self-esteem is vital for everyone but especially for the adolescent who is a child in an adult body that he or she has yet to discover how it works. Teens often do not know their own strength. They have parts that suddenly seem to take center stage at the wrong moments. They find that clothes that fit last week do fit this week. Urges and distractions cause the teen to close out the world around them. Fantasy and reverie often corrode concentration and attentiveness. Teens are teens. They are still little kids but they are now in an adult body. Adults expect them to be adults and act like adults. They are not! They want to be adults, they just do not know how to be adults just yet. That’s the secondary school’s job!
Rule 5: “You win some and you lose some!” That’s the golden rule to govern teaching. The day ends and the teacher has a home to go home to that often have a family waiting. Teachers have a life beyond the school. At days end, leave the problems at school and go home. At the start of the day, leave your problems at home and go to school. Remember the teacher is helping the teen move from a child to an adult. It is a critical time in a person’s life. Teens formulate how to act as an adult during the high school years and the reader of this article is helping them achieve that transition.
Finally, life is filled with change. Adolescent is the period of life that experiences the greatest amount of change. There are some teens sad to say that are beyond your assistance. They have too much baggage, have already defined their path in life, have serious socio-emotional issues, or are just beyond this teacher’s abilities. It does not mean that the teacher is failure, it merely means that the teacher is wise enough to identify a need for a specialist. Keep a good sense of humor. It really does help. Be ready to laugh at yourself. Have a good heart. Want to do good. Enjoy your job! It is fun and exciting and worthwhile!
Most of all, remember it is not personal!
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