My Biggest, Quickest Behavior Management Tool — Revealing my Humanity

It’s no shocker that students are going to try you. No matter the demographic breakdown of your school, there will be at least one student that will make your neck snap and rhetorically ask them if they were speaking to you.

“See when you do clownery, the clown comes back to bite.”

Now, when students have forgotten, I have reminded them in many ways:

  1. Automatic ‘color change’. Well, because I’m the adult, you're’ the child and you should KNOW better, and here is consequence that I know will make you feel as bad as I did during that.
  2. Go OFF. Well, because I’m the adult, you’re the child, and I’m going to yell, scream and hollar so you know who’s really in charge. Then, maybe you'll feel bad and think twice about your actions next time.
  3. Blank Stare. I’m in such a total state of shock that you decided to speak to me like that. I’m going to just sit here and wait on you to realize how deep in a ditch you’ve put yourself in and until I find something to do.

And here’s the thing. With all of these responses, I took it personally. To be frank, what human wouldn’t? It’s understandable for a human to respond to a threatening or offensive behavior defensively. But, I hate to break it to you, these methods are not helpful for building and sustaining teacher-student relationships which should be our priority when conflict arises.

A New Approach

When a student takes the opportunity to talk to my in a way that my mother wouldn’t approve, I take on a new approach — I reveal my humanity.

I express to students, in the moment or through a community meeting, that not as a teacher but as a human being how unsatisfied I am with their tone, words, or actions.

This makes the conflict management and communication skills transferable. My students are master compartmentalizers. They know that they can get away with some things in certain contexts that won’t fly in another.

The difference between this statement and my previous methods is that previously I was using my teacher identity as leverage with my students. I don’t want students to speak to me respectfully because I’m an adult or their teacher, I want them to do it because I’m a human being and it should be the norm that all human beings deserve respect.

Here are a few lines I give to my students:

I’d admit, typing my responses and reading them over, I laughed out loud. These lines sound so corny and textbook. But honestly, it works in my class.

“As a human being, I won’t tolerate being talked to like that.”
“If you want something and it takes communication with another person, you’re going to have to make your tone more approachable.”
“It’s not even about me being your teacher, it’s about me being another human being with feelings and standards. I really feel a ‘type of way’ about the way you’re speaking to me.”

The Point — Building Relationships are Important, Maintaining Relationships is where the hard work begins

It’s not even about consequences, it’s really about driving home the point that we live in a world where relationships matter. It’s just as much as the students responsibility, as it is the teachers, to maintain the relationship.

It helps me sustain the relationships I have with my students. I’m not dismissing students and using my teacher status to rule over them but I’m expressing myself in a way that I expect out of them. And the best part, I no longer take it personally.

I want my students to know that in my classroom we are equal. I will take every opportunity I can to lessen the power that comes with the title ‘Teacher’.

It is my ultimate hope that my students will be able to communicate effectively to the people in their lives in ways that they can be heard.