Most teachers are hyperaware of their most difficult students—and well they should be.
It’s smart to know where they are and what they’re doing.
But this awareness can cause you to behave oddly around them.
It can cause you to glare and glower in their direction. It can cause you to hover near the edges of their personal space and tense up in their presence.
It can cause you to label them with your behavior.
Because when you act differently around difficult students than you do the rest of your class, you’re effectively telling them that they’re not like other students, that they’re incapable of being trusted and that you expect them to misbehave.
This is a powerful message you may not even be aware you’re sending. Your most challenging students, however, can see the smoke signals from a mile away.
They know when they’re being surveilled, marked, and followed. They know when they’re disliked and resented—or merely tolerated. They know when you have negative thoughts about them and their future prospects.
And they’re quick to live up to their role as troublemaker, to become the very person you see in them.
Although you should always maintain awareness of all your students, if you were to make it a point to behave the same way around your most difficult students as you do everyone else, you would see marked improvement in their behavior.
This includes the same smiles, jokes, and stories. It includes the same nonchalant way you look in their direction or ask about their weekend. It includes the same belief in their ability to listen, learn, and follow rules.
For many teachers, though, this is far easier said than done.
It’s only natural to be cautious and distrustful around students who have repeatedly disrupted your classroom. It’s only natural to linger and eyeball and use proximity to try and stop their misbehavior before it starts.
The solution, however, is simple: From the very first moment of each school day onward, you’re going to pretend that your most difficult students are already well behaved.
You’re going to assume that they will, of their own accord, follow your rules and expectations just like everyone else. And by pretending, by shoving aside any and all negative thoughts you have about them and their previous misdeeds, they’ll respond in wonderful and miraculous ways.
That isn’t to say that they’ll never again misbehave, but they’ll no longer do it to spite you or get under your skin. They’ll no longer do it because they’re fulfilling a prophecy. They’ll no longer do it because it’s expected of them, because it has become part of their identity.
Although improvement can be immediate, in time, and as the rest of your class begins to take up your cue, those ugly labels and beliefs they have about themselves will gently slide off their shoulders.
Their burden will lift. They’ll look you in the eye, unashamed. And for the first time in their school career, they’ll relax into their skin.
They’ll become an integral part of the whole.
A key ingredient in the soufflé.
A certified, accepted, and valued member of your classroom.
If you haven’t done so already, please join us. It’s free! Click here and begin receiving classroom management articles like this one in your email box every week.