So what do you do with disruptive out of control kids in classrooms?

This thread in the Pit references a story that’s making the rounds about an insanely idiotic Primary School teacher who decided to make the decision about whether a disruptive kindergartener could stay in the class by putting it up for vote by the class members, and they (predictably) voted him out. Cue lawyers and general outrage.

The idiocy of the teacher aside for a moment what do you do if a child is out of control or continuously disruptive in a classroom setting? What metric short of their being violent against other class members do you use to gauge allowing them to stay in class? It’s easy to say “mainstream them” if you’re not the one having to control a screamer or tantrum thrower. What do you do?

A lot of appropriate disciplinary discretion depends on the age of the child, and I don’t think there is any one ‘right’ answer.

My post is really long, I apologize.

I don’t personally believe children need to be constantly coddled and protected, but they shouldn’t be subject to public humiliation, either (as in the indicated story).

If the child’s behavior is actually preventing the teacher from doing their job, or preventing other students from learning or going about their learning activities, then the child should be punished or removed, as the situation merits. This would include such behaviors as:

  • Violence (hitting, biting, kicking, punching, spitting, hairpulling, throwing objects)
  • Excessive temperament (screaming, crying, tantrums)
  • General disruption (Talking out of turn, and/or without raising their hand, passing notes, chatting, making noise, asking inappropriate questions, etc)

A few tears or a little catfight between children that does not escalate and causes a moment or two of disruption is probably even expected sometimes, because, you know, they’re ‘children’.

I know there are some parents who might freak out at the idea of forcing a child to stay inside during recess, or making them go to the Principal’s office or stand in the hallway until class is over as punishment, but there has to be some kind of punishment option available to a teacher to use when a student becomes unruly.

Depending on the age of the child and the offending behavior, there are punishment options:

  • Take away an optional privilege. (IE, the child must stay inside during recess, they cannot play with their favorite toy at playtime, et cetera)

  • Give them a punishment ‘task’. Maybe make them write out something on the blackboard, or give an apology to the class for the disruption, if they’re REALLY unruly. Please note this is not the same as making them stand in front of the class and be addressed while the entire class says negative things about them. The idea with a public ‘apology’ is to accept the apology in a positive way. You can say, “Thank you for the apology, Johnny.” (and have the class accept the apology) Address the problem directly, and clearly. “We are in class so we can pay attention and learn and be good students. We cannot be good students if you are screaming and yelling.”

  • If other children are encouraging / instigating the offending behavior, make sure those children are separated during school time, if necessary.

  • If the child is being unruly and cannot be calmed down, they may have to be removed from the classroom (sent to the nurse or principal’s office) so that the other students can continue learning.

  • Set clear rules / boundaries, and keep to them. (Anyone disrupting the class will be sent to the principal. Johnny, you are disrupting the class. If you do not stop, you will be sent to the principal.) And make sure the child understands why they were punished. (You broke the rule, and the punishment is to go to the principal.)

‘Because you were bad’ is not a good reason. The child was not bad. Their behavior was bad. You can be firm with the child without being degrading. (Johnny, your behavior was not appropriate for the classroom. You hit Anna. Hitting is against the rules. Do you know what happens when you do something against the rules? There is a punishment. Do you know what the punishment is? You cannot stay in the class.)

It should always be very clear to the child what behavior is inappropriate, and why they are being punished. That way, when the parent or teacher asks the child, “Do you know why you were punished?”, they should be able to respond with a general reason why. “I was yelling in class,” or, “I hit Anna.” Not just, “I was bad,” or “Ms. Smith hates me.”

Of course, children are biased toward themselves, and might think the teacher is just a meanie anyway, but it’s the parent(s) and teacher’s job to make it clear that isn’t true. “No, Ms. Smith does not hate you, but she does not like it when you hit Anna / scream in class / etc.”

If they don’t undestand why they are being punished, they cannot change the offending behavior. You need to be firm and consistent with a child, or else they’ll walk all over you.

Wording may need to be altered to the child’s level, but the same general principles can be applied across age groups.

