Enforcing Class Rules Part 1: Extreme Professionalism

By Justin Lim on August 31, 2009

Ironically, the times when teachers need to be the most professional are often the times when they let their emotions take over. It's been my experience that the worse a student's behavior is, the more professional I have to act in order to control the situation. The reason is because any time there is a student teacher conflict, the entire class is watching to see how I'm going to respond. How I handle myself will likely result in either gaining or losing a great deal of respect.

Here's a real life example from my 07-08 school year (names have been changed):

One particular day, Jenny decided that she didn't want to stop working on the computer, even though it was Elva's turn to use the station. By the time I arrived at the scene, Jenny was already worked up and when I asked her to move to the next station, her response was highly disrespectful (she cussed at me). At this point, I politely asked her to wait outside and told her that I would be sending her to her counselor's office. Her response was to continue to cuss at me until security had to escort her out. During the ordeal I firmly, but very professionally told Jenny that at that time, she was not welcome in our class and that she could return only after complying to our class rules.

Immediately after Jenny was escorted out, Amy, who had a history of behavior problems, commented, "Wow, Mr. Lim, I'm really embarrassed for Jenny right now."  James then added, "How did you stay so calm?"

After such a tense situation, I had to diffuse the energy, so we had a class discussion about how sometimes there are things going on in our lives that others just don't understand. We all knew that there was probably something going on in Jenny's life that caused her to explode that day. Essentially, I was defending Jenny. I wasn't defending what she did, but I was defending her as a person.

Now, I'm going to be quite honest.  I'm a Sergeant in the Marine Corps. I'm used to giving instructions once and expecting things to get done. When Jenny was cussing me out, it took immense intestinal fortitude to stay calm and collected. I was furious on the inside. I held it in though, because I knew how the rest of the class was going to respond.

On that day, I earned a ton of respect from one of the toughest classes that I've ever had. They came to trust that I was a fair teacher and knew that I wasn't "out to get them." I could have followed my emotions and yelled at Jenny. I could have intimidated and embarrassed her. However, I can pretty much guarantee that if I took that route, the only thing my kids would have remembered that day would have been when "Mr. Lim was totally jacked up to Jenny."

When Jenny came back a week later (she was suspended 5 days for cussing out her counselor) she was respectful and productive. She didn't show any animosity towards me at all. Surprisingly, she later told me that I was the best teacher that she ever had.

Being a teacher can be frustrating at times. There's no doubt about it. Remember though, by the time they get to high school, most students carry an "us against the teacher" mentality. It's up to us to win their trust and admiration. The great thing about kids though, is that once you earn their respect, they'll give themselves over to you completely. That's when it's time to build them up as responsible and capable individuals.

Warm Regards,

Justin Lim
Rosemead High School
El Monte Union High School District

Comments

you are great!!!!! thank you for sharing

I so agree that professionalism is key, although its not always easy to remain steady when under fire!

Here's a strategy I've used before students' attitude escalates into a problem. I try to get them thinking, writing and sharing:

Ask students what is a showdown? (a confrontation that forces an outcome) At what events might you show up? When might you show off? What might you showcase? What is show biz? What is a showstopper? Imagine that its showtime. What would you choose to do to entertain the crowd -- without resorting to hurtful or demeaning tactics?

[EDIT: RESPONSE]

Natalie,

That's an awesome idea! That sounds like a great topic for an effective structure think-write-pair-share!

I do a lot of discussions that are similar that have to do with motivation and coping mechanisms.

I'm going to totally use this!

Warm regards,

Justin

"The great thing about kids though, is that once you earn their respect, they'll give themselves over to you completely. That's when it's time to build them up as responsible and capable individuals."

This is the most important lesson I have learned from working with some difficult students for the past 3 years. The time spent building and earning the trust and respect comes back ten-fold and, as you say, once you have it, you have them. The things you can then accomplish are incredible.

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