When Students Bicker And Argue

If a positive, low-key strategy can work, isn’t it worth giving it a try before more confrontational and heavy-handed traditional approaches?

You could feel the tension rising across the gym. Disputes over the rules. Name-calling. “Accidental” pushing and shoving. There’s a reason they call it “chemistry,” and this PE class was getting ready for an explosion.

Escalating Disagreements

Whenever students bicker and pick at each other verbally, it’s disruptive, contagious, and annoying. But if it starts to escalate, it can easily become a safety issue, especially in PE class.

When I arrived to pick up my class from PE, I didn’t know about the insults and chest-thumping that had been going on. What I saw was a calm, happy group of students, sitting in a circle giving each other compliments. I thought this was just the way this teacher ended the class every day. I loved it so much, I asked her about it after school.

A Mood-Lifting Strategy

“I could see they were starting to get on each other’s nerves, so I had to do something,” she said. “I started off by awarding a few students tickets for great things they had done during class. Then I awarded more tickets to anyone who gave someone else a sincere compliment. Pretty soon the mood settled down and the problem was over.”

The Power of Seeing the Positive

I was amazed. Instead of penalizing the students by making them sit on the bench or writing up a tracking form, this teacher used the power of seeing the positive. Even better, she got the whole group to leverage that power and make the problem go away.

Will this always work? Of course not. But I saw with my own eyes that it can work. And if a positive, low-key strategy can work, isn’t it worth giving it a try before more confrontational and heavy-handed traditional approaches?

The compliment strategy will definitely be going into my bag of tricks, and I hope it will become part of your repertoire, too.
Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, Positive Teaching Strategies

Additional Awesome Teacher Nation Resources

Books

  • Create a Great Day for Yourself and Your Students
  • 5-Minute Classroom Management Hints
  • The Take-Charge Teacher
  • All The Ways I Screwed Up My First Year of Teaching
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book, Volume 2

VideosAwesome Teacher Nation TV videos, including:

  • Why Threats and Punishments Don’t Work
  • Saving Time on Paperwork and Grading
  • 7 Strategies to Deal With the Pencil Sharpener
  • What’s the BEST Classroom Management Strategy?

Online Courses

  • Taming the Chaos: How to Create and Effective Classroom Routine
  • Making Money as an In-Demand Substitute Teacher
  • A Day in the Life of a Substitute Teacher
  • The Substitute Teacher’s Troubleshooting Guide

Gain Instant Access to the Awesome Teacher Nation Resources Library

With Solutions for Administrators, Classroom Teachers, New Teachers, Substitute Teachers, and more

Why Students Won’t Listen

Imagine you are on a game show. You are going to get a chance to win thousands of dollars if you answer the question correctly. The host opens his mouth to read the question. What are you doing at that moment?

My guess is you are leaning forward with your eyes on the guy’s face. You have your head turned slightly so that your better ear is toward him. You are concentrating. You are focused. There is no way you are going to miss what he says next.

Scenario two – Same game show, but this time you know the host will read the question three times, and then if you still didn’t get it, you can ask him to repeat two or three more times. Sure, you may still be listening, but will you be giving the same level of attention? My guess is probably not.

Why Students Tune You Out

The same is true for our students. When they hear you saying the same thing over and over, they tend to tune out. For one thing, it’s boring hearing the same thing over and over. For another thing, they know from experience exactly how many times you will say something before you “really mean it.”

Help Your Students Develop Listening Skills

I teach my students early on that I don’t like to repeat myself. I tell them I understand they might not hear what I said the first time – that’s totally normal. It’s just that I get tired saying the same thing again. If a student asks me to repeat something I just said, I ask for another student volunteer to repeat it. “Oops, you must have missed it,” I say. “Let’s see who got it.”

If you try this with your students, please, please avoid sarcasm or a mean tone. Be businesslike and calm. Also, if you notice that none of the students can accurately repeat what you said, you may not have been clear and you will want to repeat it. And finally, please be sensitive to students with special needs and adapt as necessary.

