Alternative School Classroom Management Techniques

This question was asked somewhere else:  “‘I am interviewing for a position teaching at-risk youth, ages 16-24. My 30 students would have some behavior issues in addition to some learning disabilities. Grade levels 5 and up. A lot of individualized instruction. My question for you seasoned educators is: What kind of classroom management techniques would you employ in such circumstances? Thanks!'”

This got me thinking, what do *I* do to create a learning environment conducive to those with behavior and/or learning problems?  This was my reply:

I teach in an alternative school, grades 9-12, ages range from 14 to 18. I have, on average, 20-30 students divided up among 3 classes. Some I have for two classes. These students are sent here for behavior problems or criminal activity.

To be honest, I don’t have any different classroom management technique than any other teacher (I think).

1) I treat each student with respect & I expect respect in return – that is very important with these students because most of them have been marginalized their entire school career.

2) I always address behavior issues in private, not in public. The old adage is criticize in private, praise in public. They respect that. So if I don’t have time or am unable to take a student outside the door to discuss inappropriate behavior or actions I try to tell them as quietly as possible.  For instance, if I have to tell a student to stop doing something I go right up next to them and whisper in their ear as quietly as possible to stop doing something or else (else they’ll be written up or some other disciplinary action will take place). I go out of my way not to embarrass them in front of their peers.

3) I always try to maintain a sense of humor no matter what’s going on. I enjoy making them laugh. (But then again I’ve been told I have the sense of humor of a 6th grader, so maybe there’s something to that!)

4) I remember that they have other issues going on: bi-polarism, ADHD/ADD, manic depression, meetings with probation or parole officers, court appearances, counseling, severe family problems. I take that into account and give them some breathing room. I try to recognize their bad moods (see #1). However, even during these moments, I let them know that we still have to try to keep going with learning. If they need a moment to collect themselves I give them that space and then encourage them to keep trying.

5) I let them know when I’m in a bad mood. If I’m going to respect their bad moods, they should recognize mine. I’ve learned that they appreciate this

6) I never yell. A calm voice goes so much further with these students than a raised voice. Indeed, a little humor injected into even criticism for inappropriate behavior is appreciated.

7) I always remind them that grades don’t mean anything.

8) I try to incorporate small anecdotes about character into many things.

9) I don’t allow them to talk bad about other students or teachers (in public). If they want to tell me something about another teacher or student in private, that’s different. I don’t go tell. If there’s a dangerous situation that could arise, I report it.

10) I allow them time to vent (see #4)

11) Sometimes, to break the monotony and/or tension (particularly if everyone just seems like they’re in a bad mood), I’ll show a funny video/commercial from YouTube (that I’ve downloaded). They make think it’s dumb, but they laugh. And laughter is important.

12) I rarely write a student up for the principal to take care of the issue. I’m a teacher. If I can’t take care of 98% of the problems in my classroom, maybe I shouldn’t be a teacher. I think I had around 10-15 or so write-ups last year – maybe (and a few of those were for being high, not a lot you can do there). Therefore, when I see inappropriate behavior or activity, my primary goal is to take care of it myself without sending it to the principal. With that in mind it means that I need to have a solution or create one immediately. The only time I send a student to the office is when he/she has become intransigent.

13) Finally (or maybe not finally), I tell them that I don’t care what brought them to the school, they’re all the same in my eyes. I make no judgments about their prior actions. They get a clean slate with me and we go from there. (see #1)

Feel free to post in the comments any thoughts you have on classroom management in an alternative school setting.

6 responses

  1. Thanks, I am on my way today to an interview for a principal at an alternative school. I find your comments and suggestions relevant to real-life application when dealing with students who demonstrate dysfunctional behaviors. I have been teaching 15 years and I agree. You don’t have to change to deal with challenging students. You just have to show more compassion!


    1. Thanks CJB, That means a lot to me. There are many organizations and highly educated people who will charge a lot of money for behavior and classroom management programs and books. But I think when it gets right down to it, it’s about respect, compassion, humor, and accountability. I think I try to show that in the points I made. Good luck in your interview today. I hope you get the job and I know if you do you’ll never regret it. It’s a very satisfying and rewarding position.


  2. I have worked with alternative students for many years. I do everything you suggest. The biggest problem I had last year, was when several friends got into class, and it became a one up the other situation, and sometimes ended up where on student goes too far and ran out of ideas and had to send to principal. Any suggestions on this would be helpful.


    1. I’ve ran into similar problems where two students come in who are friends and I’ve had them in the same class. As you know, the nature of most alternative school environments are limited classes and small class sizes.

      Prior to a student coming in we are aware of potential issues with other students or friendships. When those students come in, I take the opportunity to talk to them individually and/or together when they first arrive.

      Let me see if I can break it down (not in any particular order)…
      1) I talk to them about how I will respect them and I expect respect in return
      2) I tell them they probably should not sit next to each other
      3) I remind them why they are in the program and they may not want to continue such actions (it may because they acted together)
      4) In our program there is an incentive program to return early. I tell them that if it seems like I’m getting on to them, just remember that I’m on their side and I want to see them return quickly to their zoned school. But I need their assistance.
      5) I also reinforce all of this with my introduction (PREP) slideshow that explains classroom/school policies, rules, expectations, and procedures.
      6) I provide short-term incentives such as permitting them to talk for the last 5 minutes if they focus on what we gotta do for class or providing them a longer outside break but only at the end of class provided we finish what we gotta do. I punish them by not providing a break if they keep being distractions.
      7) I also will take one of them out in the hallway (the most offensive one) and talk to him about respect and disrespect. How I’ve treated him and such. Then I ask him if this is how I get repaid. The essential part of this is to do it without an audience. Isolate the student so he has no audience to perform in front of. And for that matter, so you don’t have an audience where you have to prove yourself in front of. I’m amazed at how honest & transparent I can be in these situations.
      8) FInally, if all else fails, I just get real quite. This is after I’ve told them and warned them about their behavior. Then i take a write-up and starting writing. I don’t respond to questions or comments. I just write. Once I’m done, I start back up into class. They can’t see what I’m doing since they can’t see my desk (I have a stand-up desk). Afterwards, I decide whether to turn in the referral or just talk to the student and show him the write-up. I make the write-up as detailed as possible and I also include information of how his actions affect character and respect and such. I tell him that I did not want to write him up, but he put me in that situation. He forced my hand. If I’m going to talk to the student, I usually don’t turn it in and I’ll give him another chance. But I hold on to the write-up. I’ll say something to the effect of giving him 2 or 3 days and if he acts up during that time, I’ll turn it in with another write-up. However, at this point, if he acts up after that time, I’ll probably go ahead and turn one in without saying anything to him.

      They are aware I’ll turn one in on them without saying anything. I forewarn them at the start of the semester.

      Personally, I try to remember they’ll be doing stupid stuff since they are friends and there will be some back-and-forth and I let some of it go (Pick your battles). I try to make their interaction productive and on-focus if possible.

      Here are my PREP slides that I use at the beginning of each semester in video form:

      I can send them to you if you’d like. Just need to download a few fonts to make them look like they do in the video.

      Hope this helps. Let me know what you think.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi, I love your article. Can you send me power point slides of classroom procedures, rules, etc.
    I will begin my teaching position at an alternative high school next week, wish me luck!!!


    1. Caroline, I am so sorry I did not see this earlier. Send me an email directly at eric (dot) turner (at) ccstn (dot) org and we can talk directly.


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