Middle School

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Teacher Talkback: Are misbehavers making your child’s learning environment stressful?

This issue’s Teacher Talk Back column is in response to an email from a reader expressing concern about the out-of-control state of her son’s classroom. With students constantly disrupting with bad behaviour, the stress level was reaching a fever pitch. Very little learning was getting done. Predictably, her child was losing his enthusiasm for school. Our anonymous columnist, an educator for 30 years, weighs in.
All teachers have students who misbehave and who don’t or won’t conform to behavioural expectations. Some of this behaviour results from special learning needs and trauma while others are rooted in lack of motivation or apathy. What is a teacher to do?
In Texas, some school districts have elected a tough-love approach in which misbehaving students are ticketed by police and mom and dad get their day in court to pay fines for misdemeanour charges like swearing and acting out. 
Canadians are not likely to adopt these Draconian measures! Nevertheless, we face the same problems. The makeup of students and their needs change from classroom to classroom. Community, cultural, academic, social and economic variations are common. Some student needs are diagnosed – others are not. Let’s face it, most children will, from time to time, violate a rule for one of three reasons: not knowing, not remembering, or not caring.
While ticketing students for misbehaviour seems extreme, teachers feel huge pressure to get more time for students to learn. 

The role of the teacher

Part of a teacher’s job is to consider his or her own attitudes about how to run a classroom, or their growth will stifle. September starts with establishing classroom routines and expectations. If a teacher sets up a democratic, positive, rewards based classroom, most students, even those with special needs, will buy in. Complications occur when one teacher can ‘handle’ a class while another one cannot.
This quickly becomes obvious for students on a rotary-based schedule or classrooms with two half-time teachers. Teachers try to make the best use of the physical space as well as support staff. If a child, for instance, needs to be seated away from distraction, then the teacher makes that change. Educational assistants
and child and youth workers can also help a teacher be an effective classroom manager.
Teachers need support. Those who are lacking in experience and skills can ask their principals for additional training and resources. Teachers with poor management strategies need to pull their heads out of the sand and holler. To ignore the problem results in a class of bullies and victims. When problems can’t be resolved by the teacher, it’s time for a staff meeting to see what can be done. Finally, good classroom management requires making parents aware of the recurrring problems.

The role of the parent

Even the best managed classrooms can still have non-compliant students who can negatively impact classmates. If your child is often upset by a negative learning culture in the classroom, here’s what you can do.
• Listen to your child’s concerns and let your child know that those feelings are normal.
• Determine whether your child is doing anything to instigate any of the classroom issues.
• Provide some strategies for your child to self-calm.
• Review the school’s code of conduct expectations.
• Remember that any conversation with the school personnel always begins with the teacher. This is not to suggest that you become a rescuer or helicopter parent. Bring awareness of the impact on the child but also attempt to advance a planned, team approach. The principal may be your next step if changes in the classroom do not occur.

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