Also, PRAISE THE CHILD if they do a good job! No, you don’t have to fall all over yourself fawning all over a child behaving appropriate, but give them recognition. If they’re acting out for attention, maybe the POSITIVE attention will compel them to behave, instead of acting out. Say “thank you” when they do as you ask, and make verbal note of it when their bad behavior improves. (For a child who habitually talks out of turn, maybe, “Johnny, you sat very patiently and waited for me to call on you when your hand was raised. What is your question?” etc.)

It’s always important to keep communication open with the higher-ups (principal, etc) and child’s parents. If the child is ONLY a problem at school and not one at home, then there is something to be learned from that. If the child is a problem in both places, there might be a deeper family issue needing to be resolved.

If the child is a repeated problem despite multiple attempts at different kinds of disciplinary measures, then it really needs to be taken to a higher authority. If the child has a disability or behavioral problem, that needs to be addressed. If the parents refuse to deal with it, the next step would be to inform them that the child will not be allowed to return to class until they can behave (I’m not sure about the legality of this, but if the child is a genuine disruption, a suspension could be arranged, could it not?).

This is just my $0.02. I don’t know everything, and I don’t claim to. I have only done my fair share of tending other people’s children as a paid and not-paid babysitter, and I would like to be a teacher. I know everything is perfect on paper and not so perfect in the real world. I’m sure almost any teacher has lost their cool at some point. Teachers are people, too, and they get tired and fed up like anyone else. They make mistakes, too.

In the heat of the moment, they might yell at a kid. They might punish a kid more harshly than necessary, or do something mean. Expecting a teacher to be perfect is too much. A child won’t be scarred for life from one bad experience with a teacher. It can, however, be turned into a learning experience by a truly good teacher who made a genuine mistake. They can apologize, and explain why they got upset and did what they did. (“Johnny, I am very sorry that I yelled at you. That was wrong. I get very upset when you yell in class, because I cannot help the other students. We need to work together to behave better in class, so that everyone can learn, okay?”)

I hope this doesn’t offend anyone, and that I don’t come across snobbishly or know-it-all-ishly.

Oh, and if my answer was more IMHO than GQ-appropriate, I apologize.

Leah, you have made several good suggestions. You may have a natural gift for classroom management. I would suggest two or three changes though.

It’s probably no longer a good idea to leave a child by himself in the hallway outside your door. You are still legally responsible for anything that happens to the child and heaven knows what might happen in this day and age. An alternative idea would be to put the child where no one else can see him. You might separate him from the class by putting him on the other side of a large piece of furniture such as a cabinet or a file cabinet.

Teachers don’t usually have the choice about when a student returns to class and they don’t get to suspend students. Maybe it’s different in other parts of the country, but generally that’s left up to the administration.

If you enjoy children, maybe you should think about the teaching profession. They pay is terrible, but they can’t pay you enough to teach anyway. You have to love it for its own self and in spite of long hours and a lot of paper work.

And for the OP: Take the child aside and tell him that if he isn’t quiiet, you are going to mash his ears together. Smile just a little bit when you say it. But make him wonder. Then if he starts again, you can either give him an ear signal by putting both of your hands on your ears, or you can stand by his desk and mess with his ears until he settles down.

You need to have a great big bag of tricks like this to last all year.

Considering I hardly know everything, suggestions are always a good thing. (Also, hence my note that my answer might be more IMHO than GQ :slight_smile: )

The hallway thing, I’m you’re right about. Things are quite a bit different now than when I was in elementary school (and I’m not even that old! I’m practically still a baby.), and when my parents were in elementary school. I wouldn’t suggest leaving a kindergartener unattended, in any case. That’s trouble waiting to happen.

I wasn’t sure about the suspension issue, since I was never a problem child, and was never punished in school. Rules are so much different now, also. It seems like teachers have less and less power in their own classrooms, which comes with both good and bad points. They can abuse it less, but they also end up with less control over some things.

I know the teachers I had used to be able to issue ‘in school suspensions’ which are basically similar to what you suggested earlier, isolation for the student. I’m guessing for an actual suspension, the principal might have to be contacted and communicated with for that.

