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My Teacher is My Hero

By Christy Crawford on March 7, 2014
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

Dealing with challenging student behavior is one of the toughest aspects of teaching. Devin Bokaer, social worker and the spouse of a teacher, says that acts of heroism can be in the form of empathetic questions, small positive comments, or gestures exhibited in response to negative behaviors. He says that super heroic teachers perform these acts all the time.

Watch Bokaer’s short video (mobile users can access the video here), then read on for three simple phrases and suggestions that can be printed on heavy cardstock and laminated for daily reminders of how to be a superhero for your students.


Video created by Devin Bokaer

Read on as I get clarification from Bokaer on some of his more salient points.

Christy: In the heat of the moment, it would be helpful if teachers had a couple of phrases to readily respond appropriately and peacefully to a child's inappropriate behavior. But really, is being a superhero teacher as easy as memorizing a couple of phrases?

Devin Bokaer: No. Responding peacefully to egregious misbehavior is much easier said than done, especially since the child may continue to act out in unconscious attempts to force the teacher into an unsupportive authoritative role that the child may be used to outside of the classroom. However, over time, when a teacher remains supportive and uncritical of the child, it gradually provides the child with a new, more positive way of relating to others.
Christy: Educators aren't trained extensively in child psychology, psychiatry, or developmental relationships. Can they really make a difference?

Devin Bokaer: This all sounds like the work of a school counselor — someone who can relate to one student or a small group of students at a time, versus busy educators who have to relate to a class of 25 or more and worry about classroom management and high-stakes test prep. The student's behavior is difficult to change because the child's caregivers learned their model of relating from their own parents or caregivers. And of course, relationships are usually quite complex with both positive and negative ways of relating. However, teachers can make a difference. Teachers are important figures in a kid's life that can help break the relational cycle of problems with authority.

How You Can Resolve Relationship Patterns of Struggling Students

Read Bokaer's recipe to help a child feel at PEACE.

  • Acknowledge and praise them for even the smallest things that they are doing well.

  • Let them know that they are accepted as important members of the classroom community in spite of challenging behaviors. 

  • Be consistent in consequences without being angry or critical.  

  • Empathize — let them know their struggles are seen, heard, understood, and valued as important.

Three Heroic Ways for Teachers to Respond to Negative Behavior

Superheroes Devin Bokaer and Lauren Sutherland laugh with students in Sutherland's New York classroom.

To have a powerful influence on how children learn to manage their behavior, read and print Bokaer's PDFs on heavy card stock for your classroom, desk, or teacher's notebook.

1. Is the student not listening to directions or instructions? Your peaceful response. (Downloadable PDF)
Acknowledge the child’s behavior without being critical. You’ll also hopefully learn more about what’s keeping the child from listening. (When students feels that they are seen, heard, or validated, they are more likely to share what’s bothering them.)

2. Is the student being disrespectful? Your peaceful response. (Downloadable PDF)

Help the student see that she is acting out feelings. Give the child language to express her feelings rather than acting out.
3. Is the student aggressive or exhibiting violent behavior? Your peaceful response. (Downloadable PDF)
Make it absolutely clear that what they are doing is not O.K. Respond peacefully by identifying the child’s unacceptable behavior as the problem and not the whole child. This helps to prevent the student from internalizing the message that she is a “bad child” and it will also inspire her to self-regulate in the future.

New teachers especially get stuck in classrooms with an inordinate number of behavior problems. Please share your suggestions to help them successfully manage their classes. What do you say or do to help your students relate in a positive manner to other students, friends, or authority figures?

* Devin Bokaer is a graduate of the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College and currently works at Genesis, a family domestic violence shelter run by the Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services.

Comments (14)

Thank you for sharing. This is my 9th year teaching and have never felt this way about student behavior and it being two problems. Talking and disrespectful. I am sure going to be trying the suggestions that you made. I hope they work.

Fabulous! I have a heart for these kids and appreciate your explanation/illustration of the dynamics involved. I want all teachers to watch this. A great validation.

Those of the interesting information you always bring out the best that I know, thanks.

Hi there,
I really loves reading your advice and watching the video. Thanks for the time and effort that was put into this.
I just started on a new class 8 weeks onto the school year,they are beautiful children in year 2 and 3. I have one student who hasn't got a very nice home life and is very very low academically. He can be disrespectful, disruptive to the other students and can exhibit dangerous behaviors by throwing objects or tipping desks or chairs. If he doesn't get what he wants it makes it worse and warnings also make it worse. i cannot get him to sit witb the class or do his work no matter the strategies in place I follow my management plan but he does not see me as an authority figure. This is also my first teaching position so I feel a little lost as to what I can do to help him be engaged with the class and not lose control every 10 minutes, anf there isnt much support from home. Any advice will be so greatly appreciated.

