Helping Teachers Make a Difference in the Lives of Their Students

When Warnings Don’t Work – Taking Back Control of Your Classroom

classroom management tips

What do you do when there is a student who just won’t stop disrupting the class?

This is a question I get a lot from my student teachers.

New teachers especially are going to be tested right off the bat by certain students.

Some students just don’t get it. You warn them. You give them a consequence like an after-school detention, but still the student continues to stop you from teaching.

You can’t let that go on. In this tug-of-war, you have to win.

You have to make your stand at that moment or else you will lose your position of authority in the eyes of the students.

The dilemma for new teachers is that sending a student to the office for being a disruption makes them look bad. New teachers don’t like sending students to the office, because it appears to the administration that the teacher can’t handle the class

That’s the impression I got when I was subbing as an administrator, seeing student after student from the same teacher.

This post hopefully will help you handle these disruptive students in a way that will keep you from sending them to the office, while at the same time asserting your authority in the classroom.

I teach eighth graders, (yes eighth graders) and every year there is one or two students who will try to take control of the class away from me. I make it clear early on in the year that I’m not going to let that happen.

So what do you do, Sam?

I’m glad you asked.

The answer is: I kick them out of the classroom.

Yes, I remove them from the room as soon as I notice that my previous warnings aren’t going to do the trick.

Now, I don’t send them to the office. That would be too easy.

Here’s how I handle it using a hypothetical, yet common example:

Assuming I’ve already given the obligatory warnings, and even an after-school detention, it becomes clear that one student will not stop disrupting the class. That’s when I decide to send my message not only to that student, but to the rest of the class.

Let’s call him Johnny.

I’ll stop what I’m doing and look directly at him.

I’ll say, “Johnny,” I’ll wait till I get his attention. “Wait outside.”

This will automatically get the attention of the entire class. That’s what you want. You’re teaching a lesson. It may not be part of the curriculum, but it’s an essential lesson nonetheless.

He’ll probably try and negotiate his way out of it, but by this time, all negotiations have been exhausted.

I’ll repeat my instructions again in a firm, yet controlled voice.

“Wait for me outside the door.”

He’ll slowly get up and start walking to the door.

I’ll then go back to teaching. I will not watch him as he leaves the class. This is important.

You have to be careful not to make too big of a deal out of it. You don’t want to humiliate any student, even Johnny. This is especially critical with eighth graders. Showing them up in front of the class can be bad. It can lead to bigger problems for you. That’s for another post, however.

I go back and continue the lesson as if nothing happened. All the while, Johnny is waiting outside.

As soon as I have some down time where the rest of the class is occupied with seat work, I go and talk with Johnny.

By this time, Johnny has spent a few minutes thinking about what happened. He has no friends with him to support his actions, so he should be in a more docile state of mind, ready to listen, even a little afraid. That’s good.

This is when I decide to either send him to the office for a serious consequence, or more often, to explain to him how it is going to work in my class.

I might ask him, “Why do you think I sent you out here?”

Believe it or not, they know, and they’ll admit to disrupting the class. Most won’t argue with you. If they do, then they go to the office. No more discussion.

I’ll give him the choice, “You can either go to the office or you can come back into my class. What do you want to do?”

They always choose to come back to class, but I make it clear in a low serious hushed voice that they are going to spend the rest of the period not disrupting the class. “I want you in my class.” I tell Johnny, “but not if you’re going to stop me from doing my job. Am I clear?”

I always tell him what I want him to do: “You’re going to sit down; get your work out, and finish it. If I have to call your name one more time, you’re going to the office. Understand?”

A lot of times they’ll say, “I wasn’t the only one talking.”

I don’t even discuss it. There is no time to discuss it. I just repeat my instructions: “You’re going to sit down; get your work out, and finish it. If I have to call your name one more time, you’re going to the office. Understand?”

After reminding him of the earlier detention, I let him back in my class, and again continue as if nothing happened, but everybody knows that something big has indeed happened.

You have to know your students. This won’t work with every Johnny. Some students need to be sent directly to the office. Some students need to have security called on them. In most cases, however, having the student just leave the classroom for a while will be enough to do the following:

  1. Teach the class that you won’t allow disruptions in your classroom.
  2. Make an impression on that one student that he can’t get away with disrespecting you. Most of the time that one student will be one of the leaders in the class. If you let him get away with it, the other students will expect to get away with it also.
  3. Handle the situation in-class without getting the administration involved.

It would be great if your class was full of angel children who are self-motivated and hang on every word you say, but it’s not. Every class will have a Johnny or a Suzie who will want to take control away from you.