If you make the decision that, for the most part, you will only say things once, you may be surprised how many of your students suddenly develop better listening skills.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, Positive Teaching Strategies

Additional Awesome Teacher Nation Resources

Books

  • Create a Great Day for Yourself and Your Students
  • 5-Minute Classroom Management Hints
  • The Take-Charge Teacher
  • All The Ways I Screwed Up My First Year of Teaching
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book, Volume 2

VideosAwesome Teacher Nation TV videos, including:

  • Why Threats and Punishments Don’t Work
  • Saving Time on Paperwork and Grading
  • 7 Strategies to Deal With the Pencil Sharpener
  • What’s the BEST Classroom Management Strategy?

Online Courses

  • Taming the Chaos: How to Create and Effective Classroom Routine
  • Making Money as an In-Demand Substitute Teacher
  • A Day in the Life of a Substitute Teacher
  • The Substitute Teacher’s Troubleshooting Guide

Gain Instant Access to the Awesome Teacher Nation Resources Library

With Solutions for Administrators, Classroom Teachers, New Teachers, Substitute Teachers, and more

Don’t Smile Till Thanksgiving

Of all the horrible classroom management advice I have heard, “don’t smile until Thanksgiving” has got to be just about the worst.

The implication is if you act mean, strict, unsmiling, and cold, you will be able to intimidate your students into behaving. Then later (after Thanksgiving, presumably) you can “lighten up,” and reveal that you really aren’t that bad after all.

3 Reasons “Don’t Smile Till Thanksgiving” is Bad Advice

There are probably a million reasons this is bad advice, but I know you are busy, so I will limit myself to three:

1- Today’s students aren’t that easily intimidated. They either come from a home where adults (unfortunately) are much meaner than you could ever be, or a home where adults protect them from anything unpleasant (including mean teachers). Most of today’s students (thank goodness) are not taught to submit to authority, no matter how unreasonable.

2- Consistency is the best way to teach your students appropriate behavior. There is no such thing as the giant consequence that will make everything all better. When you switch from mean to nice, and then back to mean again, your students will continue to misbehave, just to see where the line is today.

3- Building a positive relationship with your students has been shown time and time again to be one of the most effective ways to create respect. Students who respect their teachers are more likely to do what they ask. Students who feel like their teachers hate them will resist and rebel.

Smile A Lot and Set Reasonable Limits

My advice to you is smile a lot from the very first minute of school, while you set logical, reasonable limits and build rapport with your students. They will be much nicer to you. Trust me.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, Positive Teaching Strategies

Additional Awesome Teacher Nation Resources

Books

  • Create a Great Day for Yourself and Your Students
  • 5-Minute Classroom Management Hints
  • The Take-Charge Teacher
  • All The Ways I Screwed Up My First Year of Teaching
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book, Volume 2

VideosAwesome Teacher Nation TV videos, including:

  • Why Threats and Punishments Don’t Work
  • Saving Time on Paperwork and Grading
  • 7 Strategies to Deal With the Pencil Sharpener
  • What’s the BEST Classroom Management Strategy?

Online Courses

  • Taming the Chaos: How to Create and Effective Classroom Routine
  • Making Money as an In-Demand Substitute Teacher
  • A Day in the Life of a Substitute Teacher
  • The Substitute Teacher’s Troubleshooting Guide

Gain Instant Access to the Awesome Teacher Nation Resources Library

With Solutions for Administrators, Classroom Teachers, New Teachers, Substitute Teachers, and more

Preventing Bad Behavior Habits

Things you will never hear a teacher say:

“Please write your spelling words ten times incorrectly.”
“Look away from the ball.”
“Place your fingers on the wrong keys, and practice your scales.”

Practicing a Skill Incorrectly Will Lead to Mistakes

Preventing Bad Behavior HabitsIt makes absolutely no sense to ask a student to practice doing a skill incorrectly.

In fact, when it comes to fundamental skills for academic success, we continually model best practices and give students many opportunities to practice getting it right, helping them develop the good habits we know will lead to success.

Practice Until You Get It Right

Once students know how to hold their pencils, their creative ideas can blossom in writing and drawing. Once they know how to hold a book, they can read for hours without strain. It’s all about learning how to use your tools correctly, and they way to do that is practice until you get it right.

Teachers Often Fail to Have Students Practice Behavior Skills

So why in the world do teachers fail to ask their students to practice the correct way to perform basic behavioral skills, such as how to ask a question in class, how and when to sharpen their pencils, how to treat a textbook, how to use their phone or tablet for academics, and so on? Aren’t they the same?

