Misbehavior can lead to uncomfortable and tense situations, but these situations can also be revealing about underlying conflicts. Whether we like it or not, misbehavior is a form of indirect communication. For all people it’s a form of relaying to others that things are amiss. Acting out is a defense mechanism to avoid feeling vulnerable, embarrassed or betrayed. While misbehavior is frowned upon, it is also healthy, and normal. Misbehavior is a reaction to unfavorable circumstances, which breed negative emotions. While misbehavior should not be rewarded, is it seldom without cause. Misbehavior in the classroom should not be simply dismissed as the result of a bad attitude. We need to recognize the possibility of being the source of this misbehavior. It’s possible that we are creating the negative circumstances to which he or she is reacting. Admitting this does not make you a bad teacher, nor does it take the fault away from the student. To help a student work through their negative behavior, you need to avoid provoking them. Some of our day to day actions could be inciting misbehavior. Again, this isn’t a reflection of your teaching abilities, but instead a call action. To avoid provoking your students, you should avoid these common practices:
1) Do not highlight differences in ability.
It goes without saying that students certainly do not enjoy feeling stupid. While our intention isn’t to make them feel this way, our actions can inspire this feeling. Praising students for their intelligence rather than their effort is an example. Avoid highlighting some students by removing the significance of these differences. Do not attach value to them and avoid using them to rank your students, do not pit students against each other.
2) Do not grade practice work.
Practice work is assigned to develop new skills and make the newly-learned knowledge stick. The key word is practice, and if we assign grades to this work, then we penalize a student’s attempts to comprehend the material. Do not grade work until students have shown that they understand the material.
3) Avoid having ambiguous and arbitrary norms.
Avoid arbitrary and ambiguous norms, because students will be unsure of the boundaries in the classroom. Instead, recruit your students in helping you define and establish classroom norms. Everyone will be clear about what’s expected of them, and what will not be tolerated.
4) Do not let students pick seats.
In school, students are often battling the pressures of fixed social hierarchies and peer rivalries. The opportunity to select your seat presents a false sense of autonomy, and students then face the challenge of picking a seat among bullies, cliques, and crushes. Assigning them a seat provides them with a space that is theirs, and avoids enhancing the dynamics at play.
5) Stop using old scripts.
Using the same old lectures signals to students that their experience isn’t unique. Each act of misbehavior is unique instance, and should be handled as such. Please see the ASCD to read more about misbehavior in the classroom.