Friday, May 16, 2014

Student Behaviour: Low-Level Disruption in the Summer Term

Can you spot the clown? via cartoonstock.com

Approaching low-level disruption in schools during the summer months

It is the month of May and the end of the school year is fast approaching. With this joyous thought in mind, all teachers naturally tend to start relaxing a bit more during lessons - at least after the final exams and assessments are completed. There is just something about the weather warming up and the sun beckoning us all to think about the summer months of leisure ahead.

It's only natural for students to feel the same way. The cold months of intense school work and preparation are past. Hours and days spent working on projects or assignments, going to school one day after another through the spring months and so forth. Emerging from the hectic scheduling and overabundance of work, students themselves begin to loosen up, act up, and perhaps even feel the need to talk a bit more, argue and complain in situations where they wouldn't have normally 3 months ago. As a teacher, what you are left with is a collection of students peppered throughout you classes, who slowly start to work away at you, persistently, during your lessons. This can be particularly worse for teachers who are covering lessons this late in the school year.

Class clowns, troublemakers, brats, whatever you want to call them. They are there. Hidden at first, immersed, ready to spring out at any time. Of course, over time, maturity comes with the years, and all children and young folk can change for the better. Which is exactly why patience and a plan is most needed during these potentially long days of trying to conduct your lessons while battling it out with the chattering lot.

Frustration cannot be allowed to reign freely.

In his work, 'The Behaviour Guru,' Tom Bennett puts it best when he says, "Low level disruption is like kryptonite for the well planned lesson." He goes on to define low-level disruption as "anything that annoys me." All teachers can relate to this. From rocking chairs to pen tapping, talking over you or shouting and passing notes. It may not seem like something even worth mentioning to your friends after work, but deep down, it wears us all down. Deteriorating and corrosive to our spirits in the classroom, and especially during a period of time when we really want our students to prepare and be ready for their final assessments. I think the most important thing is to deal with it as quickly as possible early on. Otherwise, it will continue to grow and endure throughout the year, blooming during the month of May.

According to Bennett, there are two dangers in low-level disruption:

1. It happens a lot
2. It's hard to put out a dozen fires at once

The greater the number of disrupting students, the more difficult it will be to get a handle on. The most frustrating and irritating thing about it all is that students know that we want to establish control in the classroom. Worse yet, they quickly learn what bothers us. They take this knowledge and learn to aggravate us further, whether because they are bored, tired or just want to watch teachers squirm and struggle. Bennett believes that our attitude needs to change in the classroom. We have to "not care about it so much." It's not personal, rather professional, taking names and taking care of business. The bottom line is that low-level disruption is a part of the job and something that may never change or go away. It's what we have to do in order to allow us to continue teaching and doing what we love most.

In direct and quite entertaining words, Bennett writes about the need to be firm and not show weakness when it comes to low-level disruption. The best advice he gives in terms of getting students to behave are:

Be fair
Have rules
Be consistent
Do what you say, every time

We all want to have the perfect class, filled with obedient students raising hands at every question in unison, with Hermione-like discipline and succinctness. In the end, however, it is never quite that divine or simple. We have a duty to teach, and if it means we have "to be the cliff that they dash themselves against, until they give up through exhaustion and submit to your mighty will," then so be it. Only then can mutual respect between teacher and student begin to form and grow.

In the meantime, take a few minutes and check out the full TES link below to Bennett's 'Not Quite a Teacher' post. You can also find the excerpt I mention from Tom Bennett's "The Behaviour Guru." He also has his own personal education blog.

Vital Link:

http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storyCode=6087267

http://behaviourguru.blogspot.com/

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