Self-care in the classroom
Working with students can be both rewarding and stressful. Sometimes, students will misbehave in the classroom. You may have trouble dealing with some of the disruptions and poor behaviors of students. Keeping cool is difficult for all of us at some time or another.
Take a Time Out
First, time out does not need to be a negative thing. It also doesn’t have to be exclusively for students. When you feel that your response might be inappropriate, excuse yourself from the situation. As another teacher to step in for a moment if need be.
Pick Your Battles
Choose the things that you are willing to fight for and the things you can let go. Some students need the attention, and others just want to see what the boundaries are. Sometimes, you just have to let things go. However, disrupting other students’ learning is never okay. If the disruption is major, you should not ignore it.
Don’t Internalize the Outburst
Ninety-nine percent of the time, the outburst the student is having is not really related to you. Your declaration that they needed to do their work, stop talking, or line up is not the thing that is making them feel angry. It’s likely the last thing they wanted to hear in an otherwise frustrating day or week.
Allow the Student to Feel
One of the worst things anyone can do is minimize another person’s feelings. One thing that has worked for countless teachers is to allow the student to feel what they feel while helping them to learn appropriate coping mechanisms. Allow a child to sit on the floor to do work when they are trying to escape the classroom stares. In some situations, allowing a student to sit in the hallway while working might be a good solution. Set ground rules to require the student to sit where you can see them, and they must work while they are in the hallway, not play. You might be surprised how much allowing students to feel the things they do will minimize classroom distractions. When you stop making them hide their feelings because their reactions are inappropriate, students are often more open to coping mechanisms.
Allow Yourself to Feel but Not Act
One of the best ways to teach your students that actions should be appropriate is to let them see you feel frustrated, worried, or even angry but not reactive. Let them see you take a deep breath, excuse yourself, or count backward from ten. Students should know that you practice what you preach. Remind yourself that this is not your fight. You can feel angry or frustrated, but you don’t have to further exacerbate the problem.
Wait and Talk
Wait until the student is calm themselves. If the disruptive behavior isn’t an outburst, let the disruption finish (sometimes trying to stop it mid-way through is worse than waiting it out) before trying to interact with the student. Waiting is not the same as ignoring the behavior. When you ignore the behavior, you carry on as though the behavior isn’t happening. When you wait it out, you stop communicating and wait for the behavior to stop. Once the student has finished, privately speak to them to find out what they think they need. Sometimes, this is when you learn what the student is feeling. Sentences like “I am so sick of everyone telling me what to do and how to do it. I can’t do anything right,” tell you that the student may be experiencing self-esteem and self-confidence issues. Talk to them about how you can help and how they can improve their own behavior. How would you want to be approached if you are frustrated and feel like the world is collapsing? Gentle words can help students be more open, and they can help you remember that this is a challenge for them more than for you.
If a student is in trouble for something they feel is minor or they have a consequence they do not like, acknowledge that this can be frustrating. Letting them know that while you haven’t experienced this exact situation you know it’s frustrating to be left out of an activity can help them understand that they aren’t being unreasonable for feeling frustrated, but they are being unreasonable in their response. Empathy can go a long way to prevent later disruptions. Empathy can also help you remember that you don’t always make the best choices when you are sad, angry, or tired either.
Carefully Choose Your Words
In the few extra seconds that it takes for you to choose your words, you often let go of some of your anger or annoyance. You also show the student that choosing your words is important. They also see that you aren’t trying to intentionally hurt or anger them. Thoughtful interaction is the most effective interaction during a disruption or outburst.
Students need your mentorship and leadership in the classroom and beyond. They learn how to interact through social activities in the classroom and with you. Let those interactions be as positive as possible, even in bad situations.