Teaching is much more than reading curriculum guides, designing lesson plans, learning new technology, and implementing teaching strategies. In fact, all teachers, regardless of grade level or years of experience, are tested with decisions about classroom management. What works for one teacher in one school, district, or state may – or may not – work for another.
We spoke with teachers across the country to get their perspective on how to handle a variety of common scenarios. As the hypothetical situations below illustrate, this can happen without warning and might require on-the-spot decisions necessary for teachers and students to feel safe and respected in their classroom environment.
Hypothetical Situation No. 1
Students engage in a class discussion related to the current lesson. Several students become intense and things heat up. Comments become aggressive and unfavorable. The rest of the class begins to egg them on and encourage negativity to continue.
“I would invite my students to have a true debate in class at the end of the week. Since the discussion is related to the current lesson, I would encourage them to cite the text and related materials. I would give them time to research in the library or in class. At the formal debate or Socratic Seminar, the students or invited guests will determine who has the most convincing points/overall argument.”—Jennifer M.
“I would probably try breaking the class into smaller groups so that discussions could be handled better and everyone would have more of an opportunity to participate. When making the smaller discussion groups, I might try putting all the students with a like-mind to work together, stressing that they need to give valid reasons to present on their thoughts on the topic. Once the small groups have had a chance to discuss, I would bring the whole group back together and try a whole group discussion again.”—Robin N.
“There is a positive to classroom debate and expressing one’s opinion. As the discussion is related to the current lesson, it is probably important to continue the discussion and the lesson. However, because the discussion is becoming heated, it is necessary to gain order and bring some control to the situation. I would call a halt to the discussion by writing a message to the class on the whiteboard requesting classroom silence. Usually students stop because they are reading what the teacher is writing. But, if this doesn’t work, I would use my whistle which is a warning to be silent. Once I have their attention, I would provide the class with whatever type of graphic organizer fits the discussion. As a class, I would have students complete the organizer so they could provide their individual thoughts related to the lesson and discussion. After student individually completed the organizer, I would have students fill in the large organizer placed on the smart board. This way we can calm down, express our individual thoughts, and share them with the class.”—Cynthia Privette
Hypothetical Situation No. 2
The class is conscientiously working in groups to complete a project. The students are fully engrossed in what they are doing. Suddenly, a student from another class is lounging in the doorway and talking to several students in the class. When asked to move along, he enters the classroom and begins to walk around.
“This is a safety issue. I would ask him to go back to his class one more time. If he did not listen, I would call the office to help in getting the student to where he needs to be. This may involve the principal or the social worker depending on the student’s needs.”—Laurie P.
“At that point, I would invite the student in the classroom and explain to them what is going on. I would engage with the students and ask him or her how they would go about doing the work. I would talk to them about the current work and the other work we are doing in class. I would ask for their feedback. I’d then ask where they were supposed to be during this time as they are clearly not on my roll. I would encourage them to come back at a better time as this may not be the best time to visit. I would not run them out of class right away as this would take away from the task at hand and it would change a minor disruption into a major disruption.”—Sarah M.
“This type of situation actually did occur in my classroom. The class was involved in an activity, and the student simply walked through the doorway, walked around the room and carried on conversations with my students. I approached the student and asked where he was supposed to be. He told me it was ‘none of my business’ and pushed me up against the wall with both hands. Fortunately, several of my students were football players. They came up and told him he needed to leave the class and leave me alone. So, in hindsight, this was a safety issue for me as well as my students. If it happened now, I would not approach the student. I would simply send a student with a message to the office, or I would call the office and report the incident. Because I did not know the student, it was better for me not to engage.”—Cynthia Privette
Hypothetical Situation No. 3
A student, new to the school, joins a teacher’s afternoon class two weeks earlier. The student is diligent about bringing the required materials to class, is on time, and is becoming more acquainted with several other students. However, her arms and head frequently rest on the desktop, and several times she has managed to fall asleep. Members of her group are becoming frustrated with her behaviors.
“I would have a one-on-one conference with the student. If the problem persisted, I would call the parents.”—Leta J.
“The stress of moving and changing schools is obviously taking an emotional toll on the new student. I would speak with the members of that frustrated group and help them see where the new student is coming from. They would be given the task of helping the new student fit in. I would also involve the school nurse to ensure there isn’t a physical malady affecting the new student. It could be something as simple as poor sleep due to new and unfamiliar surroundings. The school counselor could also become involved if the sleeping in class issues are serious and across the board.”—Kevin C.
“I would have a private conversation with the student and ask how things are going due to the many changes in her life. I would let her know that I am concerned because of what I am seeing in my class. I would request that she come up with a couple of solutions to the behavior. If the student offers no explanation, I will let her know that I would like for her to talk with the school counselor, and maybe the nurse for reassurance that things are OK. In the meantime, I think it would be helpful for her group to meet before school, lunch, or after school. The group can let her know that they are glad to have her in the group. They can also ask what type of tasks interest her. Then, they can assign tasks for each group member.”—Cynthia Privette
Hypothetical Situation No. 4
An intelligent, clever, but socially awkward, student sits in the front of the class. Whether the teacher is leading a class discussion, providing directions, explaining an assignment, or administering an assessment, he wants to argue, question or complain. The teacher is continuously brought to task by this student.
“I would have a plan with this student every time a lesson is about to begin with reminders of what is expected and what is not. I would also put a visual of the expectation on his/her desk as a reminder. Behavior charts may be used.”—Amy M.
“I would try the following strategies and when behavior changes, remember to praise.
- I would remind the student about raising a hand and being called upon before responding. I could possibly give the student a ‘tally’ sheet to make a tally each time he/she speaks out without being recognized (self-monitoring).
- Seat change.
- Speak with student after class about changing behavior.
- Have the student answer prepared questions about why he/she ‘behaves’ the way they do in the classroom as homework and get a parent/guardian signature to be returned the next day.
- Reward the student when behavior is positive with a GOLD star note or a desk ‘Good Student’ traffic cone.”
“First, I would review the child’s record to see if I have missed something in regard to an IEP, 504, etc. Next, I would seek out his past teachers to see if this is a past behavior and see if they have suggestions. Third, I would meet with the student privately and develop a plan that would engage him in a positive manner and allow me to carry on with class. I would also prepare myself for the possibility of questioning and arguing by providing written and verbal instructions, by pausing and allowing for a limited number of questions, and by letting the student take on the role of fielding questions and locating information.”—Cynthia Privette
About the Author
Cynthia Privette is an educational contractor specializing in interpretation of Common Core state standards and a teacher in North Carolina public schools. She received her or Ed.D. in educational leadership and M.Ed. from East Carolina University. Over the course of her career, she has been particularly interested in instructional leadership, the subject of her dissertation, and training other educators on effective curriculum, testing, and instruction in low-performing schools.