The classroom teacher’s attitude, demonstrated through their words, actions, body language and management approach, is the most significant factor in successfully working with challenging students.
My father taught me that “when dealing with people’s problems, you need to lift the bandaid to understand why they behave as they do”. I believe teachers can play an important role in ‘lifting the bandaid and treating the festering sore beneath’.
This ‘bandaid’ metaphor describes my attitude and approach to dealing with students with ‘problem’ behaviours and special needs. (What is a ‘problem’ or challenging behaviour)
My Attitude & Actions
- I understand that challenging students’ behaviour(s) are purposeful, and try to acknowledge their emotions & circumstances as valid and real.
- As teachers, we have no control over the emotional baggage our students bring to school, and indeed, some have extremely complex problems.
- What we can do; however, is acknowledge their emotions, and work to identify the purpose(s) of their behaviour.
- This involves trying to neutralise the environmental triggers, intervening before the behaviour occurs.
- It also involves teaching the child how to understand and better manage their emotions & behaviour.
- We can also work to engage these students in their learning by:
- incorporating their interests & talents into classroom learning activities
- modifying teaching and learning processes to enable students’ participation in their learning (e.g. reducing reading content, asking peers to scribe information)
How does my Attitude inform my Management Approach?
As a professional relief teacher working in unfamiliar classes, I try to observe & win-over my challenging students. I may only work in the class for the day, but if/when I return, I can plan my management approach accordingly.
To this end, I initially focus on proactive, preventative behaviour management measures. I observe and privately talk to the student in question, watching how they interact with other students and the relief teacher. If the negative or testing behaviours continue, I apply a system of graduated consequences based on 1-2-3 Magic™, bumping students towards Timeout, Buddy Class & ultimately Office Withdrawal.
I try to work along this continuum over time (a few hours). While this means I may temporarily put up with certain behaviours, it enables me to start identifying the purposes & triggers of the ‘problem’ behaviours. I suppose the only caveat is that you need to know and understand the school’s behaviour management policies, as I’ve been caught out on occasion by some radically different whole-school approaches.
As I’ve described in earlier posts, I supplement my in-class management approach by working to develop positive relationships with my most challenging students. Relief teaching is a difficult job at the best of times, but targeted relationship building efforts can help to significantly reduce your management challenges over time.
I view my challenging students as a “a work in progress”. I’ve had my successes and failures, but I’ve been surprised to find that some of my most challenging students’ have incredible talents, interests, and intellect. Their considered contributions to class discussions and creative talents have, at times, amazed me.
Working with challenging students requires considerable time, effort and patience, but as I have found, the rewards are worth it.