A lot of teachers have had their fair share of disrespectful learners in the profession. At some point in your carrier you have met a learner who is just determined to ruin your school year. He or she is deliberately disrespectful. He makes fun of you and also laughs at other learners. He’s rude and silly. He’s argumentative and attention-seeking. He is well known by every staff member and can describe the inside of the principal’s office.
Detention has minimum effects on him. Phoning parents, writing letters and meeting his parents make no difference. It’s clear that there’s little or no accountability at home even the school administration is reluctant to suspend him for classroom misbehaviour. He is a member of COSAS and has got a lot of following from other learners like him.
He is often involved in physical fights, he is untouchable and he knows it. He is one of those learners who have discovered that no matter what he does, within 15 minutes or so he’ll be right back out from the principal’s office and into your classroom doing as he wishes.
It’s discouraging and stressful, and you’ve had enough of this behaviour. You’ve tried everything. You’ve done your research. You’ve read all the books. You’ve requested help and consultation from social workers. You’ve talked about his behaviour with your colleagues.
And here you are, it’s been 6 months in the school year and there’s no improvement in his behaviour. He is still a silly, naughty, disrespectful jack ass that you even think he’s got no future in his life. In fact, if anything, he got worse. He has now begun misbehaving right in front of you and literally daring you to do something about it.
All this time you’ve been good to this kid. You’ve worked hard to build a positive relationship with all your learners. You’ve been patient and kind and forgiving. Your learners love being in your class. It’s just this one learner. Why is he not coming around? Why isn’t he buying into your program? Why doesn’t he like you?
The answer is because he doesn’t have to.
He knows your hands are tied. He knows you’ve tried everything. He knows he’s got you by the ballz. With no accountability at home and nothing coming from the office, whose hands are also tied as well, he really believes that there’s nothing more you can do.
But he’s wrong. There is still one more thing you can do. And this, my friend, will work. The key is to make the accountability stronger. You need to have stiffer consequences.
You must make accountability so strong, in fact, and the alternative so attractive, that it’s guaranteed to work. You see, as you make accountability strong on one side and what you are offering as a member of your classroom on the other, there will be a point when he’ll think to himself, “I’d rather be part of that (the classroom).” And it is at this point that his behaviour will change, and change drastically.
So here is what you can do:
After speaking to his parent(s) and the school principal to let them know about your plan, you will pull the learner aside and inform him that he is no longer a regular member of the class. You tell him, in so many words, that because of his behaviour, you can’t ensure that he is actually learning anything in your class and therefore he can no longer be part of it.
You explain to him that his desk is going to be removed up until he can prove to you that he can behave like a fully-fledged, contributing member of the classroom. This is not a permanent suspension from your class and there’s a way back into the classroom. It’s entirely up to him.
Practically, he will no longer be allowed to participate in learning games, group/fun activities, subject excursions and partner work. He is still required to do all the work and participate as an observer, but he may not actively participate.
You need to remember that the stronger the accountability, the quicker he’ll be back in your classroom behaving like everyone else. As for lunch time, you can’t be sure of the safety and enjoyment of every other learner on the playground so he shouldn’t be out there.
The best way to handle lunch time is to sit with him and watch. Like being in the classroom, he needs to see what he is missing. If you are at a school that discourages taking away lunch time from learners, then give him the option running laps – again, while you watch.
Yes I know it’s a bit of extra work but it’s a small price to pay for a peaceful classroom. In fact, even while in the middle of the strategy, your teaching life will become easier, your learners will be happier and you’ll accomplish so much more.
I also recommend waiting at least a couple of days before entertaining any thoughts of returning him to full membership status. And even then, only if he has proven through his behaviour he can do it and has requested an opportunity to try.
It’s important to be aware that you shouldn’t try this strategy if you are not faithfully following your classroom management plan and successfully managing the rest of your learners. This strategy is only effective if the learner feels he is missing something. So its very important to create a learning experience your learners like and want to be part of.
And just to be clear, this strategy is meant only for an unusual disrespectful learner in an otherwise well-behaved classroom.
Why It’s The Right Thing To Do
You know in order to be effective in the classroom you must never let any learner interfere with the rights of other learners to enjoy school. This is where most teachers miss this core classroom management principle.
I mean what do they gain if they allow a disruptive learner to continue, day after day, to interfere with learning or run free to bother and harass other learners? Do we allow everyone to suffer and lose out on the opportunity to learn and improve and enjoy school and friendships in order to say that we won’t exclude anyone from anything and for any reason?
Learners like this are in a desperate need for attention. And deep down they know it. Their behaviour screams out for it, craves it, and pleads for it. They are searching high and low for someone to step forward and say, “I care about you and your future and for the rest of the learners in this class to truly hold you accountable”.
You may be the only person in his life in a position to make such heroic and potentially life changing stand. You may be the only one who changes his life for the better by applying a combination of love, grace and accountability.
Now its your turn. How do you handle learners who are out of control? Let me know in the comments below.