Classroom Management


How to handle disrespectful learners

As teachers it’s only fair to assume that you have met your fair share of disrespectful learners. I’m talking about learners that will piss you off you’d wish you could kill them. Sometimes this disrespectful behavior from your learners can last the whole year and you’ll wish you could change schools or just quit entirely.

Being a teacher is a very difficult job. I mean teaching is very hard. The biggest mistake that teachers can make is taking disrespectful behaviour personally. When you take disrespectful behaviour personally, two things are likely to happen:

  1. You will want revenge. You will have a desire to show your learners who is boss
  2. You will be inclined to discipline, lecture or even react with sarcasm

Both will encourage more disrespectful behaviour from your learners.

You see, when you react with anger or with spite, you cause your learners to resent you, resulting in more of the same unwanted behaviour.

I have seen a couple of teachers who even fight with their learners. I’m talking about an all-out brawl as if you are watching WWE Raw… lol. Both learner and teacher now have to attend disciplinary hearings and worse of all, other learners could even take a video of you and you will trend the whole year on social media.

I’ve heard some teachers say that they don’t care if they’re disliked, that it’s not in their job description to have learners like them. Well, this may be true, but it will make you a less effective teacher and make classroom management more difficult.

Taking bad learner behaviour personally sends a message to your learners that they can push your buttons and disrupt your day if they choose. This shifts control over to your learners and weakens your ability to manage your classroom.

When you react out of anger, you are inviting, even daring, disrespect. If you push your learners into a corner, they’ll want to fight back or resolve to get even. Bumping heads with your learners always results in more bad behaviours.

You need to be smart when it comes to classroom management and understand that the most effective classroom management tactics don’t always go with our most natural reactions. So when a learner is deliberately being disrespectful, especially in front of the rest of your learners, it is only natural to take it personally. It is how our brains work.

But if you can take a step back and realize you’re shooting yourself in the foot every time you react on instinct, then you can gain immediate control of the situation without losing your cool—or your authority.

So how should you react if you experience disrespect from your learners?

You know the 1st thing that I tell my readers, especially those who are new in teaching, is that you need to have a classroom management plan. This is the most effective way to handle disrespect.

Applying classroom rules, which should include a rule specifically for disrespectful behaviour, will strengthen your authority and your effectiveness in classroom management.

You know this can be hard to do in the beginning because when a learner directly disrespects you in front of other learners in your classroom, as a shot of adrenaline runs through your body, you are soooo pissed off, it can make you feel like somehow the learner won that he or she got away with it without knowing how their disrespect made you feel.

But a learner only wins when they are able to get under your skin.

Rest assured, you’re not folding your arms or giving in by resisting the urge to react emotionally. Rather, your control is a model for your learners for how to handle negative situations with composure and without lowering yourself to the same level of disrespect.

Let your classroom management plan do its job. You know it’s very stressful in relying on yourself and your words, not to even mention being ineffective. Send the message that being respectful is not a choice in your classroom and that anyone who engages in disrespectful behaviour will be held accountable.

But, if your first consequence upon a learner breaking a rule is a warning, then this isn’t a strong enough response to disrespect. Therefore, as part of your classroom management plan, there must be an allowance made for situations in which stronger consequences are needed immediately.

Disrespectful behaviour, emotional outbursts and bullying other learners are examples of behaviours that would require immediate disciplinary action and those learners should be separated from the rest of the class and obviously, a letter to parents.

Your learners must be made aware that there are circumstances that are up to the teacher to decide upon. Therefore this exception must be part of your classroom management plan and posted on your classroom wall.

When you are able to handle learners with calmness and enthusiasm it will decrease the likelihood of it happening again. But there are other things you can do to create an atmosphere of respect in your classroom. For example:

  1. Your learners might imitate you and the way you treat others, especially if they admire you. So it’s important to set the tone of respect in your classroom by the way you speak to your learners.
  2. You must be respectful to every learner you speak to. I know you’ve heard this before, but saying “please” and “thank you” works.
  3. Gain your learner’s respect by doing exactly what you say you will do and having your words corresponds with your actions. If you want your learners to keep their desks clean and neatly organised, but you don’t keep yours that way, your learners will notice.
  4. Stop telling your learners how you expect them to behave but instead show them how. Model how respect looks like and role-play how to give it. Teach respect respect like you would any other learning area.

Now its your turn. How do you handle disrespectful learners in your school or in your classroom? Let me know in the comments below.

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