Let Teachers Teach

Guest post from Dr. Marcie Beigel, founder of Behavior + Beyond and author of the new book, Love Your Classroom Again.

There is a buzz in the air right now at schools across the nation, a distinct combination of excitement and fear. Teachers and administrators are enthusiastic about the opportunity that this year will bring and certainly fearful about the problem behaviors they will see.

Dr. Marcie Beigel, Author, Love Your Classroom Again

No matter how much a teacher prepares for the coming year, unless they are trained in behavior, their effort will be for naught. There is one fundamental truth about schools that no one wants to talk about: without sufficient behavior management in a classroom a teacher cannot teach.

Year after year, teachers march into the school building hopeful, but undertrained to deal with the very behaviors that will smash their dreams for the year. This will happen within a month for some, within a week for others, and occasionally within a day.

Teachers are surprisingly bad or unskilled at getting children to listen, clean up, or do basic assignments. What’s the use of arithmetic and social studies class — or any class for that matter — when students don’t sit in their chairs? If a teacher is not trained to get kids to listen to what they have to say, then no amount of innovative teaching approaches with help them do their job. For many teachers attempting to impart information is like shouting into the wind.

It’s not all teachers’ fault. Not at all! Most teacher training programs are, frankly, a joke. The required continuing education courses are largely useless. Teachers are thus woefully underprepared when they come out of the very courses that are designed to help them and their students succeed. When problem behaviors start to happen teachers don’t know where to turn for help. Their colleagues are facing the same chaos in their classroom and their administration provides good theoretical suggestions but nothing that works.

What happens? Teachers send their kids out of the classroom to the principal’s office. This almost never leads to behavior improvement. Teachers will also spend their lunch break complaining about the bad behavior in their classroom and comparing stories. The teacher’s lounge is usually a bastion of negativity, because when you don’t know where to turn for solutions the easy out is to just to vent.

I’ll risk sounding overly optimistic to say that this year it can all change!

There are simple answers to all the behaviors educators face in schools. I have been working in behavior for close to 20 years and I can tell you that behavior is not rocket science. Behavior follows patterns. If you follow the behavior pattern, you will learn why the behavior is happening. Once you know why the behavior is happening, you have all the details needed to change the behavior. Teachers want to change problem behavior.

Teachers need a crash course in behavior — now. Somehow the topic of behavior has been treated like a secret, closely guarded by specialists. There is no reason for this. Every teacher needs to know how behaviors work as this is the foundation of all good teaching. Once you teach a student to listen, you can teach them anything.

To get all educators on the right track I will break this down into the three major tenants that I use in my private practice to change behaviors, which range from mild to extreme, both in children and within schools.

· Speak With Purpose, Words Matter: Students pay attention to what you say, whether you believe it or not. When you tell them they MUST do something, do you really mean it? Is there a consequence if they don’t? Most students are told they must do things all day long and they never do them. All this teaches them is that if you say they must do something they are not required to do it. Stop giving so many directives. If you give a direction, make sure you mean it. You are in control of your words, so if you don’t mean it, don’t say it.

· Do More, Actions Count: The fastest way to give your words meaning is to have an action behind them. If you say something is going to happen, make sure it happens. If you offer to help a student, make sure you help. If you say that clean up is in five minutes, make sure it is five minutes, not seven or ten. Just like words, you are in control of what you do. Make sure that if you say something you follow through.

· Choose Honey, Perspective is Powerful: The fear that teachers bring into the new school year tends to lead to complaining and aggravation. Shift your perspective to find the positive elements in each day and each student. Focus on them and push away the negativity. To walk through your day praising positive behavior is much more satisfying than to complain about negative behavior all day. With that mindset you may even find that you begin to love your classroom again.

Teachers can of course get more details and realistic solutions in my new book Love Your Classroom Again, but whatever way people choose, the most important thing is to learn about behavior!

Dr. Marcie Beigel is the founder and director of Behavior + Beyond. She is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst-Doctorate, earned her Doctorate from Teachers College, Columbia University, and became a New York State Certification Special Education Teacher. Since 1998, she has helped thousands of families and teachers around NYC redesign behavior through realistic strategies. Her first book “Love Your Classroom Again” is out later this month. www.BehaviorAndBeyond.net