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March 14, 2010 Behavioral Roadblocks: Turning Setbacks Into Successes By Justin Lim
Grades 9–12


    "You're just making me angry. I want to go to my counselor." It's not everyday that I experience insubordination and I've never before had a student actually ask to get written up. That is, until Jerry did last Tuesday.



    "You're just making me angry. I want to go to my counselor." It's not everyday that I experience insubordination and I've never before had a student actually ask to get written up. That is, until Jerry did last Tuesday.


    The best way to handle insubordinate behavior is to stop it before it occurs, but sometimes conflicts just happen. In those cases, I'm of the opinion that it's better to write up a student than to have an argument in class. If you're anything like me though, sending a student to the office can ruin your entire day. If you can relate to this, then I applaud you, because it's an indicator that you posses perhaps the most fundamental quality of being a good educator - devotion to your kids. Devotion though, without good practical application, can only take us so far. So, let me show you how to turn behavioral setbacks into ways to strengthen your relationships with your students.

    1. Never lose your cool - Remember, when conflicts between students and teachers occur, the default position of the rest of the kids is to take the student's side. It's nothing personal, it's just the fact that kids can relate to each other better than they can to us. With that being said, understand that the more belligerent a student becomes the more professional and collected you must be. When an insubordinate student's rant is juxtaposed against your reasonable (but still firm) demeanor, the rest of the class will be primed to see that particular student's immaturity. Moreover, you would have gained a ton of credibility with the rest of your students. Throw a tantrum yourself and to them, you've all but justified the insubordination.

    2. Defend your student - Sometimes after a conflict, you can feel that there's just too much tension to jump back into the lesson. If this is the case, then use the situation for a different type of teaching opportunity. Start out by defending the student who was just written up. Don't defend the behavior, but point out to the class that even good people can make bad choices and that none of us are perfect. Go on to discuss good ways to solve conflicts and discuss the importance of professionalism. Not only will your kids be learning tremendously important lessons, but you will also be earning more of their trust and respect.

    3. Swallow your pride and apologize - that is if you've clearly done something wrong. Even the best of us make mistakes and we can't expect our students to change if we show them that we're not willing to.

    Earlier this year I accidentally emotionally hurt a student. She was attempting to ask a question, but because she only muttered two words and the tone was ambiguous, I couldn't decipher if she was asking a question or making a comment. She was annoyed that I couldn't understand her and because I was bothered by her reaction, I repeated her question verbatim back to her in front of the class to illustrate its incomprehensibility. The whole class laughed and I realized that I just violated one of my personal inviolable rules of teaching. Never embarrass a student. Ever.

    Unfortunately, it was right at the end of the period, which meant that by the time I had processed what had just occurred, the class was already gone. The next day, I apologized in front of the class and pointed out that I shouldn't have embarrassed her. I didn't condone her laziness to formulate an actual question and I certainly did not condone her annoyed reaction towards me, but as the teacher I knew that I would have to repair that damaged relationship. Today, she is one of my most active participants and our relationship is much stronger than it was before. Moreover, my kids have an increased amount of respect for me.

    On Wednesday, Jerry was right back in my class again. He told me that he is genuinely sorry for his behavior on Tuesday and his improved behavior has shown it. I know that a big part of his response had to do with the fact that Jerry's friends from the class talked to him at lunch. They pointed out to him that he was wrong. When I found out about this, I was really encouraged to discover the amount of credibility that I have with my kids.

    Student-teacher conflicts are terrible. Not only do they disrupt our classes, they also stress us out. I used to be afraid of conflicts. I still try to avoid them, but now I also use them as opportunities to make my teaching stronger.

    How do you handle behavioral issues?

    Warm regards,

    Justin Lim
    Rosemead High School
    El Monte Union High School District



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