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Focus on the Positive and For Heaven’s Sake, Stop Lecturing!

Recently, one of my former students got a job as a long-term substitute at my school. She was also my student-teacher, which is pretty cool. Her name is Eva.

It reminded me that I’m old, but I’m happy for her, and I’m glad to see that she has chosen to make teaching her career.

It’s always refreshing to see that youthful enthusiasm and desire to make a difference in the lives of students. It was great to see that in Eva.

Yesterday, she came into my office to speak to me. She wanted to ask for some advice on what to do with a couple of students who were giving her a hard time in class.

According to her, one student was not a behavior problem, but he just didn’t do any work in class. The other student was a disruption, and was beginning to have a negative influence on the rest of the class.

I thought I’d share the advice I gave her just in case there were other new teachers out there who were dealing with students like this.

The first student was not disrupting the class. He was just not doing any of the work the teacher had assigned for the class. Eva had reminded him several times to get started without too much success. She did say, however, that on Friday, he did a little better.

I told her:

Find something positive and focus on that. “Johnny, you did so great on Friday. I was so happy with the way you completed your class work on Friday. I need you to work like that today.” Students like this are used to being scolded for not doing work. Very rarely are they praised for doing well. I’ve found that students will put in that extra effort if they know that it’s going to be noticed and appreciated. Don’t we all?

Give a specific requirement. “Johnny, you have 15 questions to do today. I’m going to come back in 7 minutes. I want to see at least 3 questions completed. If you have more than three by the time I get back, I’m going to be very happy. I know you can do it. Let me know if you get stuck on something.” Sometimes, students need to be given a goal to work toward. The most important element of this is to make the goal attainable. Telling a student that he has the rest of the period to finish the worksheet is too vague of a goal for that student who really isn’t motivated. Setting a goal that is clear and measurable and most of all within specific time limits, will help this student get the work done. Make sure you come back in exactly seven minutes and make a big deal when you see the three questions finished. Then give him the next goal.

Call parents. If all else fails, give the parents a call, but don’t call to complain about the student. When you call, let the parent know that you’re concerned about their son/daughter and you’re calling to find out if they have any ideas of how to motivate him/her. First of all, parents are the experts on how to motivate their son/daughter. They might have some great ideas that you can use in your classroom. Secondly, your call is not to complain about their child, but rather to collaborate on how to help their child be more successful. When you make this kind of phone call, the conversation is so much more pleasant for everyone. 

What about the other student, Sam?

I’m glad you asked.

The other student that was giving Eva a problem was a boy who was being disruptive. Here is what I told her:

Don’t lecture. Too many teachers, beginners and veterans alike, get frustrated with a disruptive student, and transform into the ultimate counselor, sharing how poor behavior is the beginning of the journey toward failure in life. Lectures don’t work. The only one who benefits is the lecturer. You feel better about yourself, but really the student is not listening.

Give only one warning. I told Eva to give the student one warning, and if he continues to disrupt, have a specific consequence ready. Either give him a detention or send him out of the class or send him to the office.

Students need to know that there are specific consequences for their poor behavior. Don’t lecture. Don’t give out more than one warning. Don’t ignore the behavior. Don’t spend a lot of time on dealing with the disruption.

Most teachers, especially new teachers, have a giant heart for all their students. They don’t want to be the “mean” teacher or the one that students dont’ like, so they hold off on giving consequences. 

I believe that teachers can have a structured discipline plan without having to be mean.

Students have to know what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in the class. They need to k now that there will be specific rewards for positive behavior and specific consequences for negative behavior.

It requires structure and consistency on the teacher’s part, but it is possible. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve experienced it first-hand.

I’m so proud of Eva. I’m excited for her. I know she is a great teacher, and some day she will be given a class of her own where her students will experience one of the most exciting years of their lives.

Until next time,

Here’s to your Success in the Classroom!







  1. Roderick Woodard's Gravatar Roderick Woodard
    January 28, 2013    

    Thank you so much for this! This will most definitely help me tomorrow with the students! 🙂

    • Sam's Gravatar Sam
      January 28, 2013    

      Thanks for the comment Roderick.

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