Lisa Mladinich has an excerpt from her book up today at Patheos, and it deals with the number-one concern that many beginning teachers and catechists face: classroom discipline. She gives some terrific suggestions and I encourage you to read the column in its entirety. I’m having trouble posting a comment there, so I’m just going to throw out three things to keep in mind when dealing with behavior issues and teenagers.
1. Let them save face. Especially if you’re only seeing them once a week, building relationships with your students is of paramount importance. If at all possible, try to avoid dealing with one child’s behavior in front of the whole class. It puts you in the spotlight when you’re nervous about maintaining order in your class, and it usually means you’re going to alienate that kid in a way that will be very difficult to fix.
Try: moving around the room while you’re talking, slipping the student a note while you’ve got the class at work on another activity, moving the child’s seat – although I think it works best if you don’t do this in the middle of class but wait until next time around and rearrange several kids’ seats.
You don’t want it to appear that you are “out to get” the child who disrupted class. If you need to, pull the student outside while your aide monitors your class – but, to be honest, I haven’t had a lot of success with this when we’re talking about a once-a-week CCD class. It’s okay to send a kid to the office, and if you think you’re going to need to do so, do it early in the year rather than waiting.
2. A good lesson plan prevents many a discipline problem. Oh, how I hate to be told that, but it’s often true. If you’ve come up with a lesson plan that involves a variety of activities (15 minutes of lecture/notetaking, 20-30 minutes of small group work, a quick quiz or review game, prayer session), you are more likely to maintain the flow of the class without discipline problems.
Try: Write the plan up on the board at the beginning of class so they know what’s coming. It’s okay to say, “hey, guys, hang in there for about five more minutes of me talking, you’re doing great.”
3. It’s (usually) not (just) about you. Look, a lot of times, our kids are worn out when they come to class. You don’t know what sort of day they’ve had, what issues are going on at home, what someone said to them as they were walking from the car to your classroom. Try not to take it personally.
Try: Ask the child to stick around for a couple of minutes after class. “Hey, I just want to make sure I haven’t said something to upset you, because I feel like we keep having discipline issues and I’m concerned.” Teenagers want to be treated like adults. Now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t alert their parents if there are repeated or extreme disciplinary problems going on with that kid, but approaching them in a way that shows you respect their maturity (the maturity that may lie deep, deep down below the surface) can go a long way towards reversing a behavior issue.
Oh, I’m going to add one more. Do. not. stand in the hallway after class complaining about a kid to the teacher who had them last year. It can feel like such a relief to learn that you’re not the only one who had a difficult time getting young Percival to stop scratching his fingers on his slate during your lecture. But…don’t. Take it to prayer, or talk to your DRE and say, “can you tell me some more about what’s going on with Percival? He simply won’t stop calling Eustace a ninny.”
So – what’s worked for you? How do you keep your cool when dealing with misbehavior?