I recently saw a video on one of the teacher Facebook groups about a learner and a teacher having a heated argument. The situation in that classroom was very tense and I like to believe that the situation could have been handled differently.
I also often hear teachers who complain about awful behaviour towards them from some of their learners. They describe angry, argumentative and aggressively disrespectful learners. I’m talking about learners who tell them off and try to disrupt and sabotage their class. Learners who roll their eyes and refuse to look at their teacher or listen to their instructions.
These teachers go on to talk about how nothing works. They talk about how everyday 10 – 20% of their class is a battle. How behaviour from some learners is getting worse and that these particular learners don’t care about their school work, their future, or anything else.
They talk about their classes in the form of a challenge, as if to say that their class is too difficult for any strategy or approach.
Now, there are, without a doubt, learners who have a tendency to misbehave. There are learners who are hurt and angry by sins done to them at home or in the past and whose default setting is to challenge authority.
But here’s the thing, here’s what I’d like to say to those teachers who are convinced that there is nothing they can do to stop certain learners from being disrespectful:
It takes two to tango.
Although it may not feel like you’re contributing to the problem, if you show any outward sign of frustration or annoyance—to even moan, tightening of your jaw, or just bored—your learners assume that you’re just like all the rest.
They classify you with all the other adults in their life who have reprimanded them, lectured them, battled them, and otherwise let them down. By default, you become the target of their anger.
It may not be fair, or make much sense from your perspective, but its reality.
Even if you try and pull them aside and giving them just a friendly reprimand, it can push them to the point where, out of spite, they’ll want nothing more to prove to you that they really don’t care.
You see, they know that it’s the one thing you can never control, the one thing that is guaranteed to hurt you and destroy the vision you have of yourself as a good and caring teacher.
They have so much pride and youthful recklessness that they’re willing to fail and endure any consequence just to not let you win or impose your will over them.
And if you do lose your cool . . . if you do argue back or try to put them in their place, your relationship—and their behaviour—will be worse, until they won’t even look at you anymore.
But the remarkable truth is, and what they keep hidden from anyone who doesn’t understand where their behaviour comes from, is that they do care. Sometimes more than any other learner in your class.
To tap into that treasure buried down deep inside, however, takes a complete release of animosity. It takes warm compassion in the face of disrespect. It takes standing alongside them rather than opposite them.
You have to prove to them through your words and actions that you’re in their corner and that your modes of accountability aren’t personal, but are for the benefit of every member of the class—including them.
But it’s your day-after-day kindness, gentleness, and good humour, when freely given no matter what’s happening in their life or how they’re behaving, that turns them around.
It’s an unstoppable wave that crashes into that part of them that cares, that causes them to want to succeed, that instils in them a desire to please you and behave for you.
Only when you remove yourself as an opponent, offering instead a leader they can trust, respect, and admire, will their behaviour change, and change dramatically.
So, initially, how do you become that sort of person under the hot, harsh lights of disrespect, even hatred?
Empathy, knowing what it feels like to be in their shoes or imagining just how extraordinarily difficult it is.
It’s a strategy that works with the angriest, most wounded souls to ever enter a classroom.
And it works for every teacher, every time.
Now it’s your turn. How do you deal with aggressive learners in your classroom? Let me know in the comments below.