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- A Career in Crisis - August 27, 2015
- Classroom Community and Rock-Paper-Scisssors - July 22, 2015
- The Art of Teaching - June 22, 2015
- Parent tip: Beyond Sounding It Out - June 4, 2015
I call them my Whack-A-Mole class. In a group of 26 children, I had eight with an ADHD diagnoses. One of them was on medication for it. I had two more who were undiagnosed with wiggles extraordinaire. Some of these ten children were part of the three students with IEPs or one of the twelve I was doing Response to Intervention (RTI) for. Let’s just say, 16 out of 26 kids had behavior issues that year.
In a second grade classroom, this really did resemble a whack-a-mole game. Just as I got three on task, two more would bounce up. I get them down and four more would spring to action. All the while, I was also trying like a crazy woman to try to support everyone, including the ten rock solid, easy-going children who I was trying not to over manage. In reality, it was more of a Manage-A-Mole game. I rarely felt completely in control. Fortunately, I was a veteran teacher and I had a myriad of tricks up my sleeve.
None of these children were out to get me. None of them were evil. They had learning or focusing problems. Some of their home lives were in depressing shambles. Each of these difficult students wanted me to like them. They each wanted to learn and feel successful.
Most years never even come close to that one. There are always a few children who challenge you as a teacher. I think there is a recipe for managing difficult students. It is not a simple recipe. It’s as simple as pie, and if you’ve ever made pie from scratch you know it is not easy. If you think you can go buy a frozen pie crust and a can of cherries to solve your problems you will have a one-size-fits-all solution to your problems. I have found over they years, not even caftans are really one-size-fits-all. While the ingredients for success are similar for all children, each child has his or her own taste and texture to take into account. This pie should be good for any grade level.
Here are my ingredients: The six C’s of Managing-Difficult-Students-Pie.
The first three make up the crust. They work pretty much the same for all children. You can make it sweeter or saltier as needed depending on the student.
Continuity: This is your classroom structure. It needs to be so regular that the children know how to behave for each component of your day. It means a lot of front-loading at the beginning of the year so everyone knows how things should be done. Children who have behavior problems need to know what is coming when. They also need to know how things will be fixed when inevitably the routine falls apart. (See my article Tai Chi Beginnings for more information on this.)
Consistency: This has two parts. First, the student needs to know how you will respond to his or her behavior. You need to have thought this through. Shutting your eyes, deep breathes, making a joke, whatever keeps you calm and able to respond in the same manner each time. There are times for straight talk but that is not yelling or getting in their face.
Second, you need to determine what is within their control and what simply isn’t. Pick what you are going to work on and make accommodations for what is out of their control.
Clarity: This is the liquid in the pie dough. Your expectations to everyone in your room need to be crystal clear. Your students, easy or difficult, will be more successful if they know what you expect. You can’t rush adding this liquid to your recipe. Take your time. Be specific. If you expect perfect behavior for an assembly, describe how you want them to behave. Practice it with them. Help them make decisions on what to do if they get wiggly or their neighbor is talking. If your expectations are clear, you will have a much fluffier crust for your management pie.
The next three ingredients are your filling. Just like a real pie filling, you have to adjust this depending on the materials you are working with. Each child’s needs and abilities are different. Each group of students has a different dynamic.
Camaraderie: Get to know your difficult student. (Actually, I believe you need to do this for all your children, but you have to tackle the tough students first.) They need to be nearby at all times. Find out what they love, what makes them laugh, and what sets them off. Use it to your advantage. Use visual cues if possible to remind them how to get themselves back on track. The Whack-a-Mole year, I looked like an air traffic controller with all hand signals I used. Some were universal such as a flat hand which meant “sit down.” Others were determined by the child and me in advance. This might be a tap to my temple reminding my best friend to think about her choices.
Compassion: I know it is an old saying but try to put yourself in the child’s shoes. Then, you need to find a way to make the shoes more comfortable. I had a spot in my room anyone could use to go calm down. My difficult kids used it the most often. One boy who had problems at home went and sat their first thing everyday. If he missed that routine, he just couldn’t get it together. Yes, it was a bother but it made his day easier. An easier day for him was an easier day for his classmates and for me.
Conferences: Sometimes the peaches you used yesterday got juicier overnight. You have to adjust how things are working to keep the pie from falling apart. A one-on-one meeting between the student and the teacher helps get things back to the desired behavior. These are done without the rest of the class looking on. Some kids need a frequent quick meeting, some need a longer meeting every few weeks or as needed. I found these beneficial especially if behavior needed a readjustment. It also gave us a little private time. That is a gift for children with behavior issues. A great place to find out about conferences is www.responsiveclassroom.org/article/teacher-child-problem-solving-conferences.
I like to season my pie with humor and an occasional hug.
Put your pie into bake. Making outstanding Managing Difficult Students Pie takes practice. Keep at it. The reward is finding out what is wonderful about that difficult child and a year later being able to smile when you think about him.