Ugly: Negative Behaviors in Schools
By Gustavo Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant
Educators/teachers who respond to inappropriate behaviors of students in the classroom with screaming and loud threats create an ugly picture of education in Belize. Sadly, we often end up personally disliking and giving up on (expelling) students who misbehave often while in school. Yes, educators are human; but it solves nothing and escalates already tense situations when we respond to student misbehavior in the classroom or at school with our angry yelling and loud threats. Young people look to adults who they trust (parents, educators/teachers) for cues on how to control impulses and behave. Educators/teachers: every single day we need to set the example for students and openly display positive, not negative, behaviors.
Sadly, we educators/teachers do not receive special training on how to handle situations when students are rude and aggressive. Some students scream out loudly/violently in class, or “lose it” when they cannot get their way. How “ugly” when students engage in this type behavior at school. How “ugly” when educators react in the same way. Without a doubt, no student misbehavior/ rudeness should be tolerated! However, if we want to help students change their inappropriate behaviors, it helps to try to understand why they repeatedly act this way. True, we are educators not psychologists; but the more we try to understand why some students repeatedly misbehave, the better we can help them learn how to behave appropriately. Educators: to be effective, let’s try to treat “causes” not only symptoms! Repeated student misbehaviors are “symptoms” of something serious. Harsh punishments alone will NOT motivate students to change unacceptable/inappropriate behaviors at school. Repeated grueling detentions/suspensions alone will “fix” no one!
Teenagers, hormones raging throughout their bodies, do not always know how to communicate their needs to educators/teachers. Some students may think that only negative behaviors will get their point(s) across. Does screaming back at students or punishing them with “hard labor” tasks teach them appropriate/acceptable ways of communicating and behaving when they face difficult situations? Repeated misbehaviors in students at school may be triggered by stressful situations, extreme frustration or anger, or by aggressive behaviors at home and around them. Even they don’t know. However, education in our schools will always be “ugly” when all we know to do is scream back at and harshly punish students over and over again to MAKE them see things our way.
Treating symptoms (bad behaviors) with punishments only is time-consuming and exhausting. While giving detention after detention, let’s also teach students the skills they need to be successful in life. Punishment after punishment will not build self-esteem and show students that they are capable of changing unacceptable behaviors. After we “punish” a student we could dig a little deeper to try to understand what triggers the repeated misbehavior(s). Why is he/she always defiant or hostile towards authority figures or teachers? Is it brought on by frustration, anger, or environment? Why does student lose temper so easily or constantly argues with adults? Might the student be angry and/or embarrassed perhaps because he/she does not or cannot understand a lesson? Some students are spiteful or vindictive all the time, and deliberately annoy others, blame others constantly, or are chronically touchy. Might they be “mirroring” behaviors from their home or neighborhood environment?
Some answers to these questions might help us understand and help students who repeatedly misbehave. Let’s punish AND teach them how to deal with negative feelings and behave positively in school while trying to face their problems. Of course, we must always give consequences to students who misbehave in or out of school. They need to see that all behaviors, good or bad, have consequences. Most important, though, our positive behavior, not our screaming and harsh punishments, will help show our students how to act appropriately while in school.
Some ways to help end unwanted/inappropriate negative student behaviors at school:
Set the example. If in the staff room and at staff meetings we constantly giggle out loudly like children, continue to eat and drink, and are extremely playful and boisterous (inattentive) while someone in authority is addressing us, how DARE we become angry with students when they do the same in our classrooms!?! Students are like sponges: they soak in everything around them, positive and negative. What are we teaching when we give demerit after demerit, detention after detention to students who merely do what they see some of us continue to do?
Stop the behavior immediately. At the first sign that a student is being rude and aggressive, we immediately remove him/her from the class, not argue with or lecture him/her why the behavior is unacceptable. Giving too much attention to misbehaving students and openly showing our extreme anger is negative reinforcement and will not motivate them to change the behavior. No need for us to be dramatic. Let them suffer the mandatory consequences
Lower our voice - not raise it. We educators can show students “self-control” by using acceptable words/language. Our students look to us for cues on how to control their impulses. Many teenagers do not know, and need to learn, how to navigate through social circles. Our over-reacting to unacceptable student behavior will NOT show them how. We can help students stay calm by lowering our voices, and then giving immediate consequences!
Teach students what behavior is wrong. It’s important that we talk to students about negative behavior, and explain the rules -- what behaviors are not tolerated. (Giving students a handbook of rules and assuming they’ll read it thoroughly is not as effective as hands-on “teaching” the rules.) Let’s regularly review with students our written plan of consequences to any unacceptable behavior.
Teach Students how to “communicate”. Many times students who display rude behaviors simply lack the communication skills necessary to help them through stressful situations. Let’s work often with students and teach them the art of diplomacy in tough situations; let’s help them learn how to trade off bad behavior in favor of acceptable behavior at school. Let’s arm them with the tools they can use when they are confronted with difficult situations. In this way they won’t keep making poor choices (aggressive and unacceptable behaviors) repeatedly while at school.
Educating students who remain “unsupervised at home” (primary and secondary levels) is one of the greatest challenges educators/teachers face as we weave our way through the maze of students’ physical and emotional development. Even though it may seem impossible at times, it’s not. Educators: let’s show students appropriate ways to interact with peers and adult authority figures around them by providing them with the best examples of appropriate behavior. Our students are watching us!