There are students who have learned from an early age that if they misbehave enough, if they disrupt, interfere, and otherwise make life miserable for everyone around them, then they can get the adults in their life to give in and give them what they want.
They develop and refine their technique at home first, then bring it with them to school.
In response most teachers try to hold them accountable—in the beginning anyway. They lecture and admonish. They take away recess. They call home. But this particular brand of difficult student isn’t so easily deterred.
For he (or she) knows from experience that if he ratchets up his misbehavior, making it more frequent or more outrageous, the teacher will begin treating him differently.
You see, in an effort to shield the other students, as well as herself, from such craziness and disruption, she (the teacher) will begin walking on eggshells around him and ignoring his less disruptive behaviors.
Which is the first step on the slipperiest of slippery slopes.
Before long, she’ll be offering praise, prizes, and special privileges (see behavior contracts) for not disrupting the class—playing into his hands.
The student in turn will see himself as special, as though the normal rules of society don’t apply. He’ll brazenly leave his seat and wander the room when he feels like it. He’ll side-talk when the teacher talks. He’ll do what he pleases, following directions only when it suits him.
All because he’s got his teacher over a barrel.
All because his teacher would rather make a deal with the devil than endure one of his temper tantrums. All because she knows his behavior could get worse, perhaps much worse, if she doesn’t play his humiliating game.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
One of the traits that separate great teachers and classroom managers from the rest is that somewhere along the line they’ve decided not to participate in this game. They’ve decided that the integrity of their classroom will not be purchased for any price.
An Orangutan escapee from the Bronx Zoo could show up on their roster, but he would have to follow the same rules as everyone else.
He may be swinging from the ceiling lights and long-calling at the top of his lungs, but until he does his time-out and proves he can live up the teacher’s standards, he won’t participate as a regular member of the class.
And here’s the interesting thing, the salient point.
Teachers who take this stand, those who decide that nothing and no one will cause them to relax their behavior standards—which they know are best for their students—are rewarded for it.
You see, when a teacher makes this stand—which is nothing more than a personal, internal decision—somehow, some way . . . the students know.
They just know.
Maybe it’s the empowerment the teacher carries with her like talisman. Maybe it’s her presence or charisma or leadership that fills every room she enters.
Maybe it’s her vibe sending out a clear communiqué to every student that there are no negotiations, no arguments, and no games-playing. The rules are the rules. That’s just the way it is.
When your students know that you’ll never participate in unspoken deals, bribes, or quid pro quos, then almost magically their behavior changes. (After all, what’s the point in crying and blubbering loudly to interrupt a lesson if there is nothing in it for them?)
Now when you first make this decision—or whenever you have a new class or a new group of students—you may still be tested. You may still get a fit of anger, a loud outburst, a brazen challenge.
Despite your new vibe and solemn promise to follow your classroom management plan as it’s written, there are students whose bristly reactions to being told they can’t do whatever they want are so ingrained that they’ll put you to the test.
They’ll leave their seats and pester other students. They’ll yell and pound their desk if you don’t put them in the group they want. They’ll hum or sing or cry while in time-out.
But if you stick to your guns, if you hold them accountable for every act of misbehavior, if you make them prove themselves before enjoying the privilege of being a member of your class, it will stop.
The bottom line is that when you draw a line in the sand and decide that nothing on earth will get you to move it, every student within the four walls of your classroom will be changed because of it.
The Flip Side
Alas, there is a flip side. Most teachers haven’t drawn this line—and never will. Although they may have a classroom management plan, although they may have specific rules and defined consequences, they are in fact open to manipulation and deal making.
And somehow, some way . . . the students know.
They know that a tantrum or a dramatic stomping out of the classroom early in the year will soften the teacher up and pay dividends the rest of the way.
They know that henceforth the mere threat of a tantrum will afford them special privileges. They know they can get a little breathing room because they have in their back pocket the ability to spoil a lesson, disrupt an afternoon, or ruin the teacher’s day.
So they get up from their seat when the mood strikes. They tap their pencil and sigh loudly through your most inspiring lessons. They talk to their neighbors instead of doing their work.
They do it because they can. They do it because they know you’ll look the other way in the face of these relatively minor misbehaviors. They do it because of the unspoken deal between you.
And although you may warn, remind, and pull aside the student for a talking-to, he knows they are nothing more than suggestions.
It’s a disheartening, powerless way to teach.
Sing A New Song
The only way off this tilt-o-world ride is to begin singing a new song.
The only way to end the wink-wink dealmaking in your classroom, and transform your most difficult students into valued, productive citizens, is to pull the trump card out of your back pocket.
There is nothing to fear. There is nothing to lose
Go ahead. Pull out the card. Now lean over and reach all the way down . . .
And draw a line in the sand.
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