Usually, student misbehavior is just that, a case of kids being kids. As Sigmund Freud reportedly once said about reading too much into a situation, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” However, with chronically misbehaving students, teachers need to pay close attention to the reasons behind their behavior.
Richard Curwin (1944-2018), the author of Discipline With Dignity and numerous other books related to behavior and motivation, gave four potential reasons behind chronic misbehavior while warning that the list is far from exhaustive and that both diagnosis and remedial action are difficult to put into practice.
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“Some students have experienced so much pain that they build a wall between themselves and everyone else. The closer to you get to children like this, the greater their fear of getting hurt. As this fear intensifies, they may try to push you away,” writes Curwin. Teachers misread the child’s behavior, assuming that the student either dislikes or disrespects them and try harder to develop a relationship, but it only frightens the student further away.
Some students have too often heard empty cliches and promises, when in fact things only got worse. “Children shuffled through the foster care system are likely to feel this way,” wrote Curwin. The same is true for children of divorced parents and students on whom teachers gave up. Such students will cynically push the teacher, expecting to be again abandoned. Don’t use popular rhetoric or make empty promises to these students.
Students often feel attracted to the teacher. This often happens with young teachers when teaching high school or young adult students who develop crushes on them. Younger children are sometimes attracted to their teachers like a parent or grandparent. “The solution is to keep all interactions on a professional level. Be friendly, but not friends. Draw strong professional limits,” wrote Curwin.
No one wants to feel anonymous or unseen. Emotionally neglected students often misbehave in desperation to be noticed. Such children often feel unnoticed at home, among their peers and teachers. This category of misbehavior can be solved by caring teachers who notice these loners and consistently treat all students equally and involve them in class activities and generally make them feel appreciated.
Curwin says that in all four of the situations above, certain sensitivities can be very helpful. Teachers must be very careful to make positive or negative comments about the behavior and academic performance of such students in private. “Never write these students’ names on the whiteboard for any reason. Never discuss their situations with any other students or other parents. When talking with these students’ parents, never blame either the children or parents. Be more stubborn than these chronically misbehaving students and never give up on them,” Curwin suggested.