This is an ongoing reflection on my re-entry into teaching and the differences between my present position in public education and my prior teaching incarnation where I was a Special Education Teacher at a small special purpose private school for behavioral issues up here in Maine.

At the private school we had a school-wide behavior system and thestudents had very narrow boundaries that were enforced throughout theschool and campus.  In the public school there are fewer behavioral expectations and a much wider set of boundaries.  That is the way it should be, but I find myself at times returning to my previous training when students begin to “act up” in the classroom.  It is a function of how I was trained to manage behaviors and the number of years that I was involved in behavior management.

Today, I found myself automatically going into my rote behavioral response to a student’s behavior: Say the student’s name (wait for them to give me eye contact), give a praise or empathy statement, describe the behavior and consequate the behavior.  Everything was clicking right along until I got to the consequence for the behavior part and then I just didn’t know what the consequence was going to be…I faked it and muddled through and the student didn’t know the difference and did what I asked (move to adifferent seat).  The hard thing for me is I still do not have the appropriate public school consequence for a student’s behavior in my repertoire yet.

Now I don’t really think that using this rote response on my part, is a bad thing, because some of thebehaviors are similar to the one’s I encountered at my previous school, just not as high end.  I have  found that I don’t get flustered by thebehaviors that I have seen since my return to the classroom, even after having been out of the field for over 15 months.  That was good to know and helped with my confidence level, but I still have to wrap my head around the differences between the public school’s behavior management and a school-wide behavior program.

I am learning that the students are reacting to many of the same things that the students at my previous school reacted to:

  • Confidence:  Show confidence that you know what you are doing and that what you are doing is is of benefit to them.
  • Respect: Treating the students with respect – no sarcasm, put-downs or using something as simple as saying sir or ma’am, which they find kind of funny and which has not subverted my authority in the classroom,because I do it in more than just negative situations (its that military training kicking in).  They have come to think of it as part of how I speak to them.
  • Boundaries:  Establish appropriate student-teacher boundaries.  I don’t believe that a teacher is astudent’s friend and made that very clear during my first week.  I believe that the student’s need to know that I am an adult that cares about them, but that I am an adult and not their friend at this time in their life.
  • Expectations:  Ensure that the students understand what the classroom rules and expectations are.  This might mean extra time with a specific student or two to ensure that they know what you expect.
  • Praise:  This has to be real and specific not just a generic statement, otherwise it is just words.
  • Identifying the behavior: Identify, describing and stating that you do not accept the behavior. Sometimes just this allows the student to realize what they are doing and gives them the opportunity to self-correct or stop what they are doing.
  • Humor:  it shows the human side and can defuse a bad situation if done right, but can make a situation explode if the student does not “get” or understand your attempt at humor.  In a touchy situation – better to leave this tool in the box, unless youreally, really know the student and the situation.
  • Spacing: putting myself in a position either closer to the students, betweenstudents or moving away if I am the cause of the tension – I am not in an “in-your-face” behavior modification program so moving away is sometimes the best option, if I am perceived to be part of the issue at hand.  Also changing student seating arrangement quickly to defuse situations.
  • Ignoring:  not giving the student attention for minor stuff when they are “performing” for others or acting negatively to get attention.  This is the most difficult one for me, because my training is to address the behavior and consequate the negative or positive behavior immediately and provide feedback to the student.  Interestingly enough it has worked very well for one of my students the past couple of days.
  • Ask the student to leave the room: I have worked out the arrangement with our behavior resource room teacher to accept a student for a short time to work through their issue and then come back to the class when they are ready.  I had to use this for the first time today, seemed to work fairly well…this time, just one that I don’t want to have to rely on very much.
  • Final Option: Have the student go to the office or have the office come to the room if the student is not responding to other options.  If I have to use this option it probably means that I made a mistake somewhere along theway and that I need to review how I am working with that student to see how or what I can do differently to keep the student in the classroom and a participant in the class.

There are several other strategies that I would employ in between or in addition to these, but these are the main options that could be used to help students improve their classroom presence and allow their peers the opportunity to learn.  As one student told me at my previous school “Mr. Shaw it is better to be bad, than look stupid to my friends”. What that student said has stuck with me ever since.  I have to beaware of what is causing the student to feel that they have to use those behaviors in my classroom and not put student’s in a position where they think they might look stupid.

Looking back at my first two weeks, I believe that my previous experiences at the private school will serve me well in public school.  I just have to remember the boundaries are a lot broader, but that courtesy and acceptable social behavior is the same pretty much where ever I am (school, an office or the mall).  The individual student makes many of the choices regarding their behaviors to a certain point, but sometimesit is how we react to their behaviors that either escalate or de-escalate situations…I would definitely prefer the de-escalation.

So here is to continuing to learn more and more about behavior management in the public school setting.

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