Learning? Sorry, not interested. by sandra luna

It’s funny how over these 20 years the number of “challenging” students in my classes have increased. It’s not just in my classes, I know, but after a while you kind of think “Why me?” They’re grumpy and annoying and their whole body language is screaming out saying “I don’t want to be here!”. However, they do stay and they do interrupt our lesson 1 million times in 10 minutes and they make us lose our patience more often than we like to admit.

Does this sound familiar?

Unfortunately, I think it’s a reality for most teachers.

So what do we do? One thing to always bear in mind is: It’s not you, it’s what you stand for. You stand for rules, objectives, knowledge. Sometimes misbehaviour is just a mask to hide their own fragilities, the things they don’t know. Sometimes they don’t want us to be aware of all their learning difficulties. If they are unpleasant enough, they’ll keep us away. Odd? Yes, but true.

Different teachers deal with these situations in different ways. In my opinion, you can’t give up on kids. I know we won’t be able to reach every and single one of them, but if we try we might get to one. There are no magic tricks but if you are having problems with a group/student try one of these tips.

  1. Turn off the lights. Use natural light instead of the lamps on the ceiling. Most of the times we can teach without the lamps on. The room becomes cosier, less aggressive so kids are more likely to calm down, too.
  2. Greet them at the door. This is your room. You don’t greet your guests while cooking in the kitchen, do you? So it’s the same here. You can’t be getting your desk ready and expect kids get in orderly. Meet them at the door, showing them a smile and a nod or a warm “hello”. This way you’re letting them know a) you appreciate the fact they are there and that b) this is your room and you’re letting them come in.
  3. Personally I don’t like telling students off in front of the whole class. I’d much rather ask them to step outside with me for a minute and calmly ask them if they are feeling well. “Do you need to go to the toilet and wash your face?” “Do you want to grab a cup of coffee quickly?” Show that you care. There might actually be something happing that triggers their behaviour.
  4. Praise behaviour you want them to have and ignore misbehaviour (as much as possible). Why? Most of the times they just want attention. If you get close to a student and you say “You’re really making an effort today. I just wanted you to know I’ve noticed.” you’ll see the difference. Especially if they’re used to being told how bad they’re behaving. If you praise enough they’ll want more.

But remember: miracles don’t happen overnight, so you might expect things to get worse before they get better, or that halfway through the year you might have problems again. The key is to keep on trying and eventually we (and they) will get there.


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