They materialize in front of you, demanding your attention.
They pull on your sleeve and tap on your arm.
They barge into your personal space, interrupt you where you stand, and begin talking before you even have a chance to acknowledge them.
They tattle. They complain. They dramatize. They need you to fix their problem right now.
Needy students can be a major source of stress, without a doubt, but here’s the thing.
They aren’t difficult to handle.
In fact, with the right approach, you can not only discourage such behavior, but eliminate it from your classroom altogether.
Don’t lean down.
When you lean down toward needy students, you encourage their behavior. You encourage more drama and more interruptions in the future.
Simply by staying upright, you’re communicating your boundaries. You’re gently reminding them that you teach an entire class, not just one student.
Now, if there is truly an emergency, your teacherly powers will surely let you know. In which case, leaning down to get more information is appropriate.
In the immediate moments following their interruption, it’s important that you don’t respond. It’s okay to look in their direction to let them know you hear them, but refrain from opening your mouth.
Give them a chance to catch themselves, to rethink their behavior, to consider a more mature and polite way of speaking to you.
If a class rule was broken, after pausing, enforce a consequence. “You have a warning because you left your seat without permission.”
Don’t show concern.
Needy, dependent students tend to overreact. They tend to make mountains out of molehills. They tend to rely heavily on the adults in their life rather than themselves.
This tendency will only worsen if you validate their behavior. It will only worsen if you stop what you’re doing, allow them to interrupt you, and show concern.
While this is a natural reaction from a caring teacher, it’s detrimental to their social and emotional development—not to mention your peace.
An Easy Fix
The level of dependency in your classroom is directly related to how you respond to it.
This is a key issue, because if left unchecked, a culture of neediness will infiltrate everything you do. It will affect every lesson, every activity, and every routine.
It will make your life infinitely more difficult and stressful and cause you to be a less effective teacher.
The good news is that it’s an easy fix.
Combined with a reluctance to coddle, over-help, and reteach individual students again and again, the guidelines above will have a remarkable effect on your classroom.
They will turn your students into doers and problem-solvers, independent learners and lean-in listeners. They will build confidence and competence and even strengthen character.
But you have to stop doing what comes naturally.
And instead, do what works.
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