I have even seen teachers ask students to do behavioral skills incorrectly (“Who can show me the wrong way to sit in your seat?”) in an effort to help them discriminate between the correct and the incorrect way.

While I believe it is important for the teacher to show common mistakes and why they won’t work (both in academics and behavior), asking students to practice doing it wrong will result in confusion, and ultimately, in the student developing bad behavioral habits that will get in the way of their academic learning.

You would never ask a student to demonstrate how to solve for X incorrectly on the document camera! Don’t do it with behavior, either. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent. So teach your students the skills they need, and have them practice doing it perfectly so that they can succeed.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, Positive Teaching Strategies

Additional Awesome Teacher Nation Resources

Books

  • Create a Great Day for Yourself and Your Students
  • 5-Minute Classroom Management Hints
  • The Take-Charge Teacher
  • All The Ways I Screwed Up My First Year of Teaching
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book, Volume 2

VideosAwesome Teacher Nation TV videos, including:

  • Why Threats and Punishments Don’t Work
  • Saving Time on Paperwork and Grading
  • 7 Strategies to Deal With the Pencil Sharpener
  • What’s the BEST Classroom Management Strategy?

Online Courses

  • Taming the Chaos: How to Create and Effective Classroom Routine
  • Making Money as an In-Demand Substitute Teacher
  • A Day in the Life of a Substitute Teacher
  • The Substitute Teacher’s Troubleshooting Guide

Gain Instant Access to the Awesome Teacher Nation Resources Library

With Solutions for Administrators, Classroom Teachers, New Teachers, Substitute Teachers, and more

Why Panic Is a Bad Classroom Management Strategy

No matter what’s going on in your classroom, don’t panic!  I’m not promising you everything will be okay – how could I know that?  The only thing I know for sure is that panicking won’t help.  It will just take a bad situation and make it worse.

That Out-of-Control Feeling of Panic

I know that out-of-control feeling, and it isn’t pretty.  Case in point – It’s the first day of school. I am in front of a class of 42 7th graders, many of whom swagger into the room in gang-banger droopy pants and baseball hats (which is a violation of dress code.)  They talk trash to each other across the room – loudly – and completely ignore me, the teacher, standing up here in the front of the room.

Panic Seems Reasonable, But Not Helpful

Why Panic is a Bad Classroom Management StrategyPanic seems reasonable.  However (I remind myself) not helpful.  What will change if I take a moment to compose myself?  Nothing.  They will keep talking, but I will have regained my composure.

Breathing a couple of times, I take a look around the room.  Of the 42, only seven are actually trash talking and being loud.  The others are either quiet, or talking with their friends – just what I would do while waiting for class to start.  True, I still have a problem, but it’s not the all-encompassing rebellion I initially thought.

I decide to pretend the seven swaggerers aren’t there, and address the 35 students that are just fine (and waiting to see how I’m going to react.)  Another deep breath, and I start class just as I had planned.  No, it wasn’t perfect, and yes, I did need to redirect.  But at least I kept my sanity, and didn’t alienate the rest of the class by blaming them for the minority of students who were acting out.

Will staying calm solve all your problems?  Of course not, but at least you won’t make a bad situation worse.  And who knows?  You may discover it isn’t as bad as you initially thought.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, Positive Teaching Strategies

Additional Awesome Teacher Nation Resources

Books

  • Create a Great Day for Yourself and Your Students
  • 5-Minute Classroom Management Hints
  • The Take-Charge Teacher
  • All The Ways I Screwed Up My First Year of Teaching
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book, Volume 2

VideosAwesome Teacher Nation TV videos, including:

  • Why Threats and Punishments Don’t Work
  • Saving Time on Paperwork and Grading
  • 7 Strategies to Deal With the Pencil Sharpener
  • What’s the BEST Classroom Management Strategy?

Online Courses

  • Taming the Chaos: How to Create and Effective Classroom Routine
  • Making Money as an In-Demand Substitute Teacher
  • A Day in the Life of a Substitute Teacher
  • The Substitute Teacher’s Troubleshooting Guide

Gain Instant Access to the Awesome Teacher Nation Resources Library

With Solutions for Administrators, Classroom Teachers, New Teachers, Substitute Teachers, and more