Finally- finally you have your class roster in your hand. Your brain and eyes fight to scan the list as fast as possible, as you hope and pray that you don’t see the one name you are dreading. THAT name, THAT kid, the infamous one, whose knack for teacher torture inspired many tales in the teachers’ room. There it is. There HE is on YOUR roster. You immediately text your work bestie who had him last year to tell her. She laughs. Thanks, friend.
Fast forward: week one. Your “friend” asks how it’s going with HIM and you smile. It’s amazing, he is an angel and you have no idea what the issue was… maybe, he didn’t like YOU, friend.
This scenario is not unlikely. Remember, students are humans and just like adults they click or clash with varied personalities. However, what is more likely at play is something we know as the honeymoon phase of the teacher student relationship. The honeymoon will, in all likelihood, end, and this student’s dormant shenanigans will re-emerge.
The Honeymoon- The time when young Phillip is behaving, following your instructions, sizing you up- gauging your strengths, weaknesses and boundaries. But wait, you like this Phillip- he is a great kid. You want his level of engagement, superb product and his awesome behavior to continue…but how? How do you as the educator maintain successful classroom management after the honeymoon has ended?
Here are some helpful techniques that are my go-tos for extending the honeymoon:
1- High expectations (for them and you)
As a special education teacher I have always made it my mission to hold my students to very high standards in two areas: academics and behavior. There is a danger in lowering the bar for specific groups of children. The stigma associated with lower expectations can impact their development negatively. Give them the same assignments, (to the maximum extent possible) hold them to the same standard, but give them supplemental resources to accompany the task so that achievement is possible. This can take the form of outlines, shared notes, sentence stems, sample problems to follow, etc.
To maintain high expectations for behavior, come up with a plan with the resources you have available if you see a consistent need for individualized help. Talk to guidance, the case managers, past teachers, and the parents. If a whole network of caring adults are involved, and on the same page, the student will feel supported, and less likely to falter.
2- Don’t over commit
One year I worked with a first year teacher who laid out a very intricate behavior plan on day one. If you misbehaved she pointed at you, then you had to go up to the red folder and take out a detention card, then write your name on a clipboard. If you had your cell phone taken away you had to go into the green folder, take out another card, and write your name on a different clipboard. If you went to the bathroom longer than you were supposed to, you had to write your name on the black board, and so on. This behavior plan did not last for more than three days because she overcommitted.
Make the plan simple, easy to remember, and easy for you to enforce. If you overcommit you are making work for yourself. How is that fair? Additionally, you are shifting the class culture from an educational environment to one of punitive management. Most importantly, if you do not follow through with your intricate plan, you lose the respect of your students. They will think you are someone who says something but does not follow through, and any student who is a boundary pusher will take advantage. So, as the old adage reminds us, “say what you mean, and mean what you say.”
3- Consistency and patience
Being consistent and patient are the hardest things to remember in the moments when you need to remember them most. The following advice is a hard pill to swallow when you are struggling with a student with difficult behavior. You will have uncomfortable moments of struggle, you will think your plan isn’t working. If you feel confident in the long term effectiveness of the plan, follow through. Don’t change up the plan on a whim because you are frustrated. Think about the plan when you are calm and then make rational modifications. Don’t second guess yourself in the heat of the moment- this is where your professional patience must kick in.
4- Don’t engage
At the high school level it is sometimes extremely difficult at times resist taking the bait and getting into a back and forth argument with a student. DO NOT ENGAGE, I REPEAT-DO NOT ENGAGE. If you get into a verbal power struggle in front of a class, I promise you, they will win. What I mean is, they will say something so off the cuff that the class will laugh, you will look dumb, and you will lose credibility. On the flipside, if you engage and say something terrible to a child, forgetting your purpose, you really lose personally, and potentially even professionally. Always stop the argument. Say something like, “I am not going to argue with you,” or, “I am done talking.” Always be sure to follow the proper steps set up in your district for handling the high pressured behavior situations.
5- Drawing the line in the sand.
This advice was given to me by a principal within my first year of teaching. If you have a behavior plan in action that is NOT working, which will absolutely happen at least once in your career, it is okay. Make a general statement to your class, something like, “Ok, when we come back from winter break we will have a new plan in place.” Or, “Starting next Monday I am rolling out a new seating chart.” Don’t let a problem linger for a long time, but give a pretend purpose to the change so that it looks like it was planned and purposeful rather than a fix to something that isn’t working on a whim.
When I look back on my classes from when I began my career, the behavior seemed so much more difficult to handle. Is it because the kids have gotten better? I don’t think so. I think the teacher bag gets filled with better tools for dealing with issues, confidence increases, and you learn to think better under pressure. Remember, nothing is permanent even if it feels completely hopeless. The honeymoon may not last forever but neither will your current situation.
Rebecca Stone teaches 12th grade special education English at Long Branch high school.