One of the biggest classroom management mistakes teachers make is that they take disrespectful behavior personally.
To quote Tom Hagen speaking to Sonny Corleone in the classic movie The Godfather, “This is business, not personal.”
When you take disrespectful behavior personally, two things are likely to happen:
- You will desire to get even, to show your students who is boss.
- You will be inclined to scold, lecture, or react with sarcasm.
Both will encourage more disrespectful behavior from your students.
When you react angrily or with spite, you cause your students to resent you, resulting in more of the same unwanted behavior.
I’ve heard teachers say that they don’t care if they’re disliked, that it isn’t their job to have students like them.
This may be true, but it will make you a less effective teacher and make classroom management more difficult.
Taking poor student behavior personally sends the message to your students that they can push your buttons and disrupt your day if they choose.
This shifts control over to your students and weakens your ability to manage your classroom.
When you react out of anger, you are inviting, even daring, disrespect. Back anyone into a corner, and they’ll want to fight back or resolve to get even. Butting heads with students always results in more bad behavior.
You must have a bit of shrewdness in you when it comes to classroom management and understand that the most effective classroom management strategies don’t always jibe with our most natural reactions.
So when a student is blatantly disrespectful, especially in front of the rest of your students, it is only natural to take it personally.
It’s how we’re wired.
But if you can take a step back and realize you’re shooting yourself in the foot every time you react on instinct, then you can gain immediate control of the situation without losing your cool—or your authority.
So how should you react?
The most effective way to handle disrespect is to simply and dispassionately follow your classroom management plan and enforce a consequence.
Enforcing your classroom rules—which should include a rule specifically for disrespectful behavior—with an attitude of indifference strengthens your authority and your classroom management effectiveness.
This can be a challenge at times because initially, as a jolt of adrenaline surges through your body, it can make you feel like somehow the student won, that he or she got away without knowing how their disrespect made you feel.
But a student only wins when they’re able to get under your skin. Like the old deodorant commercial says, “Never let them see you sweat.”
Rest assured, you’re not folding or giving in by resisting the urge to react emotionally. Rather, your constraint is a model for your students for how to handle negative situations with poise and without lowering yourself to the same level of disrespect.
Let your classroom management plan do its job. Relying upon yourself and your words, besides being ineffective, is stressful. Send the message that being respectful is not a choice in your classroom and that anyone who engages in disrespectful behavior will be held accountable.
However, if your first consequence upon a student breaking a rule is a warning, then this isn’t a strong enough response to disrespect.
Therefore, as part of your classroom management plan, there must be an allowance made for situations in which stiffer consequences are needed immediately.
Disrespectful behavior, emotional outbursts, and bullying other students are examples of behavior that would warrant an immediate time-out separation from the rest of the class and, more than likely, a letter home to parents.
Your students must be made aware that there are circumstances that are up to the discretion of the teacher. Therefore, this exception must be part of your classroom management plan and posted on your classroom wall.
Handling disrespectful students with calmness and dispassion will decrease the likelihood of it happening again. But there are other things you to do to create an atmosphere of respect in your classroom. For example:
1. Students will emulate you and the way you treat others, particularly if they admire you. So it’s important to set the tone of respect in your classroom by the way you speak to students.
2. You must be respectful, exceedingly so, in all of your interactions. I know you’ve heard it before, but saying please and thank you works. For your students to get the message, you need to use exaggerated politeness (though never obsequiousness) in front of them.
3. Gain your students respect by doing exactly what you say you will do and having your words congruent with your actions. If you require your students to keep their desks clean and neatly organized, but you don’t keep yours that way, your students will notice. They clue in to little discrepancies like this. They glean more about who you are from what you do than for what you say.
4. Stop telling your students how you expect them to behave and instead show them how. Model what respect looks like (for specifics about effective modeling, check out this previous article) and role-play how to give it. Teach respect like you would any other subject area.
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