Like most caring teachers, it’s only natural to be drawn to a crying child.
It’s only natural to kneel down, put a hand on their shoulder, and try to get to the bottom of why they’re upset.
It’s only natural to want to make it all better.
But doing so in the moments after enforcing a consequence is a mistake.
It’s a mistake that can cause future behavior to worsen and subsequent attempts to hold them accountable more difficult.
It can be manipulative.
Some students have learned from experience that if they cry, they have a good chance of avoiding consequence. The teacher may be persuaded to give them a second chance on the grounds that their despondency is proof that they’ve learned their lesson.
So they hang their head. They bury their face in their arms. They know that if they can lure the sympathetic teacher in close and get them to ask what’s wrong, they may wheedle their way out of time-out or a letter home.
It can be a form of reflection.
For some students, crying is a reaction to disappointment. Perhaps it’s the first time they’ve ever been truly held accountable. Perhaps they feel like they’ve let you down. Perhaps they feel angry, sorry for themselves, or remorseful about their behavior.
In any case, reflecting on their misbehavior, as well as on those who may have been affected by it, is a good thing. And the worst thing we can do is interrupt this process, sugarcoat their actions, or let them off the hook.
It causes others to do the same.
If every time a student cries you immediately rush to their side, then you’re going to find yourself doing it a lot. As soon as your class sees you go into comforting mode, the next time they get into trouble they’re going to do the same—or worse.
It’s human nature for students to seek a lesser consequence. It’s human nature to want to be told that disrupting the class, interfering with learning, or laughing at a classmate isn’t serious, that it isn’t such a big deal.
But easing the burden of responsibility, even a scintilla, whether through your words or actions, weakens your consequences, increases the frequency and severity of future misbehavior, and prevents important life-lessons from being learned.
Free Your Plan
If you make it a point to ignore crying, dramatics, and the like in the aftermath of misbehavior, then your students will stop doing it.
It’s as simple as that.
It doesn’t matter whether they’re crying to avoid consequence or experiencing genuine remorse, leaving them be will empower them to take responsibility. It will enable them to see that they alone are the cause of their predicament.
It will cause a growth in maturity, a deeper appreciation of how their actions affect others, and a resolve to make better decisions in the future. In other words, by staying out of it your classroom management plan will be free to do its good work.
Still, later in the day, after the student has settled back into the form and flow of your classroom, it’s a good idea to check in.
It’s a good idea to let them know that there are no hard feelings, that you never hold a grudge, and that forgiveness is always and forever extended. Not in so many words, perhaps, but in who you are and the way you connect with your students.
Eye contact and a smile from across the room . . . a silent fist bump . . . an earnestly delivered, “I believe in you.”
These brief moments between a well-liked teacher and a student in the midst of a bad day have the power to motivate, inspire, and change behavior.
But they must be combined with accountability that is real and consistent and never, ever watered down.
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