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.