Classroom EMERGENCY – How to deal with a Disruptive class

Classroom Management Emergency

Classroom management issues hardly ever happen at the start of the semester. They only occur after a couple of weeks or months. You don’t know exactly where you have lost your grip on the class, but before you know it, the students are out of control, difficult and noisy.

It’s kind of like quicksand. Somewhere, after a few lessons, there is an incident of misbehavior. You’re surprised, but write it off as a singular incident. Then there’s another incident and you think you’ve dealt with it, but your class is steadily getting noisier, more students are talking back at you and students are ignoring you more and more. What happened to that nice class you had at the start? How did this turn into a nightmare?

There comes a point where many new teachers feel that they’ve lost control of their classes. This includes substitute and ESL teachers who often walk into a wild class and need to regain control. This is for teachers that feel like they’ve lost; if you want the full video on The Secret to Classroom Management – Check it out here.

Classroom Management Failure

Trying to teach when chaos reigns around you is one of the worst situations an educator can experience. You feel overwhelmed and powerless. You’ve tried everything—you’ve googled classroom management techniques and have tried to implement them, but the students just won’t listen. You’ve screamed, pleaded, tried the silent treatment… it worked once or twice, but class always reverts back to chaos. It has come to the point where you physically hate going to class.

No teacher can survive that way. Classroom Management Failure is the number one reason for teachers leaving the profession… but it shouldn’t be that way.

Most books and courses on Classroom Management only help if you have implemented rules and procedures right at the start of class and have maintained it rigorously. But since you’ve lost control, your students don’t respect you, and trying to get them to change their behavior only slightly will not help at all.

How to Reset or Restart

To restore order after a failure in classroom management, the teacher needs to implement a reset or restart of the class to try and regain teaching functionality. You need to neutralize the ill-discipline among the students and begin afresh. This won’t be easy. In fact, it may be the most difficult thing that you’ll ever do. But if you manage it, even just the attempt will transform you into a better teacher, a stronger leader, a more capable person.

Failing to confront your dysfunctional, undisciplined class will imply that you have surrendered, and that is when people resign and leave the profession.

Step one to a Restart is to stop fearing the students. Stop crying at night because you dread going to class. Get up and push back against what feels like anarchy. Confront the misbehaving ringleaders. Change them because they need to be changed. This isn’t you against a class of difficult students; this is you against an evil force that has invaded your classroom. As a teacher, it’s your duty to save these kids from themselves. Be brave. You need to face all these problems, and sort out the problems that the troublemakers try to bring back into class.

A Changed Mindset

The Great Reset starts with a changed mindset. You are not only a teacher anymore, but fighting for these kids and their education.

No more pity parties. No more “I wish these kids would listen.” Grab this class by the throat (figuratively of course) and guide them to the way that they instinctively wish the class would be

Trust me when I say that these kids do not want to be out of control, they don’t want to cause trouble. They are just waiting for a strong leader to guide them. To make them feel safe. And help them learn. That is your job.

Here is what you do… Write down a list of rules that you want for the classroom. These include the rules, behavior, and actions you expect from the learners and the exact procedures. How do they enter, how to behave in class and during group work. What behavior is expected from them? Be very exact. Also, add the discipline plan and punishment for transgressions. (Each school should have such a list, go through it again.)

Ride out the week until Friday or to the last class you will see them that week. When the students come into the class get them to sit down and make sure they are calm and paying attention. This will probably be very hard to achieve because they have already marked your class as an area of chaos, where it is lawless and they get away with everything.

You will have to retrain them. Send them all out, but not angrily – remember, that you too are now getting retrained. Be calm and have a confident, power pose. Stand upright and focus by looking them in the eyes. Tell them, “Sorry, this is not how you enter MY class. Get out. Let’s try it again.”

Wait outside with them until they are quiet, then send them back in. If they still refuse to behave, point out the main culprits: “Johnny, this isn’t what we want in class. I need to tell the class something important and I can’t do it when it is too noisy. You’ll work with me, won’t you?”  

Let them re-enter until you are happy. They will test you, but don’t let them break your resolve. Eventually, they enter the class quietly and well behaved. Stand in the middle of the class, smile a little, then tell them: “Class, I am sorry I have failed you. The noise and ill-discipline in the class prevent you from learning well. There have been problems because I haven’t been strict enough. From today I want us to make a change.”

Hand each one a copy of the rules and procedures list. Go through each rule and procedure step by step. Explain what you want them to do. Also, after explaining something—point to a student and have them repeat it. That way, you know they understand. Make sure to focus on those rules about how they are expected to answer questions and the policy on rudeness and behavior.

How to overcome challengers

There will be ringleaders who will mumble something against you because they want the class to stay unruly. You dare not let them. You are not the same weak teacher as you’ve been before. You are not angry, but you’ve got to face the problem head-on. Find the student that is most likely making causing the problem and stare them down. Keep that stare until they apologize and behave. Remember, the rest of the class is watching to see if you will fail like all the times before. Don’t.

This retraining will probably take the entire class. But even if it took a month of getting your class in order, it would be worth it. Not only for your mental well-being but also for the learning that they will experience in the future. You know that with the chaos, they really aren’t learning much.

Once you have gone through rules, procedures and punishments and you are confident that they all understand. Tell your students that you want their parents to sign. Warn them to make sure it gets signed, otherwise you’ll personally let them know or something along those lines.

When students come back to the next class, they must produce signed copies of the rules. Pin a copy in the front of the class. Now warn them, this is the behavior I want to see. For the next several weeks, you will have to be super strict. Do not let your guard fall. At the start of every class, make sure they enter quietly. Do not let them disrespect you. I also want you to give them a lecture on good behavior and what it means in class.

When students enter, spend the first couple of minutes asking them personal questions to get to know them. Then, after that give them a lecture on how important it is to be well-behaved and working hard in class. During these lectures make direct eye contact with the known troublemakers and keep eye contact until they look away. It is up to you to learn how to dominate these kids… That’s what they are… Kids… And until you are sure that you are the supreme boss in there, they will try and find chinks in your armor. So become a strict, impenetrable wall.

Be very strict

Enforce the rules and make sure it is handed out. It is not a personal vendetta against the students. Make sure to let them know that you are not punishing them, you are punishing the behavior. Ask them questions and get to know them. Manipulate them however you can, sweet talk, feign hurt, but always come from the mindset of a strong teacher. Say to yourself, “I will never be taken advantage of again!”

Know that at any moment there will be a slip-up, students will act out to test you. Frequently at first, but if you handle it like a strict parent, those misbehaviors will decrease over time.

When a student acts out, give a warning, “Johnny, what is the rule about bothering your friend?” At this point other students might chip in—wave them away without looking, they are trying to distract you from the matter at hand. Johnny might also say something like, “Sir, it’s not my fault…” Redirect them to the rule. “That is the rule we have agreed upon. Your parents have signed the rules and you agreed to it. Do you understand?” If the student nods and looks away, you have won. If they try and argue it, cut them off. “Sorry Johnny, this is study time. Come see me after class and we can discuss it.” Do not give students a platform to perform on. Cut them off from their source of validation in the class.

Keep Students On Task

Keep the students on task as long as possible. This will not be easy, but the more victories you get, the more you overcome these obstacles, the more easily the class will submit, and you will become a stronger leader.

Many teachers, those who were lucky enough not to have experienced tough classes like these, would now say, “Eric, you are wrong. That sounds like intimidation.” I say no, you were lucky. Unless you are the authority in class, students won’t respect you, and their learning will be compromised.

I hope this helps for emergency classroom situations.

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