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By Gustavo Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant
Some classroom management strategies that teachers use to deal with students (especially the “troublemakers”) may actually increase or worsen student misbehavior.  So, if they do nothing to improve student behavior, why do teachers use them?  Answer:  They have been around for so long that we assume they work; they seem to make sense, and should work; they offer tempting hope for teachers who are “at the end of their rope”.

What can be frustrating is that sometimes these strategies may result in short-term behavior improvement, especially with challenging students. For that very reason, many teachers mistakenly think that these strategies are the answers to classroom problems caused by difficult students.  But sadly, any small student behavior improvement will last only a few days. After that, difficult students go back to being “problems” in the classroom!  Yet, in our primary and secondary schools teachers and educators unsuccessfully use these classroom management strategies over and over again with the same difficult students, year after year.

Allow a counselor to provide new ideas, and ruffle some feathers, especially of those teachers and educators who insist on doing things the “old school” way.  It is time (21st Century!) that we stop using ineffective ways of dealing with difficult or problem students in our schools.  Let us use strategies that work, not only those that are “convenient” to the teacher or school.  I recommend that teachers stop using the following classroom management strategies in their classrooms:

Behavior Contracts:  This classroom management strategy is often used to deal with difficult students because it almost guarantees immediate improvement.  This may seem great and the answer to any teacher’s prayers.  However, any improvement in the student behavior will not last long. Any classroom management strategy that involves “do this and get that” does nothing to spark intrinsic student motivation -- the basic ingredient necessary for real, lasting improvement in any student. (Motivation can come with “Fun classes” – see last week’s article.)  Any contract that reminds difficult students that the school does not believe that they are capable of controlling themselves (like regular members of the class) can be detrimental.

Ignoring:  Teachers who use this strategy know that it does NOT work with difficult students. It might sound good in theory.  However, in a working classroom, ignoring difficult students usually ends in disaster.  Why?  The student being ignored usually responds by worsening his/her attention-getting behavior – will even sing or sometimes laugh out loud while a teacher tries to teach.  When any student misbehaves, no matter who it is, a teacher should address it immediately.  Use the same disciplinary strategy for all students in the class -- no exceptions.

Keeping back during Recess:  Many schools “keep back” students during recess; usually they are supervised by someone other than the teacher of those particular students. That in itself causes more problems.  “Keeping back” students during recess might work if the actual teacher does the supervising. Otherwise, problem students will only sit there with a band of troublemakers from all over the school.  It does nothing for problem students.  Instead, let us show our difficult or problem students, prove to them, that we care enough to supervise them directly during “keeping back” at recess.  Doing this will provide meaning to our problem or difficult students.

Special Seating Arrangement:  In many schools we seat the difficult or problem students in specific areas of the classroom -- usually right in front by the teacher’s desk.  This special seating arrangement, used by many teachers, only labels students. It basically tells difficult students that we have given up on them. It translates as, “We don’t believe in you or your capacity to change, so you will remain where the teacher can see you at all times.”  Special seating arrangements reinforce in students’ minds that they are permanent behavior problems. That negative attitude then becomes a permanent part of who those students are.

Special Rewards and Praise:  This classroom management strategy is used many times along with ignoring difficult students. In an effort to build students’ self-esteem, some teachers will shower difficult students with rewards and praise whenever they behave in a way that is a common classroom expectation.  The idea seems to be that when you catch difficult or problem students doing what they’re supposed to do, and praise them for it, they’ll feel good about themselves and their behavior will improve.  This is NOT true.  A teacher’s praise should only be offered to students for good academic performance or behavior; empty praises can be detrimental.  Instead of offering empty praises, teachers should be firm but always polite with students, especially with the difficult ones.

To summarize, some classroom management strategies may offer short term improvement in some difficult or problem students’ behavior; however those strategies also serve to tell difficult students that they are not good enough to be treated like the other students. On the other hand, teachers’ excessive awards and praises carry with them an air of condescension. (Look for the embarrassment in students’ eyes when they receive lavish praises, yet know, deep down, that such praises are not real or deserved.)

I believe that difficult or problem students can make positive changes in behavior when they are subjected, like all other students everyday, to each teacher’s solid disciplinary rule.  It helps no one when, year after year, our difficult or problem students are made to feel different from other students.  Rather, let us show them that we believe in them, and place them on equal footing with all other students.  They will blossom in the classroom.

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