Tips to Prevent Behavior Problems in the Secondary Classroom - Room 213

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Tips to Prevent Behavior Problems in the Secondary Classroom

It would happen every summer, just a few weeks before I'd head back to school: the recurring dream. I'd be in front of an out of control class, trying desperately to speak and no words would come out of my mouth.  I'd wake up with an uncomfortable feeling that would stay with me all day.
Tips to Prevent Behavior Problems in the Secondary Classroom

It's been a while since I had that dream, because after two decades of trial and error, I rarely have problems with classroom management.  That's not because I'm big and scary, or one of those teachers who never lets them see me smile until October.  I think it's because I do the following things that help me to (mostly) avoid any behaviour problems from cropping up in my room:

Make it a priority to build a rapport with your students.  This is the single most important thing you can do to avoid management issues, because when your students have a good relationship with you, they are less likely to misbehave. Make it a priority to get to know your students, whether that be through a letter of introduction or some sort of back-to-school activity.  Find out what they are interested in and ask them questions about their lives.  I like to stand outside my door before class and not only greet the students, but also single out different ones each day to have a quick chat with. It doesn't have to be long: a quick How was the soccer game last night? or Did you show your mom that great mark you got? does wonders to show you care about them.  One of the best ways to build rapport, however, is to make sure they get to know you.  Share a bit about your life and don't edit out the bad stuff (well, within reason, of course).  Let them see that you are an imperfect human, just like them.

Be yourself--we can't all be Mr Keatings.  As much as we'd like to think we are as charming, witty and inspirational as he is, most of us aren't.  In fact there are a few teachers at our school who, if they stood on a desk or asked the class to rip pages out of books, would have students rolling their eyes and running for cover.  That's because they don't have the personality to do that.  But they are excellent teachers that the students adore. They adore them because they have embraced who they are and use their strengths to teach a subject they love.  Besides, variety is the spice of life and students need variety in their teachers too.  So don't look enviously down the hall at the teacher who has the students rolling in the aisles laughing if you aren't a comedian yourself.  Be the best you can be, and they will appreciate and respect you for who you are.

Relationships, as important as they are, are not everything.  You also need to do some other things during the class (like cover the curriculum), and these are some things that work for me:

Use a hook to start the class.  You can use a bell ringer, a writing prompt, a youtube clip, a discussion question --anything that will focus the lesson and get the students paying attention. I like to mix it up, too, so they don't always know how things are going to start. What's most important, though, is that they know that class will start on time with them paying attention and focused.

Tell them why the activity or lesson is relevant.  I get so much more buy-in when I do this, because students can see why it might be important to learn whatever it is I want them to learn.  And I'm not talking about grades and college admission here; I want students to see why what we are doing in the class can be applied to real life, how they might actually use it. So, if I start teaching persuasive writing by asking them if they would like to be able to win more arguments with their parents, or to be able to convince people to hire them, I will get far more attention than if I said I'm going to teach you persuasive writing techniques so you can write an essay.

Mix it up and include action breaks. Think about the last long meeting you had to go to.  Were you fidgety and wishing you were somewhere else after ten minutes? Your students are no different.  We all like variety and most find it hard to sit still for over an hour. When you plan your lessons, don't always follow the same pattern of hook, instruction, seat work, wrap up.  It's good to have structure and consistency, but if it's the same thing every day, boredom can set in.  I also believe very much in getting students moving, not just to break things up, but to activate the kinesthetic learning style. This can be done as simply as having them do group work standing up or by giving them a two minute stretch break in the middle of class.  Behaviour problems usually happen when kids are bored or tired of sitting.  If you design a class that has variety and movement, you will get more focused, better behaved students.  If you'd like ideas for how to get more action in your class, you can grab my freebie at my TpT store.

Be firm, fair and consistent.  I know this is not new advice, but it's ultra important. You aren't your students' friend and being a softy will not help them in the long run.  Do what you say and say what you mean should be your mantra. However, don't be afraid to engage in debate with your students and to concede if they present you with a good argument. I spend a lot of time and energy teaching my kids to communicate and to write and speak persuasively.  What kind of hypocrite would I be if I didn't let them practice those skills?  Now, what I just wrote might seem contradictory, but it isn't. It's simple: don't give in to whining or complaining, but be willing to change your mind if you are presented with a good, solid argument. There's a big difference between you changing your mind about homework because a bunch of kids complained that they were tired of homework and changing the date of an assignment because the class presented you, respectfully, with logical evidence for why you should.

