Classroom Management and Discipline/Disruptive Behavior Defined

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Dealing with disruptive behavior is one of the most stressful aspects of teaching (as if the responsibility of preparing a room full of children for a bright and successful future wasn't enough... not to mention the burden of preparing lessons and tests, satisfying curriculum requirements, marking papers, planning field trips, meeting with parents, and preparing for standardized student testing which could ultimately impact school funding and accreditation).

Again, disruption is stress upon an already stressful job.

In this situation, it is the easiest thing in the world to personalize the disruption, forming a dislike for the student in question, and coloring your responses and interactions with that student for the remainder of your relationship (and for that matter, predisposing yourself to deal similarly with future students who demonstrate similar behaviors). Regardless how justifiable your emotional reaction may be, the teacher, upon entering the classroom, agrees to remain an adult throughout these exchanges; that means you must focus on the issue (what was said or done), not on your feelings about it (even if what was said was intended to be hurtful to you).

It is important to consider that all behavior occurs in context. Rather than immediately feeding into the emotional response that a student's behavior evokes in you, consider what the source of the behavior might be.

Behavior Possible Source
Child daydreams in class Material is too simple or too challenging
Child hoards food, eats in class Child has past history of neglect
Child shouts at teacher when redirected Child had a fight with his parent that morning
Child jokes when asked questions
  • Child doesn't understand or know the answer, makes a joke to avoid sounding stupid
  • Child knows the answer but has been used to joking instead of answering
Child refuses to interact with teacher, peers Child doesn't know how to make friends, has been rejected or ridiculed by peers and adults

Unless you are the counselor or social worker, there isn't the time to explore underlying problems as the disruptive behaviors are demonstrating themselves, but it is still necessary to deal with them quickly and effectively for the room to function.

The disciplinary tone you set in your classroom over the first couple of weeks may determine how your room operates (or fails to operate) for the rest of the year. Your handling of discipline is noted not only by the student in question, but an audience of peers, who may gauge how far you can be pushed based on your handling of this incident. That is not to say that you should make students walk the plank of your pirate ship. Rather, you should strive to have a very even-tempered, firm delivery of your requests, and proceed with ordered steps of increasing consequence for continued non-compliance.

However, even if the responsibility of redirecting students and giving them consequences lies at your feet, while the job of finding out the underlying causes go to someone else, it is urgent that the process return back to you in a complete circle.