I taught for more than thirty years. I was a substitute teacher for a few years, off and on, in classes from K through 12. I taught English as a second language for three summers to Hispanic Migrant workers’ children. I taught adult education at night for a couple of years, and finally, I taught at the college level for about 27 years. Some things teachers learn are from the lesson of hard knocks, and many of those have to do with managing student behaviors and perceptions.
Here are five things I learned the hard way:
- 1. When a child tells you they are sick, never tell them to just go put their head down on their desk. I did this once with a seven year old. Moments later, he vomited on his desk, the floor, and on the child in front of them. Send that child out of the room and let the principal’s office deal with them.
- 2. Never be a friend to your students. Friends expect favors, forgiveness for late lessons, and for bad behavior. Be a professional, and understand that no matter how old you are, it is inappropriate to be their friend. This can come back in your face if this is your relationship with your students.
- 3. If a student is angry about a grade, never discuss that in front of other students, even when a student is pressing you to do that. Allowing a student to gain power over this conversation may lead to multiple students complaining about their grade and expecting grade changes. Have this conversation in private, or in front of another teacher, but not in front of other students.
- 4. Never allow your students to separate and sit away from you or away from other students. Once students feel as though they are not part of the group, or close to the teacher, they can easily become emotional snipers, undermining the class and the teacher’s authority. Have them sit near the teacher, and with each other, so they all have a sense of “we are in this together.”
- 5. Establish your authority in the first five minutes of the class at the beginning of the semester. Number four is the perfect excuse to do this. I would walk into the classroom at college and immediately tell my students I wanted them to sit in the first three rows. Giving a direction like that shows who is in charge. Behavior problems can exist in any age of student, and establishing authority can stop bad behavior before it begins.
Bonus: Remember that you are a role model, even when you are not at work. Once students lose respect for you, you will not be able to regain it. Behave yourself, no matter where you are.