All in all, it’s a pretty complex and usually very subjective issue. Which sucks, when, in the heat of the moment, all you probably want to do is stomp on the brat that’s making your life miserable. :smiley: I guess that’s part of being a teacher, though.

I haven’t ever officially taught, only assisted in a kindergarten room and taken care of some children with behavioral problems. I really want to teach, though. Between dealing with ADHD children and Alzheimer’s-suffering adults, I think I qualify for the patience requirement. Getting the certification right now is proving difficult, but I’ll get there. (Sorry for any thread hijack!)

One thing that’s frequently done is to hire an additional teacher aid to shadow the disruptive child and take him out of the classroom at his worst moments.

Way back when the world was young (well, when I was shorter than I’m now), some teachers would make disruptive students stand at the back of the class or sit at the front in the corner for a while; there was this old-fashioned guy who’d make you kneel beside your desk (which meant you still could go on taking notes) and, if you still were disruptive, at the back of the class (no note taking). I don’t remember it as particularly humiliating, since it happened to pretty much everybody at some point. It would have been humililating if it only happened to one kid, or if we’d seen the kid as unable to help it (punishing the dyslexic classmates for reading slowly would have been totally idiotic, for example; sending the hyper one for a run in the yard “to burn off that excess energy” wasn’t, as it worked).

Classes were fully integrated then, any Special Ed was special enough to be done in different schools altogether (kids with sensorial deficits or with very high retardation - and no, those two groups didn’t go to the same schools).

I’m student teaching at a nearby high school and the problem of removing a student from the classroom is complex. As you point out, the motivation to do it is to protect the learning environment of the other students. I guess one hopes that something about it acts as a “punishment” and can somehow be expected to influence future behavior, but the reality is that it tends to make a bad situation worse in the long term because the disruptive student has now missed potentially important class time. And for those students who are being disruptive because they really don’t want to be in class, it can be more of a reward (or at least a relief) than a punishment.

Balancing the needs of the rest of the class with the disruptive student’s need for attention is challenging and ultimately you have to be willing to pull the trigger, but I’ve found that the problem often improves over time by assigning responsibility for classroom administration tasks to these students. Keep them busy with tasks they feel confident about handling successfully. Keeping the whiteboards clean, handing out papers and collecting homework, etc.

Every case is unique, but I just find it counterproductive to emphasize the “punishment” element of classroom removal.

This is true, which is why it’s a complex issue. You don’t want to prevent the disruptive child from learning, either.

However, if they’re being SO disruptive that the entire class is suffering, then they really should be removed, at least temporarily.

A lot depends on the age of the kid and why they’re acting up. Like you say, if they just don’t want to be there, then they’re getting what they want if you remove them from the class. If the situation escalates badly enough, they may have to be removed, anyway. If they’re just going to cause problems, they aren’t learning anything anyway, and them being present is nothing but a disruption.

There are other alternatives to removing them from the class, a few of which I gave. Obviously, if a teacher is with a student every day, they will learn the ins and outs of that student and can use those things to determine an appropriate disciplinary action. It is also much easier with smaller classes, obviously, since once you get into large numbers of students, it’s really hard for a teacher to keep up.

Part of a teacher’s difficult job is to interpret all these issues and choose what’s best for their student(s). There comes a point when the teacher has done all they can do, too, and that’s not a fault of theirs.

I had younger children in mind when I wrote my post, as you should be able to tell from the wording I used and the points I brought up. High school students are far different and more complex creatures, as I’m sure you know, working with them. :slight_smile: At that age, getting kicked out of a class is probably exactly what they want.

Oh, and when I say ‘removed’, I don’t mean permanently. I hope I didn’t imply that.

