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

The Importance of Ritual

Have you ever seen some of the things teachers do when they’re hoping for a snow day? They suddenly change from rational human beings to superstition machines. One of my friends sleeps with her pajamas inside-out and a spoon under her pillow. My principal wears special snowflake earrings.

We all know that snow dances don’t affect the weather, but there is still a powerful something about rituals that can’t be denied.

Rituals Are Everywhere

You see it everywhere-in the bowler who does the high-five-low-jive with his team members after a strike; in the way you line up your colored pencils in ROYGBIV order before working on your art project; in the special extra words your kids add to the Happy Birthday song.

I believe it’s important to use rituals in the classroom to encourage positive actions, build community, and celebrate achievements.

Classroom Rituals That Build Community

Here are a few examples:

  • Fist pump for every correct answer when correcting a math facts test
  • Positive and/or funny good-bye call-and-response protocol to end class each day
  • Students sit in the teacher’s chair when sharing their writing with the class
  • Joke of the day to start class
  • Special music for cleanup and other transitions
  • Hand jive or secret handshake as the students leave
  • Secret word that means it’s time to pack up

Increase Academic Achievement With Rituals

Inside jokes and shared routines tell your students they belong. When students feel they belong, they are less likely to skip school. When their achievements are recognized and celebrated (even with a silly fist pump) they try harder. And of course, attendance and trying harder are directly related to academic achievement. Plus – the more they feel they belong, the less they will challenge your authority!

Rituals do not have to be complicated, long, or even funny. They just need to add a little touch of meaning to the everyday happenings in your classroom.

Give it a try! You may be surprised at the difference it makes.
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

Tattling and Advice-Seeking

Tattling Students“My friend lied to me!”

“My parents are getting a divorce!”

“My boyfriend broke up with me!”

“Everyone’s gossiping about me!”

“He cut in front of me in line!”

When students come to us with personal problems it’s easy to fall into one of two extremes—dismiss the problem as unimportant (“I’m sorry. Go play with someone else.”) or get drawn into the drama and spend hours counseling and problem-solving (“Who’s gossiping about you? What did they say? Let’s have a meeting and work it out.”)

On one hand, as trivial as some problems may seem to us, they are still important to our students, and it’s disrespectful to minimalize them. On the other hand, as important as some issues sound, we may be making them even worse by intervening.

Of course your response will depend upon the maturity of your students and the severity of the problem. But in nearly every case the goal should be to help our students develop problem-solving skills instead of solving the problem for them.

Questions That Empower StudentsNext time a student comes to you with a problem try asking these three questions:

1—What have you done about this problem so far? (You can skip this question if they’ve already told you a long story.)

2—What do you think you’ll try next? (Helps them own the problem and empowers them to solve it.)

3—What can I do to help? (Clarifies their motivation for coming to you, expresses sympathy, and defines your role as a concerned adult, not a magic problem-solver.)

Sometimes you don’t need all three questions. For example, for outright tattling, question #3 might take care of it. And sometimes when you ask question #2, students will realize they really don’t want to do anything about the problem—they just wanted a sympathetic ear.

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

A Bribe or a Thank-You?

Henry was on a behavior plan. If he attempted his work, used respectful language, and kept his hands to himself during a class, he received points. If he received 12 out of 18 points during the day, he got to listen to music on his headphones the next day.

Ineffective Behavior Plan

I had Henry the last period of the day, so my class was make-or-break time. If he came to me with no possibility of making it, he would act out in class. What did he have to lose? If he already had it made, he would act out. What did he have to lose? And if he was close… I found myself giving him a lot of warnings.

“If you don’t get to work, I’m not going to be able to give you your point. So get to work.” Henry was smart. He knew I was trying to give him a point. So he would push the edge to see what he could still get away with, and earn his points.

Please don’t get me wrong. Incentives can definitely be effective in helping our students learn positive behavior, both in the short-term and long-term. In fact, we re-designed Henry’s plan so that every time he earned 20 points (no matter how long it took) he would receive his prize. That way, even if he fell short one day, he still had a reason to keep trying. Once we did that his behavior improved markedly.

What Works Better Than Incentives

But there’s something that works even better than incentives for most students, and it’s a lot simpler too. It’s acknowledgement.

Instead of telling students you will give them something in exchange for certain behavior (aka bribing them) look for positive behavior that is already occurring and give an unexpected prize, reward, privilege, or just plain “thank you.” The more random you can make it, the better.

For example, on Monday give a token to each student who is on time to class. On Tuesday allow students who are on time to class to be dismissed first for lunch. On Wednesday give a new pencil to every student who cleans up their area without being asked. On Thursday quietly and privately thank students who are working quietly at their desks, and allow them to choose where they want to sit. On Friday announce Listen to Music Day for the whole class because “almost everyone” turned in their homework on time.

Random Rewards, Consistent Expectations

The thing that should NOT be random is your expectations. Those should be consistent. For example, you always expect students to clean their area and work quietly at their desks when asked. You just choose different things to acknowledge in different ways.

The more you can become a Random Acknowledgement Machine without being insincere or lowering your standards, the more your students will learn positive behavior. And there’s a great side benefit, too. It’s fun!

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

Changing One Word Can Make a Huge Difference

Have you ever had one of those backhanded compliments? Like, “Wow! You actually smell good today!” Yeah, me too. And yet, too many times I see educators giving backhanded compliments to their students without even realizing it.

