Are Your Students Defiant?

You may have noticed that, upon occasion, students do not do things exactly the way you want them to.

Just the other day I asked a class of elementary students to work on an assignment without talking. Not even one second later, more than half the class started chattering with each other.

Angry TeacherThe heat moved up my neck and into my head. My ears started ringing. I was furious. Not even a pretense at doing what I asked! The disrespect! I was about ready to let them have it.

But then I took a deep breath, a practice I recommend frequently, and asked myself two questions.

  1. Would yelling, blaming, or punishing make the situation better or worse? (Answer: There is no situation that will not be made worse by yelling, blaming, or punishing.)
  2. Had I ever explicitly taught these students MY definition of “without talking?” I knew what I meant, but did the students?

(I know.  Without. Talking. How can you get THAT wrong? But stay with me…)

Since the answer to Question 2 was I had not explicitly defined “without talking,” it was possible they didn’t know what I meant. I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and teach them.

I got their attention and then in a very quiet, calm, non-sarcastic voice I said, “I’m sorry. I guess I never actually taught you what I mean when I say, ‘without talking.’ ‘Without talking’ to me means your lips are completely closed and your throat is not making any sounds.” And then I showed them what “no talking” sounded like, as well as a few anti-examples, such as talking loudly, murmuring, quietly asking to borrow a pencil, and whispering. And when I repeated my request for them to work without talking, the room was silent.

Why did this work? I think there are two possibilities. Either they really didn’t know what I meant (for instance, they thought it was okay to talk as long as they were talking about the assignment) or they didn’t think I was going to enforce it. By stopping the lesson and making my expectations clear, I took away any excuses and let them know I meant what I said.

Remember that, at times, talking to a young person is like having a conversation in a foreign language. The expectations you bring to the conversation may be different than theirs, and even the words you use may have different meanings. Before blaming the students, try teaching a lesson instead. After all, you ARE a teacher!

Katrina Ayres, Positive Teaching Strategies

Additional Awesome Teacher Nation Resources


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  • The Take-Charge Teacher
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  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book, Volume 2

VideosAwesome Teacher Nation TV videos, including:

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Online Courses

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  • A Day in the Life of a Substitute Teacher
  • The Substitute Teacher’s Troubleshooting Guide

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