Even one disruptive boy in class can be exhausting for a teacher. (Girls can be just as bad!) How do you stay sane when one of your pupils is disrupting the class and refuses to cooperate?
Here’s Renate, teaching in Spain: “There is a child in one of my groups who makes teaching especially challenging. He never sits still, even for a minute. He makes animal sounds, crawls and jumps about. His goal is always to do the opposite and to disrupt any activity. I try not to raise my voice although he makes me angry. I also feel for the other children who would like to learn English but in such an atmosphere it’s very difficult.”
Solutions for dealing with a disruptive boy in class
1. Keep cool
Angry people can look pretty comical so don’t become the butt of the joke! It can be hard to keep your cool with a provocative, naughty child. To help you stay cool, bear these points in mind:
- Losing your temper weakens your position of authority. It shows you can’t control yourself.
- If you are all stewed up inside, you won’t be enjoying your lesson at all!
- Additionally, shouting at a naughty child makes him or her the center of attention.
If being angry and shouting isn’t an option, what tools do you have?
2. Look after yourself first
The first thing to do is to help yourself. You can’t help others if you are feeling weak and helpless. The most urgent issue in Renate’s case above is to remove her anger towards the child. When the child provokes her, she feels angry and the atmosphere becomes difficult. This atmosphere is not being created by the boy, but by the combination of the boy’s naughtiness and the teacher’s anger. Therefore if the teacher’s attitude changes, the atmosphere will change.
3. Acceptance, Understanding and Compassion
First, accept what is. This kid may be so full of energy that it is really difficult for him to sit still, and perhaps he has ADHD. Instead of feeling mad, try feeling compassion. I understand he drives you crazy but if you get into a negative emotional state it won’t help you, and you won’t enjoy the lessons so much.
So be selfish. Change your outlook, even if you change it artificially. Pretend to yourself that this poor boy has difficulty and it’s not his fault that he is like that. The situation in class will be the same, but you’ll feel better about it.
4. Don’t reward his demand for attention
Shouting at this child, singling him out, will make him the center of attention. He may love that!
- Try Ignoring him completely when he misbehaves.
- Don’t use his name.
- Pretend he is not there. He’s doing the animal noises to get attention.
- Don’t even look at him. Imagine he’s invisible. Most kids hate being ignored, it’s the worst punishment. Experiment with this.
- Praise him, using his name, when he is good.
- Make him the center of attention when he is good.
5. The teacher is the boss
Just because you are being understanding of his difficulties doesn’t mean he is the boss. Be calm, firm and consistent. I had a naughty child at my house last night and I asked her to move over onto a stool next to my chair. She didn’t move. I asked again. No reaction. So I insisted, nicely and firmly that she move over – she moved over. If they test you, you need to show them that you ARE the boss, and it’s non-negotiable.
6. Make good behaviour a choice
If, after three firm requests the child still disobeys, try a question like this one: “Would you like me to speak to your father when he picks you up after class or would you like to sit nicely?”
This gives the boy the choice. He is responsible, he chooses. It’s more effective than just threatening him.
Then, if he doesn’t behave well you HAVE to follow through and speak to the dad. Empty threats undermine your authority.
7. Does he need to burn off energy?
Since this boy loves making animal sounds, why not use that to help you teach. Use the skit Zoo Talk (from my book of 30 plays and skits for children) and get him to do the sound effects.
If he’s jumping off the walls, do a vocabulary quiz or question and answer session with the group. For every correct answer, the boy does a star jump. For every incorrect answer, he does three press-ups.
8. What if there is no change?
Tolerance: If, after you have asked him nicely and firmly to behave, he is still a total pest, send him over to play in a corner. Just set him aside so that you can at least teach the others. Perhaps he can do a puzzle or play with some toys, well away from the others. I don’t think he will like being cast aside and he may well want to be re-integrated into the group. You can say yes, as long as you behave nicely.
9. Get inspired
Consult with fellow teachers and the head of school. See what ideas other teachers at your school have regarding your difficult student. If you have a whole class of disruptive kids, watch “The Freedom Writers”, directed by Richard LaGravanese, a great film inspired by a true story, that went on to influence the American education system (slightly!)
10. Give interesting lessons
Use my resources to engage your pupils, with stories, games, music and skits.