You can’t let that happen if you want to have a successful year. You have to assert your authority early in the year or else at the end of the year, when the students are more comfortable, it will be terrible. Trust me.

Hope this helps.

Thanks,

Sam

Photo by: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jonathangayman/

9 Comments

  1. el's Gravatar el
    January 17, 2011    

    I’m a student teacher and I’ve subbed in the past. I can’t see myself sending students to wait outside the classroom. I’ve seen other teachers do it and the student wanders off somewhere. Now you’re missing a student and are in bigger trouble.

    • Sam's Gravatar Sam
      January 17, 2011    

      Having a student wander off would be a bigger problem. I agree. After over 20 years of teaching, however, I’ve never had a kid take off on me. Like I said, you have to know your students. If Johnny is one of those students who you suspect would go visit the convenience store instead of wait by the door, then you call for security. Also, you shouldn’t leave Johnny out there by himself longer than 5-7 minutes, and perhaps leaving the door open a little will allow you to maintain visual contact. My point is, you can’t let that student remain in the classroom. It’s your classroom. You must maintain control. Allowing Johnny to pull the attention of the class away from you will only lead to a stressful year for you. Thank you for the comment. Sam

  2. January 27, 2011    

    It reminds me of the saying, the easiest way to win a tug of war is to stop pulling.

    • Sam's Gravatar Sam
      January 29, 2011    

      Very true. A lot of new teachers don’t want to let go of the rope, and that’s what leads to bigger problems. Thanks for the comment. Sam

  3. Shannon's Gravatar Shannon
    October 18, 2011    

    I am going to try this today with my students. I mostly have 11th graders but I am hoping this will work. My 2 students are a constant disruption and I feel myself getting worked up as class time continues. We have 104 minute classes so I need to regain control of this class…wish me luck and I will be in touch!

    • Sam's Gravatar Sam
      October 18, 2011    

      Hi Shannon, I hope it worked for you. It works for 8th graders, but 11th graders are a whole different species. Regardless, you have to do whatever you can to maintain control of your class. Any student who is keeping you from teaching needs to be out of that class. Let me know how it goes. Thanks, Sam

  4. Roderick Woodard's Gravatar Roderick Woodard
    December 18, 2011    

    I will be 25 years old in February and I’ve been working with students since I was 20, starting out with small groups of students in a reading program that was known as HOSTS, then I began working in Elementary and now I work with students in grades 6-8 and I have found myself not speaking in a controlled voice when giving them warnings or issuing consequences. I think you read my story before about wanting to become a teacher in the near future and I want to be the teacher that students come to for help, not the one the students are afraid to ask for help or talk to. I am in no way like this at home. I’m a very quiet person at home. What should I do? What would you recommend? I’m a very firm disciplinarian but I don’t want to be portrayed as the “yeller”.

    Signed,

    Roderick Woodard

    • Sam's Gravatar Sam
      December 18, 2011    

      Hi Roderick,
      It’s good to hear from you.
      The temptation to yell in class can be very big, but you have to fight that temptation at all costs. Raising your voice should be only at strategic moments that you – and not your students – choose.
      Here are some tips that I’ve used in the past:
      1. Have a set discipline ladder. What happens when a student misbehaves? In what order? Warning? Lunch detention? After school detention? Phone call home? Admin referral? Whatever you decide, make sure your students are aware of the progression.
      2. Make an example of one student. Pick the student who is the one causing the most disruption. Make him/her your focus. Call home on him. Make it clear that you won’t let his/her poor behavior go on without some kind of consequence.
      3. Do not try and teach over the noise. If you have to stop your lesson to deal with the disruption, stop the lesson. Focus on the one student giving you the most trouble. Give a stern warning (in a low, controlled voice), then when the class is quiet again, continue with the lesson. If it continues, stop and remove the student. Have him/her step outside of the classroom. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Don’t even watch him/her as he/she leaves. Once the class is quiet again, continue with the lesson. When you get some down time, go out and give the student a lecture, then allow him/her back into the class. The message you will send will be powerful.
      3. Create engaging lessons. This is the best way to keep your class from making you want to raise your voice. This takes a lot of work and time. It will cost you some long hours preparing in the first few years, but you’ll be creating lessons that you can use for years to come, and there will be less time needed to prepare in the future. Notice I said “less time” instead of “no time.”

      Above all, keep from raising your voice. If you yell, then the students are in control of your class and not you.

      Good luck Roderick! You’re going to be fine.

      Thanks,
      Sam

  5. Roderick Woodard's Gravatar Roderick Woodard
    December 19, 2011    

    Thank you so much for these tips! I plan to implement these when I return to school on January 2nd, 2012!

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