Most teachers talk to difficult students—those with a proclivity for misbehavior—way too often. If you’re spending more time on these students than others, it’s a sign you’re not curbing their behavior.
It’s also not fair to the rest of your class.
There is a correlation between the amount of time spent on difficult students and a worsening of their behavior.
The reason is simple. By giving difficult students more time and attention than others, you’re telling them that they’re different, that they can’t control themselves and thus need your constant attention.
You’ll often hear teachers say, “Oh my gosh, I have Anthony on my roster. It’s going to be a long year. He needs so much attention!” The fact is Anthony doesn’t need any extra attention.
Though now he thinks he does.
Every teacher he has ever had has spent precious minutes of every day cajoling him, admonishing him, lecturing him, getting angry with him, and indulging in his ever-growing need for attention.
The solution is to simply cut difficult students like Anthony off from any extra time and attention (from you). Instead, let your classroom rules speak for you. If you treat difficult students like everybody else, they’ll start behaving like everybody else.
Following your classroom management plan every time a student breaks a rule frees you from being forced to use your words to get students to behave as you desire, which not only doesn’t work, but is also a major cause of teacher stress.
As soon as a student like Anthony realizes that you’re going to treat him like everyone else, his behavior will change.
Part of the reason for this change is because he is being held accountable for his actions without the added commentary from the teacher—which makes him resentful (see article on lecturing). The other part is because he’s thrilled to finally not be treated like an outcast.
If Anthony is new to your classroom, the change can happen quickly. If, however, he has been in your room for a while and has grown accustomed to your frequent conferences, reminders, warnings, and the like, it may take awhile.
Cutting difficult students off from the attention they’ve been receiving doesn’t mean you should ignore them. It means that, when it comes to behavior issues, they should be treated the same as anyone else who breaks a rule. However, you must go out of your way to let them see this new reality for themselves.
Let difficult students see you enforcing rules for every student, regardless of who they are. Let them experience the same level of praise as other students. Much too often, difficult students are praised for things that aren’t worthy of it, which hurts your cause and is detrimental to them.
If a difficult student does something well, let them know in the same manner you would all of your students. And when they break a rule, tell them what rule they broke and then enforce a consequence.
And if they keep breaking rules, keep enforcing consequences.
Lasting improvement doesn’t come from frequent pow-wows, lectures, or feel-good pep talks. Difficult students improve because of the lessons learned from being held accountable for their actions.
Focus your attention on creating an enjoyable classroom experience for your students, and refrain from speaking to individual students about their behavior or giving more attention to those that misbehave more often.
Instead, follow your classroom management plan and heartily let your students know when they’re doing well.
Your most difficult students will appreciate being treated the same as everyone else and, as a result, seek to be a contributing member of your classroom rather than the outcast “behavior problem” they’ve been in the past.
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