Monday, September 16, 2013

Creating useless stress

As a young middle school teacher, I often failed to realize how my reactions to student behavior would cause a situation to escalate. I remember in my first year teaching, the students were misbehaving because I was delivering the material so poorly, and I came down way too hard on them. I yelled at them repeatedly with lots of negative comments and finally, I stopped teaching and made them put everything away. For the rest of class, they weren't allowed to talk. It was an oppressive and unhappy 10 minute period in my teaching career that I can remember vividly. When the children were leaving the room, I remember a girl named Pat said, "I hate that teacher. Anybody got a gun?" Nice. .....all my fault and utterly avoidable. It was 1989, and school shootings weren't so commonplace. ....but I digress. The moral of the story is that we have to handle this age group with care. We have to recognize when a situation is worth the expression of negative energy or anger and when it isn't....and most of the time, it isn't.  

For example… Here is a simple and very typical scenario:  a student enters the building before students are allowed to be inside.  You see the student.   How do you handle it?  

I have seen this situation numerous times during my career. More often than not, I have seen the teacher yelling at the student in a very aggressive manner.   "Getting in the face" of the student.....And depending on the nature and background of the middle school child, it often can turn into a terrible and stressful situation for the teacher. Because children in this age group recognize when we cross the respect boundary, they are very likely to interpret a situation that is handled like this one as such. This would be an easy scenario for a middle school child to manipulate. It would be simple to make the teacher be seen in a negative light..and perhaps, rightly so. We are the adults. We must behave as such.    

When a situation as simple as this one is handled in the way I've described, it does nothing productive for anyone involved. All it does is to cause the teacher's  blood pressure to rise and the student to resent the way he is being treated.   It is a total waste of energy, and it does not create mutual respect....which, in the end, is the single best ticket to "ease of execution" in classroom management at the middle school level.   

The solution is to tell the student in a very calm way that he should not be in the building and to escort him outside.  Obviously, if you see the same student on numerous occasions engaging the same behavior, we have to escalate the consequences, but we never, under any circumstance, disrespect the child. We can think in our heads that he should behave better. We can wonder where his parents are and why they haven't taught him to respect rules and follows them....but to do anything in the moment like yelling at or embarrassing the child is a poor strategy and will not serve us well.     We should never break the respect barrier with anyone but especially with middle school students.  

When we handle middle school students with a respectful and caring attitude, we get one in return almost without fail. In doing so, we get the students to play on our team. The results of having our middle school students want to cooperate with and work with us are enormously positive.  We create or destroy that atmosphere with every public interaction in our classroom or in the hallways with our middle school students. They watch and react to how we deal with every stressful situation. We can avoid adding stress to our lives, and we can gain cooperation and positive energy when we remember one simple rule: Treat children respectfully....always.  




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