Always let the student save face.  Despite your best efforts, you will have discipline issues.  That's an undeniable fact.  But when you do, deal with them in a way that shows respect for the student, even if s/he isn't showing respect for you.  You have to model how to treat people respectfully, and making them look bad won't do that.  So, if you are talking to the class, and little Johnny isn't paying attention or is talking to his neighbour, just keep on talking and add in a simple, isn't that right, Johnny?  Or do you agree, Johnny? and then keep right on talking.  I also walk around the classroom as I talk and if someone isn't paying attention, I can just stop by the desk and put my hand on his/her back or desk. Both of these methods make the student aware that you want his/her focus without drawing attention to the bad behaviour.  And if you have to have a more serious discussion with a student, do it privately.  Not only does the student save face, but the bravado often disappears without an audience.

I  hope you've been able to pick up a few tips that will help you have a great year of teaching and learning in your classroom.  If you have other tips that work for you, please share them in the comments.  Happy back to school!

If you'd like some lessons that are sure to keep your students engaged and focused, check out my series of products that make connections to their lives.  Click HERE.

12 comments

  1. I'm so glad you included your last tip about allowing the students to save face. So many teachers seem to want to embarrass students! They will respect you so much more of you allow them to uphold their integrity.

    If a student is a behavior problem, I usually being them into the hall to talk. Being one-on-one and without an audience almost always does the trick. They let their guard down and will speak with me honestly.

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    1. Absolutely! You are much more likely to see the real person rather than the show they put on for their friends. Most kids are pretty good at heart.

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  2. Relationships are the key. The only student I had an issue with last year was one that I just couldn't click with for one reason or another...It was sad for me, but I tried and tried and tried. Thanks for sharing this refresher.
    Kovescence of the Mind

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    1. That's all you can do, Sarah. It's sad when we can't reach them, but unfortunately there are so many other forces in their lives that they are battling against. I always hope that even though we can't see it, we have made a small difference in their lives.

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  3. Hi! I also loved the last point about saving face! As a teacher in Hawaii though, that can be a little tricky because using shame to a teacher's advantage is common here. Generations of Pacific Island and Asian people here have learned to value family reputation more than individual. So when a person does something embarrassing, it reflects on their entire family. With that said, teachers here in Hawaii tend to use that, so they purposely shame their students in front of their peers because it's being "culturally sensitive". I've had my colleagues tell me it works and I should try it, but your point "be yourself" comes into play. I was never a type to fight fire with fire to express my authority.

    I appreciate this post Jackie! Thank you so much. Great refresher, especially during the summer. I wonder, what is your take on teachers being culturally sensitive in the classroom? :)

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    1. We have a lot of immigrants and refugees in our schools currently, so being culturally sensitive is always important; however, I fully believe that we have to be sensitive to our students' feelings first and always allow them the respect and dignity that they deserve as individuals. I think you need to trust your gut and do what's right for you!

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  5. This is a great post. I especially appreciate the part on being yourself and being the best you, you can be.

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  6. Ha! That's the truth - we can't all be Mr. Keatings! I love using The Dead Poets Society in my classes but I always have to remind students that it's a movie, not reality.

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  7. I used to have the same dream, Jackie. I love your advice--it's all gold, but I especially agree that it's important to build a rapport with the students, and having a hook is a great idea. We're less likely to have problems if the kids are engaged!

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  8. There is so much power when we build a rapport with our students. It can be the bond that gets us through those rough days. I'm working on starting my classes with a hook or a silly math joke (video) this year. It's hard to find quality material that relates.

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  9. Many great ideas here. I especially like: "Tell them why the activity or lesson is relevant." Regardless of subject area, my students always want to know why they need to know...Relevancy is a key part of buy-in. Thanks so much for sharing all the great tips.

    Cheers,
    DocRunning

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