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Classroom management - What to do with a misbehaving student

Not My Hat!
cogdogblog / Foter / CC BY-SA 2.0

As a substitute teacher, it is likely that you will encounter a disruptive student in your classroom. Classroom management can be challenging for a substitute since you do not have time to establish rapport and are unaware of previous incidents other extenuating circumstances the student faces (such as home life, special needs, etc.). The best approach to handling an unruly student is to walk in to school equipped with a solid approach to dealing with this inevitable obstacle.

Step 1 – Clear expectations

The primary cause of student misbehavior is the lack of clear expectations. Make sure that students understand the task and what is expected of them. A clear and focused explanation of a task will eliminate some of the opportunity for misbehavior. One good teaching trick to assure that students are ready to begin an activity is to choose one student at random following your introduction to the assignment and have him/her retell the directions. This gives the class some ownership but also provides an opportunity for students to hear directions twice.

Step 2 – Quiet redirection

If a student is doing something wrong but is not directly interfering with the class, be careful not to become the distraction yourself. The student may be demonstrating attention seeking behaviors and by calling attention to it, you will only make the problem worse. Instead, quietly approach the student and redirect him on the task that has been assigned. If the student is causing a disruption for the entire room, it is acceptable to ask him into the hallway and then address the behavior there. This will remove the audience from the situation and make the student more receptive to your redirection.

Step 3 – Follow protocol

Every school has a standard procedure for addressing poor behavior. This should be available in the student handbook or your substitute teacher materials. Be aware of these procedures so that you can use this knowledge to your advantage should an incident occur. Does the teacher have a discipline technique already in place? Should you leave a list of names or should those students be sent directly to the main office? If the answers to these questions are absent from your substitute materials, then use your best judgment. In general, students should only be removed if they pose an immediate physical threat or if the disruption is so great that it negatively affects all other students.

Step 4 – Leave documentation

At the end of the day, be sure to leave a detailed note so that the returning teacher can respond appropriately. Students tend to minimize or deny problems, so treat the note as evidence in a court of law. Keep it clear, concise, and factual. Include what you observed, what actions you took, and what the student did in response. In the case of serious problems, also include your contact information in case the teacher has follow-up questions.

Encountering a misbehaving student can be challenging, but setting expectations,  attempting to mitigate the behavior before it becomes disruptive, handling the student according to the site's standards when it does, and following up with detailed documentation can not only help the situation at hand, but it shows the teacher and school administration you are professional and equipped to handle tough situations! Just one more reason for the teacher or school to call you back to work again and again!

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