To see Devin Bokaer's full length video, check out http://vimeo.com/65979215

It is just 7 minutes and it would be a great kick starter for a grade team meeting or professional development session on dealing with difficult behavior in the classroom.


Wow, I really appreciate the efforts that went in to making this video for us. I have one child in particular that acts out but he doesn't necessarily hurt anyone he just refuses to do anything. He has a terrible home life and he has no support from anyone but us. He has a sweet personality that comes out as an innocent child as he is allowed to play with other children but when it comes to doing his work he simply won't. He loses lost privelage a because of it. We have tried anything and mom refuses to meet with us. He is shut down and often gets dropped off at school just crying and won't talk to anyone. Mom has been in and out of jail and he has moved and came back several times. I want so badly for him to know that I care about him and I try to show that by providing him with new supplies and things because he is constantly showing up with nothing. It doesnt seem to help. We have given him umbrellas so that he doesn't have to walk home in the rain. We have let him repeat assignments multiple times to attempt a better grade, he just writes scribbles and if it multiple choice, he puts any letter. How can I reach out to this kid who has a tough shell? I want to be that possible impact but I feel that I am a loss as to what to for him. I don't want to be angry with him, I want him to get his education so he can have a bright future. Please any tips? Positive affirmation, I say that I am grateful he came to class but otherwise he doesn't do anything to praise him on, and I mean anything. Third grade, btw.

Hi Heather,

Keep pushing-- you will make a difference! :) CC

See Devin's advice for you below:

Thank you for sharing your story. It sounds like this child is really struggling on several levels and like you are already doing a great deal to help. I am sure that you are not alone in facing this kind of challenge, and that many teachers could relate to your experience. I think that the things that you doing are already letting him know that you care. And using positive affirmation could indeed be very helpful, although I see you mention that he does not seem to do anything to praise. Even finding the smallest things could help, things that most kids do well at least occasionally - such as commenting positively about that he is playing well with others, sitting/listening quietly, following directions, or any of the things that you identify as part of his sweet personality. If it does not seem appropriate to address it in the moment, you could always say after the fact: "Thank you for listening and paying close attention during our reading lesson today." Engaging his mother or another caregiver, if present, would be ideal, but it sounds as though this is not realistic. Is there a counselor or social worker at your school that may be able to meet with him or help reach out to his mother? Do you get the sense that he may have a form of learning or speech disorder? Some things that might be helpful to say in the classroom are: "I see you are not wanting to work. I wonder what's getting in your way?", "What are some things we could do to make this more fun/interesting for you?", "If you can let me know what's keeping you from working, I can try to help you with it." If he is really struggling or having a tough day, you could try saying: "I see that you are having a hard time and I want to make sure that you are ok. If there is anything that you would like to talk about, or any way that I can you, please let me know." If he clearly looks frustrated, sad, or upset, but will not speak about it, you could say, "You are looking upset. Are you feeling upset? What is it that might be making you feel this way?" Several of the things that you see him struggling with are beyond your control. When kids are dealing with trauma and other serious stressors outside of school, it might be extremely difficult or near impossible for them to perform well in school. It is wonderful that you do not want to be angry with him and that you want him to have a bright future. The more supportive, patient, and encouraging that you can be, the more he may feel that he is welcome and important. The more that you can help give him language for the feelings that he is acting out (through his behavior), the more tools he may have for expressing what is challenging for him and how he is feeling. However, it must be acknowledged these are processes can be very gradual. And they usually do require a lot of patience, compassion, and consistency (aka Real Life Superheroism).

Click on the words "your peaceful response".

Where it says "Peaceful Response" is a hot link. Click on it and the response is written so you can print it for each of the 3 scenarios.

Ok, I think I missed the helpful, heroic statements I can print on cards to assist me in remembering the value of addressing behavior in a validating way to the child!

Please WRITE the responses rather than have us watch the whole video. Some of us still prefer to learn by reading. Thank you.

Hi Janice,

The responses aren't in the video. You've got to click on the PDF links. I've also listed the peaceful responses below. (I've printed them out and put them in my classroom and in my kitchen to use with my own children! Hope they are helpful!)

(The child then sees the behavior and not self as "bad." The child learns to self-regulate.

(The child is given words to express feelings.)

(The child feels seen and validated.)


Thank you for your comment! Nothing frustrates me more than clicking on an intriguing link and finding out that it's a video. I'm perfectly capable of understanding what I read. And I prefer to learn that way. It's why I spend my days teaching others to do the same.

Lol! I hear you, Kay. I wish everyone felt the same way. CC

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