It can be especially frustrating.
You’re working with a group or helping an individual student.
Perhaps you’re walking the perimeter of your classroom, observing and looking over shoulders.
Then you hear a burst of chatter and giggling just out of your view.
You look up or turn, but nothing seems amiss. At least, nothing blatant.
But you know there were students misbehaving. You know there were students off task and taking advantage of a moment when your back was turned.
You even know who it was, pretty certain anyway, because you can see it on their faces. They’re now looking at you and others are looking in their direction.
But you hesitate to enforce a consequence because you aren’t absolutely sure. Plus, they know you didn’t see them, which could embolden them to lie and deny.
So what should you do?
Well, because behind-the-back misbehavior often feels like it’s at your expense, and therefore disrespectful, many teachers get fired up about it.
A seed of anger rises inside them and they can’t help but confront those they believe are responsible.
So they stomp over and question. They warn and threaten. They pit one student against another to try to coerce a confession.
All to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.
But this is a remarkably stressful approach that risks building a wall of resentment with students who may or may not even be guilty. Besides, there is no guarantee you’ll get to the bottom of it.
You will, however, bring tension into your classroom and may very well have nothing to show for it—with the offenders getting away scot-free.
When students misbehave behind your back, or just out of your view, it takes a subtle, even sly, approach to identify the culprits and hold them accountable.
It takes pretending that you didn’t even notice their misbehavior.
You see, if at first you do nothing at all, if you show no reaction or change in routine or behavior, it’s a surefire guarantee that they’re going to do it again—usually within seconds.
But this time, you’re going to catch them in the act. You’re going to use your teacherly sense to choose the right moment to shoot a hidden glance in their direction.
You’re going to heighten your awareness, finely tune your hearing and peripheral vision, and position yourself so you can anticipate their antics.
You may even move further away from them or put your head down to trigger their misbehavior. It can take an Oscar-winning performance, but eventually you’ll witness the whole shebang.
You’ll have them dead to rights and be able to enforce a consequence without stress, drama, or the prospect of having to prove their misbehavior.
No arguing, battling, or threatening. Just pure accountability.
It’s your job to see misbehavior, to protect every student’s right to learn and enjoy school. Vigilant supervision is a prerequisite of effective classroom management.
But there are times when the pelota gets by the goalkeeper. And when it does, you can still catch them in the act.
You can still follow through.
You can still prove that you really do have eyes in the back of your head.
PS – A quick update: We’re in the filming stages of our new online course called The Total Classroom Management Makeover. Enrollment will open for one week only in early June. More details to follow.
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