I received the following question from a reader in New Jersey:
Dear Discipline Doctor: I am an art teacher on the cart for 13 years. I have not had many problems until this year teaching 5th and 6th grades. I have work for them to do as soon as I come in and some ignore it and some talk while they work. They are an aggressive, active group that constantly talks and gets out of their seat. I start with a warning but am ignored, I have tried calling home but numbers do not work. Please help.
I feel your pain. Student misbehavior that is disruptive but not extreme is one of the biggest challenges that teachers face. This common problem was one of my inspirations to starting my study of classroom discipline.
My general attitude about classroom management is this: there should be NOTHING that students do in your classroom that you don't let them do. Nothing. So, if they are talking or getting out of their seats and you don't want them to do that, then there should be a consequence of some kind for that behavior. It doesn't have to be severe or dramatic. It just has to be something. And make sure the consequence is more than just words. Words mean very little to students these days.
Here are some thoughts about what I would do if I was in your situation:
*I wouldn't count on parents to help. There is nothing wrong with asking parents to help with behavior problems, but I would never count on it. I just consider it a bonus when parents actually do help. I would avoid using a parent contact as a consequence or something to hold over students.
*I would have some light consequences to use with/after a warning. I used to think that severe consequences were needed to prevent misbehavior. I have learned that this is not true. Often all that is needed is something concrete. So I would try to come up with a specific plan of consequences for minor behaviors. An example might be short detentions (1 min, 5 min, etc). If your school doesn't allow detentions then think of something you can do within your class time. Be creative and think of some that would fit your situation best. Then develop a simple plan and stick to it.
*I would keep a record of consequences given. Use the record to show parents or keep an eye on the totals received for individual students.
*I would try my best to be unemotional when giving consequences. Choose some reasonable consequences and trust them. Then make them increase as needed. Just don't make it the consequence PLUS your attitude. Implement your consequences with no attitude whatsoever. This is one of the keys to successful classroom management.
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