“You did a great job on that writing assignment, but you need to work more on your spelling.”

“You got 99% of those questions right, but you need to do the last one over.”

“You got ready for dismissal quickly, but you are still too noisy.”

What “But” Really Means

Do you notice what each of those sentences has in common? It’s that nasty little word “but.” My 5th grade teacher taught me that whenever someone uses a sentence with the word “but” in it, you can ignore whatever came before the “but” and just pay attention to the rest of the sentence, because that’s what the speaker really means.  And in truth, that’s exactly what happens with our students. Many times, they give much more weight to the criticism than they do to the praise.

As educators, we make statements like these because we want to soften bad news or criticism, or we want to let our students know how they can continue to make progress. Unfortunately, using sentences containing “but” doesn’t do what we want, and may actually feel manipulative and dishonest to our students, which will cause them to resist us.

A Simple Fix

So what can we do instead? I suggest a simple word substitution. Any time you want to use the word “but,” substitute “next.”

“You did a great job on that writing assignment. Next, let’s work on some of those spelling words.”

“You got 99% of those questions right. Great job! Next, I’d like you to work on that last one again, and see if you can get it right, too.”

“You got ready for dismissal quickly. Thank you. Next, I’d like you to wait quietly.”

Words are important, and sometimes small changes make a big difference. Give it a try, and let me know how it goes.

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

When Students Bully Teachers

I dreaded 5th period. A student in the class seemed to have the mission of humiliating me in front of the class.

The attacks were personal and persistent and touched on subjects such as my bad taste in clothing, my stupid assignments, and my boringness. This student mocked my words, made jokes about me to other students, and refused to follow my instructions.

I felt powerless and bullied.

Can Teachers Even Be Bullied?

Many school districts have bullying prevention programs in place, but usually these programs focus on student-to-student bullying. In fact, it is controversial whether or not a teacher can actually be bullied by a student, since one component of bullying is the bully’s power over the victim. Since teachers technically have authority over students, it is difficult to argue that they are the victims of bullying.

But what if we feel bullied anyway?

6 Ways to Deal With Bullies

Last week I got the chance to see an excellent anti-bullying lesson, taught by the school counselor. She showed a video that gave students six ways to avoid being the victim of a bully. Here were the strategies (as I remember them):

  1.  Avoid the bully.
  2. Use body language to avoid looking weak.
  3. Agree with the bully, possibly using humor.
  4. Gather friends around you.
  5. Tell an adult.
  6. Confront the bully (verbally, not physically.)

Could these ideas be adapted to help teachers who feel bullied by students? If so, what might these strategies look like in a teacher-being-bullied-by-a-student situation?

Avoid the bully. Some teachers attempt to do this by kicking the student out of class or escalating the situation so the student will be suspended. I don’t recommend this, because it will only make the situation worse. But could you avoid situations that tend to trigger disruptive behavior? For example, does the student always disrupt direct instruction? If so, could you structure your lessons differently? Could you avoid interacting with the student by using aides, student helpers, and parent volunteers?

Body language. Bullies tend to pick on people who appear weak. Do you have a confident posture? Do you speak with a strong voice? Do you dress in a way that shows you value yourself?

Agree. I think this one can be fun, especially if you apply a little humor. Here are a few examples:

Student: You’re boring!
Response:  Thanks! I’ve worked for years to become this boring.

Student:  You’re stupid!
Response:  Oh my gosh, you’re so right! I guess I was too stupid to realize it until now.

Student:  (Mocking, eye-rolling, negative body language)
Response:  I think we all get it that you don’t like me, but telling me over and over is getting a little boring. Can we just agree to disagree, and move on?

Gather friends. If you are struggling with this student, chances are good others are, too. Instead of suffering in silence, talk about it and make a plan. Enlist the help of other adults in your building, such as last year’s teacher or other teachers in the student’s schedule. Is there an aide or volunteer who could pull the student out for one-on-one tutoring? Could you form a time-out-room agreement with another teacher? Could you form an emergency response agreement with a few other teachers and staff? Ask the counselor to visit from time to time? Ask the custodian if she might need a helper? Have the hall monitor/security come in, not to intervene, but just to be present and “see what the class is doing?” Could the parents of your bully be asked to volunteer? (Some of these suggestions will not be possible or allowed. Please follow your school’s rules!)

Tell an adult. Since we are adults, to us this could mean “tell an authority.” Supportive principals are an often-overlooked resource. Ask them for suggestions. Same goes for the counselor and/or behavior interventionist. Let the student’s family know what’s happening. Maybe a behavior support plan or an IEP is appropriate. Start documenting, and investigate your options. Your union may have resources, or be able to offer suggestions. Your state may have harassment laws that apply.

Confront verbally. I don’t recommend confronting students. However, I do think there is some power in having a conversation with the student to name what is happening. This can take many forms – a private conference, a class meeting, a behavior conference, a Restorative Justice circle… Just make sure to do this when you are not angry and when you have thought about what you want to say.

Have you ever felt bullied by a student, or seen a staff member struggle with this issue? How did you respond? I know this is a complicated topic, and I welcome your suggestions. Feel free to comment in our private Facebook group, or send me an email. You are not alone!

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

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