Teaching Opinion

Responding--or NOT Responding--to Misbehavior

By David Ginsburg — May 14, 2011 2 min read
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It’s hard--really hard--not to respond to misbehavior as soon as you notice it (something I’ve experienced as both a teacher and parent). Often, however, the best response is a delayed response or no response at all. Here are a few guidelines:

  • Distinguish inappropriate behavior from disruptive behavior. Just because a student’s behavior may be inappropriate doesn’t mean it requires your immediate attention. All too often teachers divert their attention from students who are on task to those who are off task even when the off-task behavior poses no imminent threat to other students’ safety or opportunity to learn. The price for doing this is steep, as it sends the wrong message to all students: negative behavior trumps positive behavior when it comes to getting your attention. Unless it’s a fire that needs to be put out now, either ignore it--which can often extinguish it--or address it at a more opportune time.
  • Avoid overreacting to “under your skin” behavior. You’re human, so there are always going to be things kids do or say that get under your skin. Again, however, just because a behavior bugs you doesn’t mean you need to respond to it right away--if at all. In fact, as I’ve written before, the more you wear a pet peeve on your sleeve, the more kids will trigger it. Read Preventing Classroom Profanity with Peace and Love for ineffective and effective responses to one of my pet peeves, profanity.
  • Respond with calm and concern. Again, you’re human, so it’s inevitable there will be times when students rattle your cage so much that you feel animosity toward them. If, in any such cases, you’re unable to enter into a conference with composure, put off the conference. Go to the gym, have a nice dinner, get some rest, and meet with the student tomorrow when you can do so with calm and concern rather than contempt or condemnation. Positive begets positive, and negative begets negative. Never risk perpetuating the negative.

Is misbehavior in class unacceptable? Of course, but it’s also unavoidable. Even in the most well-managed classrooms, kids are going to misbehave from time to time. Yet it’s how we respond when students misbehave that often determines whether their behavior abates or escalates. So while it’s important to do what you can to prevent students from misbehaving, it’s also important to respond the right way at the right time when they do misbehave.

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