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Disruptive behavior is any behavior that will prevent an instructor from teaching, thus preventing his or her students from learning in class. Most likely dealing with a disruptive student means dealing a student whose unacceptable behavior is repeated or continuous. However, on occasion a teacher may have to deal with a disruptive student because of a single disruptive event. There is a significant difference between dealing with a disruptive student who is consistently disruptive, and dealing with a student who has displayed disruptive behavior only once.
There are always reasons underlying a students behavior. If a child has been disruptive once in class, it may be that something about that day upset the child emotionally and caused him or her to behave unlike he or she would at any other given time. By the same token, if a child is always disruptive there is probably a more deep-seeded problem involved. Trouble at home, some sort of undiagnosed disorder, problems with the other students etc. Therefore, dealing with a disruptive student is going to have to be carefully executed. As teachers, we must remember that even though it is incredible frustrating to have a disruptive student interfere with your class plans—it may be that that student is suffering just as much if not more than those he or she is disrupting. I cannot emphasize it enough; dealing with a disruptive student must be done with care.
Of course there are the typical forms of disruptive behavior such as a student monopolizing discussions, talking in class, trying to change the subject, coming to class late or leaving class early, sleeping in class, eating in class when not allowed, and passing notes. Dealing with a disruptive student who is an extrovert and seems to be hungry for attention is different than dealing with a disruptive student who displays more introvert-like behaviors such as sleeping in class, coming late and leaving early—or just leaving class at random during the school day.
If you do not already, think of your students as little people, and their disruptive behavior as a sign of something wrong—like a fever or a cough.
Not to say that dealing with a disruptive student should be without punishment. Sometimes the punishments need to be severe simply in order to continue class as scheduled and planned. But this sort of severe punishment, i.e. expulsion, suspension, long hours of detention etc. should (and of course, on a case-by-case basis) be coupled with trying to get the child some help with his or her problems.
Many schools offer student counseling or something of the like. If this is not enough—you may want to meet with the parents. Being very careful not to put them on the defensive, try to find out if the problem may be related to something at home.
When dealing with a disruptive student who makes threats—whether they are made against a student, a faculty member or staff member, there is almost certainly a problem regarding violence in the home or in the students social interactions. If a student is threatened that he or she might get beaten up, whether by bullies or by a parent or guardian—he or she is likely to imitate this type of behavior. A child exposed to yelling and screaming and constant fighting at home, may have trouble not doing the same in a social situation—or these things can have a reverse effect, and the child will withdraw him or herself, not care about the work or the grades or anything else. So the “how to” is a big and difficult decision to make when dealing with a disruptive student. It is quite possible that a teacher can enable the student to have a better overall life if this kind of problem is caught in enough time. Thus, dealing with a disruptive student may often need to involve some of the other faculty—especially a guidance counselor—or another type of social work professional to decide what is the best thing to do.
Despite the fact that dealing with a disruptive student is often dealing with a person who is troubled—there are, unfortunately by no fault of their own, very nasty behaviors that can come along with dealing with a disruptive student.
For example: if you meet with a disruptive student to discuss his or her problems—you should probably have another person present. My suggestion is to have the guidance counselor or someone similar be the third party involved in the discussion. The reason for having more than one adult there when you are dealing with a disruptive student is partly that the student may become angry with you. The student may lie and say that you hurt or threatened him or her—which can escalate into a much more serious problem legally.
One warning, however, is that you seriously consider NOT having the parent, parents or guardian of the child be the third party in discussions dealing with a disruptive student, in case the problem stems from the home. If this is so—the child may freeze up and not say a word—leaving you concerned and giving you nothing to go on.
The most important thing to remember, teachers, when dealing with a disruptive student, is that you should approach them kindly at first. They should not feel like the bad guy or be put on the defensive right away. Of course, we all know that a teacher must be firm but also kind. So you will have to be firm and use punishment as part of dealing with a disruptive student. But even a punishment can be given with kindness, with understanding in your voice and with the insinuation that you have faith that the child can and will improve. Try to make the child feel as though he or she has not been “singled out” as much as you possibly can when dealing with a disruptive student. Try to make the student feel as though he or she is just as special and important to you as the rest of the class, and that you can work together to correct the behavioral issues at hand.
Dealing with a disruptive student can quite possibly be one of
the most difficult parts of being a teacher. But do not give up.
All of your students need the support and love of the adults who
take care of them—and that is you about six hours out of the
day five days a week. The most important advice I can give you in
regards to dealing with a disruptive student is—try not to
get frustrated or upset. Be the adult. And set your goal to help
the student as best you can.
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