“Just wait till you have kids—it’s not as easy as you think!” My mother has told me this a number of times and has explained that oftentimes it is easy to think that we will one day be the perfect parents if we just follow the right protocol. I know that I used to think that classroom management was going to be a breeze for me, because I would simply maintain strict rules and have clear cut procedures to handle every situation. At least, I thought so until I actually got into a classroom as a substitute paraprofessional. Now I realize that there is no one-size-fits-all method for behavior management. However, there are some general guidelines we can follow and adapt as needed. As a teacher, I will use a flow chart (see below) of questions and interventions of increasing intensity to deal with mild, moderate, and chronic behaviors.
As I plan to be a teacher, I foresee myself dealing with mild behaviors on an hourly basis. I define mild behaviors as distracting actions that a student does accidently or unconsciously. A great example is making distracting noises such as quiet whistling, humming, or thumping a desk leg with a foot. When I notice such behavior, I will first ask myself, “Is the behavior disruptive to the student’s learning?” If not, then no intervention may be needed. I know from personal experience that stimulating behaviors like tapping a pencil or drumming the fingers can sometimes increase concentration. If the student, on the other hand, is daydreaming instead of learning, intervention would be necessary. In this case, I will also ask myself the second question, “Is the behavior disruptive to the class’s learning?” If not, as in the case of daydreaming, I would intervene nonverbally. This could be as simple as catching the student’s eye and raising an eyebrow. I could also use “proximity control,” where I would simply stand by the disruptive students’ desk, perhaps lightly touching their arm (Burden & Byrd, 2013, p. 263). Children who are accidently distracted or being distractions usually need, not criticizing discipline, but just a silent, friendly reminder to refocus. However, if this nonverbal intervention fails to effectively stop the disruptive behavior, I will try a verbal intervention, which is covered next.
I know that I will have to deal with moderate behaviors on a daily basis. Within this category, I include behaviors which are disruptive not only to the student’s learning, but also to the class’s learning. Moderate behaviors are choices to break classroom rules or cause disruptions, but are not necessarily outright defiance of authority. Whispering is a great example. In cases of such behavior, I will ask myself the third question: “Would physical intervention disrupt class more than the behavior?” If the answer is yes, I would stick to intervening verbally. This follows the “principle of least intervention” (Burden & Byrd, 2015, p. 260), where the goal in the classroom is to keep the focus on academic enrichment. First Timothy 14:40 (New International Version) admonishes us that “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” As teachers this means that we should make sure our discipline focuses on allowing our classrooms to continue running smoothly. Verbal intervention could be as simple as refocusing the student’s attention back to the lesson with a question pertaining to the topic being taught. Other options are to privately but directly ask the student to stop the disruptive behavior. However, if this fails to have the desired outcome, I would advance to physical intervention strategies, discussed next.
I will have to deal with chronic misbehaviors hopefully only on rare occasions, but will certainly experience them nonetheless. These are behaviors that are not just minor disruptions or moments of moderate stubbornness or inattentiveness. These are areas of sin into which a student habitually falls, such as lying, stealing, losing self-control, or fighting (Burden & Byrd, 2015). These are behaviors which can have long-term, detrimental effects on the child’s character if left unchecked. In cases of such behavior, I would intervene physically. In other words, I would remove the student from the classroom, send him to a timeout to calm down and reflect on his behavior if it is out of control, require him to change seats, or confiscate personal property if it is contributing to his behavior. Most important in these situations is to address the student’s heart, not just try to conform his or her outward behavior (McCullough, 2008). If a student is out of control, physical intervention would serve to keep her from further disrupting the classroom and give her a chance to calm down, but afterward I would take the time to talk with her heart to heart about her behavior. If such intervention is unsuccessful or perhaps causes the child to act out even further, I would move to the highest level of intervention: calling in reinforcements. I could send the student to the principal’s office, call in a school counselor or other school staff, and/or notify the child’s parents. I would use these interventions only as a last resort.
This flow chart (see below) of asking questions about the significance of the misbehavior and responding with increasing nonverbal, verbal, and physical intensity as necessary is a general way to manage behavior in the classroom. Yet, even with this flow chart, I know there will be many unique situations which do not follow any kind of protocol and in which I will have to rely on the Holy Spirit’s leading to know how to proceed. Sometimes it is sufficient to merely address the outward behavior and move on, while at others times it is important to speak to what is going on in the heart. Since only the Lord can see the heart (1 Sam. 16:7), it is important to always be in tune with God and open to His leading in all classroom and behavior management.
Burden, P. R. & Byrd, D. M. (2013). Methods for effective teaching: Meeting the needs of all students. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
McCullough, J. D. (2008). Kingdom living in your classroom. Colorado Springs, CO: Purposeful Design Publications.