How Bad Behavior in the Classroom Can Be Addressed in Positive Ways Instead of Strict Punishment
The realm of teaching is a rewarding one but can often come with challenges, particularly when teaching English as a second language to non-native English speakers. A difficulty that teachers can face especially when teaching younger students is bad behavior in the classroom, and whether strictly punishing students for bad behavior is appropriate or even truly effective. Teachers can address bad behavior in the classroom in positive ways, hopefully making truly meaningful changes in the classroom itself and students individually.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Elizabeth B. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Reasons for Misbehaving in Class
Bad behavior in the classroom can crop up in a variety of ways and for a plethora of reasons. Bad behavior from students can be simple things like refusing or resisting to participate in lessons or activities; disrupting the class with jokes or sounds; or behaviors more severe like tantrums or fighting. Teachers, especially as the adult in a classroom of children, have to take into consideration all of the students in the class and view the class as a whole, while still paying attention to individual student needs. When encountering bad behavior, teachers should evaluate whether their methods of teaching are causing bad behavior: is the teaching style too boring, or too advanced for the class or majority of the class? If neither of these reasons applies, then teachers should be compassionate and investigative about individual students who are behaving poorly.
Teachers encounter all types of students from all types of backgrounds. Family problems and problems at homes such as divorce or abuse may contribute to behavioral issues. Students may have social problems, like not knowing how to interact with other children, may play a role in behavioral issues. Another potential issue could be hidden issues within a student such as an undiagnosed learning disorder or physical illness. And finally, students may simply have insecurities about their own self-worth or capabilities, that cause them to behave poorly as either a method of “asking for help” or overcompensating for their perceived shortcomings.
Teachers must take into consideration the class as a unit while tending to the needs of each student individually. Thus, addressing bad behavior in a classroom can be frustrating. Bad behavior, in general, disrupts the flow of the class – both the teacher’s concentration and the students’ concentration. Bad behavior also detracts from the lesson material, and in the context of learning English as a new language, students must grasp material effectively to be able to build their skills and move on to new material. Bad behavior can also encourage “good” students to start acting out to get attention from the teacher. Students, in general, can also become frustrated with their peers behaving poorly, which can negatively impact their own views of the teacher, the classroom environment, and the English language.
Because teachers have the role of authority in a classroom setting, teachers need to lead the class and correct bad behavior. Generally speaking, teachers should treat each student equally in the class, and correct bad behavior with firm glances or gentle yet meaningful responses. Teachers should avoid punishing students in an authoritarian manner such as humiliating, yelling, striking, sending a student out of the classroom, banging a book, etc., as to prevent the teacher from shifting from a warm source of knowledge and encouragement to a scary and mean figure. If the teacher uses strict authoritarian discipline to correct bad behavior, students, in general, can become afraid to both be themselves and speak up, whether related to their personal feelings or the material in the lessons. Students can also become very anxious in the classroom if they do not trust the teacher or the environment, which affects their concentration, content absorption and even their desire to continue learning and participating. Learning the English language as a non-native speaker is already daunting enough without having an added emotional or mental aversion to the person teaching the material or the teaching environment itself.
Alternatives to Punishment
Instead of punishing students in an authoritarian manner as described above, teachers should try a calm, responsive, authoritative approach. Teachers can alter their teaching style to more interesting and/or interactive material if they find that the material is too boring or too advanced, and that is the cause for the behavioral issues in the classroom. If the behavioral issues seemingly have nothing to do with the teaching style or content and level, the teacher should speak with poorly-behaving students one on one to figure out if any underlying issues can easily be addressed, such as the student feels like the material is too easy, or the student is very stressed out because they have family problems at home.
A good teacher will try to help problem-solve with the student to at least identify the underlying issue and resolve to create a more fruitful teaching environment. Another method that teachers can try is to adopt a rewards system for good behavior for the class as a whole, which motivates students to pay attention to their own behavior. Teachers can also encourage students, especially those with bad behaviors in the classroom, regarding their strengths and give them responsibility in the classroom such as cleaning the whiteboard between lessons or being in charge of passing out materials, etc., which can help students develop their own sense of accountability and self-esteem. Finally, if teachers feel that badly-behaving students really need assistance outside of the teacher’s own realm of ability, the teacher can have a conference with the Principal and student’s parents to discuss some concerns and try to resolve the behavioral issues with other input.
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It is very important for teachers to not only balance their classes as a whole but address individual student needs in the classroom. A good teacher will be mindful of content, level, and variety in teaching style and material, and also be adaptive and receptive to feedback from the students in the class, which includes the feedback of bad behavior. Teachers should be warm, encouraging, and fair to all students, and also resourceful and creative while problem-solving for bad behavior.
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