Sunday, October 18, 2015

Tips for Handling Tough Middle Schoolers

Every teacher has their own philosophies and strategies for classroom management. Some say not to smile until January, others insist that engaging lessons curtail any misbehavior. When managing students, teachers need to find a management systems that align to their own philosophies and personalities. That being said, it never hurts to hear tricks other teachers use to build relationships and keep class focused on learning.

Below are some of the ways I stay ahead of mutiny in the classroom and work with individual students who might need a little extra TLC.

Class Roles

It may feel scary to put a student who typically disrupts class or barely keeps his/her head up in a classroom leadership role, but I have found this to be exactly what some students need (note: I said some, this might not work for every student!). It is important to say, I NEVER force a student to participate in a role--it is strictly voluntary. I do try to persuade them to try it out first. Also, I make sure it doesn't go against any IEPs. Here are some classroom roles and the students I have found they are best suited for:

Document Camera Worker

I often flip between a document camera and powerpoint slides while teaching.  The document camera is at the front of the room, with a desk area and seat next to it. I especially like to put students who have low self-esteem about learning science in this role. These students take notes under the document camera or record answers as they are reviewed with the class. If possible, I also have them model how to record entries in the science notebook. Many students are afraid they will make a mistake in this role at first. To help boost confidence, I initially give the student a cheat sheet with the correct notes or composition book entry or answers. I have noticed students change their demeanor in the class as they begin to be an expert and leader.

Powerpoint/Computer Worker

I like to use powerpoint slides to stay on task and organize lessons. I put my computer near a student's desk and when we use powerpoint slides, I have the student closest to the computer forward slides for me, change to videos, and do other work. I intentionally seat a student who I think needs a positive role in class to the spot closest to the computer. Often times there are students who are hard to keep on task in class. For some of these students, the powerpoint role works great. For others, it may exacerbate them (especially if they have ADHD). I also like to teach the student hotkey tricks (e.g., ALT or Command  and Tab let you quickly switch to another app), so they move fast and learn something new.

Lights & Doors Worker

I always have a few antsy students who just can't stay in their seats. For these students, I have standing tables at the back of the room. When it is time to shut the door, turn on or off lights, or do anything near the back of the room, I ask them to do it.  The standing tables have been an amazing improvement for the focus and behavior management of some of my students!  It is important not to use standing tables at the back of the room as a punishment. I never force a student to work there--it is voluntary. If my room has little space, I'll put taller stools there, so there's an option of sitting.  Also, it's important to check IEPs and make sure students who need this accommodation are not required to be at the front of the room.

Building Strong Relationships

Many teachers will tell you that the students they know the best were once their toughest. When you start to clash with a student and find that he/she is pushing your buttons, although it is the one person you may not want to interact with, that is the best solution. Getting to know tough students is often the solution to their disruption in your class. Here are some ways I've gotten closer to students who need a stronger relationship:

Buy a Book

First talk to the student--what are their hobbies? What do they want to do when they grow up? Once you know an interest, hobby or future career that a student has, buy them a book on the topic. I like to write a note on the inside. If it starts to get expensive or you want to maximize the effort, I often keep the book in my library and lend the student the book, with a note inside.  If it's hard to get a conversation off the ground, you can always lend them a book that other students like. For example, "Wonder" is a great book, so is "The Hunger Games" and "Diary of a Wimpy Kid." I write my name on the bottom of the book to ensure it gets returned. Not only does it show the student you care about him/her, but it also starts a conversation. You can ask if they liked the book or if they've read it yet!

Start with a Positive

Some students seek out negative attention because they simply want attention. When co-teachers and I believe a student has this tendency, we try to counter-act it by giving them positive attention from the start. This often requires two teachers in the room. When that student comes in and starts class, one of us will sit with him/her and check in with them about their day (or other interests) while they work on the Do Now.  Throughout class we sit down and check in, giving them positive attention before they seek out negative attention.

Lunch Buddy

When a tough student is really tough and has me completely stuck in building a relationship, I will resort to buying them lunch--or atleast a snack.  I'll ask them what they like to eat for lunch (trying to stay on the healthy side of options) and invite them to join me for lunch one day in my room (NOTE: Keep doors open and have a colleague somewhere in the room. You should never be alone with a student with the doors closed) or in the cafeteria. If they refuse because they want to eat with a certain friend, I'll invite that person too (or if there is a group of students I'm really struggling with, I'll invite 2 - 3 of them). When they come to eat, I do not address any of the misbehaviors that I'm frustrated with. Instead we play UNO or talk about stuff that is positive. Playing UNO (or another game) has been especially helpful. Students often will open up to me and share personal stories that help me better understand their situation and reasons for misbehavior. Often once I know their story, it is a lot easier to conference with them when misbehavior occurs later in class.

Managing Meltdowns

If you are like me, despite every attempt to run a smooth class, you will have students with meltdowns in your room which completely disrupt your lesson plans. We often forget that students have lives outside of our class--if a student loses his/her cool in class, it's important to remember that you don't know what triggered it. The sooner that student can be calmed down, the less time your class can be derailed. Never argue with a student in class and call for assistance if the situation is serious.

What may start as a minor disturbance can escalate into a meltdown if you are not careful. When a misbehavior disrupts class and a warning doesn't change anything, I like to conference with a student privately. Here are some tips I use when conferencing with a student.

Be Random and Be Kind

When you walk outside or to the back of a room with a student, they are expecting you to talk about their misbehavior. They may be embarrassed of being singled out and your redirection speech could trigger a bigger outburst. I've noticed that not starting with the behavior works best. I like to start with a random observation or by saying something nice to the student.

Take a walk

If there is a co-teacher in my classroom who can take over, I often like to do a little loop around the building with the student. If I can't leave the area, I like to stand or sit next to the student, looking outward and not at them. I've found that not forcing a student to look at you while you discuss behavior works best for many.

Anger Workbook Book for Teens

Some of my students have so much anger that despite my best strategies, they still have to get their anger out. I like to have copies of the Anger Workbook for Teens in my classroom for students to work through. One strategy is to write out what is bothering you and then rip it out. If an outburst is due to an incident outside my class, I'll often have a student write out what they're feeling and rip it up, so they can get back to class.

The Takeaway: Respect Them

In the end, if you want to work well with students, respect them as people. Do not humiliate them. Do not make them feel ashamed or point out their weaknesses in front of the class. Do not assume you know why they are acting the way they are--in fact, assume the best. I truly believe that every child wants to succeed in my class and some of them have just lost their way at some point (often because of how a teacher had made them feel.)

What are your management strategies? Please share below!

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