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When and How to Respond When There's a Behavior Problem

April 17, 2019 | 5 comments

When and How to Respond When There's a Behavior Problem


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It can be a challenge to make the right decision when students misbehave. It’s hard to predict student behavior even when a class appears to be cooperative and on task. Even more confusing, every classroom seems to operate differently so that what’s acceptable behavior in one class may not be acceptable in another. And to compound this confusion, even when teachers agree on what constitutes unacceptable behavior, their reactions to it can vary widely.

To make these decisions easier and the environment in your classroom more productive and positive, you will find two lists below. The first is a list of the behaviors that are not acceptable in any school setting. If a student’s misbehavior is severe enough to fall into one of these categories, then you must respond to it. Following the list of unacceptable behaviors, you will find a list of the options you have when you decide to respond to student misbehavior.

Behaviors that Are Never Acceptable at School

  1. Threats and intimidation. Students are not allowed to threaten or harass their classmates or you. This prohibition means that no bullying, teasing, hate speech, sexual harassment or threats of physical harm will be tolerated.
  2. Substance abuse. All medications should be administered by the school nurse or a designee; even such medications as cough drops are regulated under most zero tolerance policies. It is against the law for students to have alcohol, tobacco or illegal drugs on school property.
  3. Interference with others’ right to learn. No student has the right to stop other students from learning. This policy covers a wide range of activities such as distracting others, being so noisy that others can’t work, and even dress code issues.
  4. Disrespect for authority. This behavior includes refusal to comply with a reasonable request from a teacher, administrator or other staff member. It also includes various forms of defiance and other rude behavior directed at an authority figure.
  5. Failure to complete work. Teachers should monitor student progress closely enough so that all parents or guardians are aware of the situation if a child refuses to complete work or fails to complete it for some other reason.
  6. Unsafe behavior. Behaviors considered unsafe range from running with scissors, engaging in horseplay, or running in the halls to ignoring safe driving rules in a high school parking lot. Policies to combat unsafe behavior also prohibit students from having matches or other fire starters at school, leaving school grounds without permission, or using school equipment in an unsafe manner.
  7. Dishonesty. Students should not forge notes from home, cheat on their work, commit plagiarism, or lie to teachers or other school officials.
  8. Tardiness. Students are expected to be at school and in class on time. This is often part of the attendance policy for all students in a school.
  9. Truancy. Almost every state requires local school districts to enforce attendance policies. It is the responsibility of a classroom teacher to maintain accurate attendance records.
  10. Violence. School districts in all states take violence very seriously. Students are not allowed to fight or to encourage a fight by cheering on the combatants. Regulations against violence include the prohibition of weapons and weapon look-alikes at school.

Effective Ways to Respond When Students Misbehave

You can select from this list of effective responses so that you can make wise choices from among the many options you have when students misbehave.

  1. Consciously choose to ignore the misbehavior. This is an effective option if you plan how to use it, if the misbehavior is fleeting, and if other students are not seriously affected by it—for example, when a student daydreams briefly or gets a slow start on an assignment.
  2. Delay acting. When the action you plan to take would cause further disruption, it is appropriate to delay the action. As an example, if a student is tardy to class, instead of stopping a presentation, you should delay speaking to that student until you can do so quietly so that other students are not disturbed by your correction.
  3. Use nonverbal actions. Nonverbal actions, such as physically moving closer to a student and making eye contact are nonintrusive ways to address student misbehavior. This is often an appropriate choice for dealing with students who seem to be momentarily off task or gazing out of the window instead of working.
  4. Give a quiet redirection. Giving a quiet oral reprimand when a student misbehaves will usually end the trouble. Try to be positive instead of negative. “Please open your book and begin working now” will be more effective than a more negative command, such as “Stop playing around this instant.”
  5. Confer with students. In a conference, you can remind a student of the rule he or she has broken, redefine acceptable limits of behavior, encourage positive behavior, and discuss the positive and negative consequences of the student’s actions.
  6. Contact parents or guardians. If you are having difficulty helping students control their behavior, ask the other adults in their lives to reinforce your efforts. Too often, teachers hesitate to do this or wait until misbehavior is serious. Early intervention in the form of a request for help is a good idea.
  7. Refer a student to an administrator. You must make this choice when you have exhausted all other possibilities or when the misbehavior is serious.

Julia Thompson
Julia G. Thompson received her BA in English from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg. She has been a teacher in the public schools of Virginia, Arizona, and North Carolina for more than thirty-five years. Thompson has taught a variety of courses, including English in... See More

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Thabile Mahange
Thabile Mahange April 24, 2019, 6:27 pm

Very helpful tips thank you .I will save and share with other coworkers

Julia Thompson
Julia Thompson May 5, 2019, 12:24 pm

Thank you! I appreciate your kind words. I do help these tips help you and your colleagues have the kind of school year that you want for your students.