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Dealing with Loud, Playful, and Difficult Students

By Gustavo Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant
A reader’s/teacher’s comments that are posted to my recent articles seem to be written in much “frustration” and “desperation”. The very LAST thing that any student should ever see a teacher do in the classroom is reacting out of “frustration or desperation” – whether by yelling, screaming, or losing his/her temper! The best way we educators can encourage our students to never lose control in the classroom is by modeling the behavior ourselves: never losing control in the classroom or anywhere at school. Moreover, when dealing with unwanted, loud, or negative student behaviors in the classroom, teachers should realize that there is no “quick fix” that we can use to permanently change unwanted student behavior. Rather, each teacher or educator needs to STAND FIRM at all times when dealing with unwanted behaviors from playful, rude, and difficult students. If any teacher or reader is looking for a “quick fix” phrase to quell unwanted and loud student behavior in class, there is none! However, if he/she is willing to work to improve and strengthen his/her classroom management plans and strategies in an effort to help rude/difficult students become contributing members of the class, read on.

I agree that, based on my present experience (21st century) at a high school in Belize, there are playful and rude students in high school classrooms today – unlike when I attended high school in the sixties. There may be many reasons for this alarming fact. Nonetheless, I insist that no one student should ever be allowed to interfere with the rights of other students to learn and enjoy school! If any teacher or educator is allowing this to happen, then I urge that teacher to stop letting the student(s) “get under his/her skin”.  Why? If/whenever this happens, the rude or playful student is loving every second of the “power play and control” he/she sees that he/she is having over said teacher!

As I indicated previously, a loud and playful student in a classroom is merely showing “symptoms” of other problems — a loud cry for help. Why is he/she disinterested in the class? Why is he/she not motivated to participate? Is the immature behavior a sign of a lack of confidence? Why is that student not “contributing” to the class? Instead of screaming at the student or expelling him/her from the classroom right away, “think”: Have I motivated that student and helped him/her gain confidence in himself/herself? Am I being boring, or expecting too much? After all, we are accountable to our students to help them “to learn”. Consequently, no unacceptable student behavior should ever be ignored. Still, each student’s accountability to a teacher, and to the class, needs to be unbendable as steel. We must realize that holding students accountable will not cause them to dislike us; reacting in frustration by screaming at and scolding them everyday will. Most importantly, each teacher’s temperament and attitude while in a classroom will ALWAYS have a definite impact on student behavior in that room! Teachers who are tense and uptight (loud and angry) around students automatically destroy any type of classroom management strategy – students soak up that tension like sponges and then become excitable and unfocused. Trouble follows!

It helps to think of each student as someone who cannot swim. Do we throw a non swimmer into the deep sea and shout to him/her, “Swim or sink!”? Do we strut into a classroom Monday to Friday and shout at students, “Learn or fail!”? I think not. Both non swimmer and student first need to be offered quite a few steps of motivation, encouragement, and actual instruction.
I greatly respect each Belizean teacher! As such, I feel strongly that advice to a student to help him/her “to learn” should always come directly from his/her teacher; students should not become reliable on third parties for advice on how “to learn”. There are, however, several NO NO’s that are applicable to teachers each time they react to playful/rude student behaviors in the classroom,

* Do not act out in anger. This will only escalate the situation and make it worse.

* Do not give more time and attention to playful and rude students than to the rest of the class. Teachers who do this are in effect telling playful/rude students: You ARE different from the rest of the class; you cannot control yourself; you need constant attention – and, you will get it from me.

* Do not react in frustration by screaming, scolding, warning, lecturing, OR begging and pleading.  Teachers who do any of these fall “lock stock and barrel” into the power play of rude and difficult students. This is not the time to scream at students, lecture about behavior, or plead. To do so shows “weakness” as a leader.  

* Do not demand answers “right away” from the rude and/or playful student(s). This only serves to force playful and rude students into more heated arguments with the teacher, and TAKES AWAY precious time from the rest of the class.

There is a huge difference between suppressing unwanted and negative student behavior (temporarily stopping it during a class period) vs. helping the student to change his/her behavior from negative to positive so he/she can learn. More important, there should be NO difference between whatever a teacher says and what he/she does! There is no magical “abracadabra” phrase to say to difficult/rude students to suppress or change negative student behaviors. However, my suggestion to educators/teachers is to always keep in mind that the core of any successful classroom management plan or strategy is to let your actions do the talking! A teacher, after all, is not only a professional who is knowledgeable in one (or more) area and who is hired to impart some of that knowledge to students. Rather, a teacher is a professional who is hired to first help motivate students to “want to learn” and then impart the area of knowledge. That is why successful teachers do NOT encourage rote learning (memorizing) but instead choose to promote thinking and reasoning in each student. A helpful way to do this is by reaching out to each one, especially the playful/rude ones, by seeking positive qualities in them first, not the negative ones. Above all, no teacher in a classroom of students should ever think of himself/herself as “I vs. them”. Rather, the moment a teacher enters a classroom it automatically becomes “We”!

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