I recently received the following question from Christine in Greece:
Hello. I've just discovered your site and I find it extremely useful for us teachers. I would like to ask for a piece of advice. I teach English as a second language in a private school. We started in September and everything was fine. But during the last month there seems to be a problem between two boys. If they find the chance they argue. I don't know if I have done something to provoke that. There are two or three incidents the last few days and I've become anxious. If there are any more incidents I think that my boss is going to put one of them in another class. But before the problem goes that far I would like to hear your opinion. I tried to talk it over with them saying you are all friends and you mustn't argue on small things but I would like your opinion too. It 'll be much appreciated.
Thank you for your question, Christine. I'm sorry that this situation is making you anxious. You should never have to feel that way as a teacher. I know that there are many teachers out there who feel the same way, however. I have a few thoughts about your situation:
(1) There is no place for arguing in a civilized classroom. You are right to try to find a way to put a stop to it. Arguing may not be the most extreme form of student misbehavior, but it is still something that should be addressed.
(2) I think you did the right thing by trying to reason with them first. Many times this is enough to solve these kinds of situations. It doesn't always work, though, as you have discovered.
(3) Removing the students doesn't really teach them anything. I'm not a fan of removing students who don't behave well (or even changing their seats for that matter). They are much better off being made to stay and learn how to behave appropriately.
(4) One of the best ways to lower stress and anxiety in teaching is to have a plan for handling student misbehavior ready before anything happens. If you go into your day keeping your fingers crossed that students won't misbehave, then you are in for a long long day (and probably career).
Here is a summary of the structure that I recommend for those low/medium types of discipline problems:
FIRST--Try to handle the issue with nonverbal communication. Many times doing something nonverbal like giving a stern look, shaking your head, or standing next to students when they misbehave can be an enough to make them stop. Find something that works for you.
SECOND--Give a calm verbal reprimand of some kind. Clarity is key here. Be direct and say exactly what you expect to happen. You might want to say something like "quiet" or "be calm" or "composure." Repeat your comment if necessary. There are endless possibilities. Just be sure to be unemotional when you say it. Too much intensity or attitude can sometimes just spark even worse behavior.
THIRD--Talk to the student individually and explain calmly why you think the behavior is unacceptable.
If you have tried all of these things mentioned and there is still no significant change, then it is probably time to take some kind of action. The question is, what kind of action? I think this is where a lot of teachers mess up. At this point, a lot of teachers think that it is time for extreme consequences -- get an administrator involved, switch students out of your class, etc. I think it is too soon for that, though. Before you get drastic, the next thing to try is...
FOURTH--Give a mild but concrete consequence. This can be a loss of a privilege, a short detention after school (15 minutes or less), a short period of no talking during class, whatever. It is up to you to figure out what would work best for your age group, level, etc. The severity of the consequence is not important. I used to think that the best consequence would be to overkill and threaten the students into behaving well. This strategy rarely works, if at all. The key is that you have something concrete, anything, that you can do other than just give lip service. The results for this strategy are often amazing.
FIFTH (AND FINAL)--If all else fails and you have tried everything you can, then it is finally time to try to get administration involved.
The idea here is to give students every chance to correct their misbehavior before you do anything serious about it. However, there is a point eventually where this strategy doesn't work and you have to do something about it. You don't have to feel helpless. Just make sure that you don't rush to get too drastic too early.
Doug (The Discipline Doctor)
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