As I said in the other thread, with the very young kids a huge part of the problem is getting an accurate diagnosis regarding the problem in a timely fashion: most extremely disruptive kids (screaming tantrums 3 or more times a day, hitting other kids, attempts to severely injure themselves)have some sort of underlying mental or emotional disorder–it’s not a matter of lax parenting. The problem is that severe ADHD or autism or anxiety disorders or whatever all call for a very different response. Diagnosing a mental or emotional disorder in a young child takes months: it’s a matter of ruling out things as much as anything, and that means specialist after specialist, all with huge waiting lists, and all of which want to see you back in 3 months or 6 months before they say anything for certain. Everyone’s advice is “try X for a while and see if it works”, so you have to stick with things that don’t seem to be working for 6 weeks or more to see if they have an impact. This is all reasonable: mental illness is hard to detect and it makes sense to be cautious and thorough. However, in the meantime, six months is forever in a child’s life, and if you are basically waiting each day until they do something awful and then removing them from the class and sending them to the nurse’s office or home (all you can do, legally. A kid can’t get special ed services without a diagnosis), you’ve set up this terrible pattern of daily failure that hurts everyone–the teacher, the student, the other students, and the parents. This just does more damage and creates more issues for the kid in question. I don’t know what the answer is.

Lots of things that have been mentioned aren’t allowed anymore, at least in Florida, where I’m a sub. If there is a student who is making it impossible for me to teach, I call the office and they send someone to take the kid out of class.

I am not a teacher, but my mom is, and while I don’t pretend to know much about being a teacher or how to deal with disruptive kids, I know two things that have worked in particular cases. She teaches grades 1 and 2, FWIW.

In one case, she basically just moved the child to the front of the class, where he could be directly beside/in front of her. She had to spend a lot of time redirecting him towards the task he should be doing, and it was tiring for her, but after a while it worked. When he couldn’t say more than 2 words or move more than a foot without being stopped, asked what he was doing, and why, and what should he be doing instead… well, he caught on. That’s a big part of how she teaches - she makes the child come to the right choice, rather than telling him/her what to do.

This year she has a small class, but several disruptive kids, including one grade 2 child with mental disabilities that put him at an approximate 3 year old mental level, and a grade 1 child with diagnosed but not well treated severe ADHD (it’s a 2-grade split class this year). A lot of the other kids are disruptive in different ways, likely some undiagnosed but milder AD(H)D, etc.

I told her about using stability balls instead of chairs, since I read about that here and in newspapers and it allows kids to burn off steam while still sitting at their desks and getting their work done. She has two stability balls that she already owned, and brought them to class. It has made a HUGE difference, simply because if the children (especially the first two that I mentioned) don’t behave, they lose their turn using the ball for 30 minutes or an hour or whatever schedule she’s developed. That is a huge punishment, because sitting on the stability balls is FUN, compared to a chair. The 2 boys ask frequently to be allowed to use them, and the ADHD boy prefers them when he does art, because it places him higher up and he likes to look down at his desk, but standing up like he wants to do is disruptive to other students (“Mrs C, Mrs C, D- is standing up again!”)

I also know that she allows her kids to go wild occasionally - just doing active games or transitions to other tasks where the kids can be more energetic and burn off some steam. She says it helps with the more difficult ones, though it is occasionally difficult to bring them back to task.

She’s been doing this for 30 years… I’m sure she has many many more tricks up her sleeve!

With apologies to the OP I’d like to tack on another question for the teachers on the board: do you receive any formal instruction on recognizing/dealing with children on the autism spectrum, or are your hands tied until there’s an official diagnosis? Once the testing/diagnosis process is begun, are teachers involved as participants in the ‘see if X works’ process that **Manda JO ** mentioned?

mnemosyne, you mom sounds like the kind of teacher lots of parents would want for their children.

I’ll say thanks on her behalf. I know I’m biased, but the fact is, she IS a fantastic teacher, and parents generally know it (there’s always one or two that make things difficult… hehehe). Every year she gets requests by parents for their kids to be in her class, especially kids with older siblings who had her. Other teachers constantly ask her for resources or advice, and she isn’t afraid to try something new and get involved in issues if it will help kids learn.

Unfortunately for the next wave of kids, she won’t be teaching in-class anymore. She’s going to spend the last part of her career as a resource consultant for the school board, spreading her knowledge to other teachers, especially new ones. There’s practically a line-up outside her classroom door of teachers wanting to take her boxes (and boxes and boxes… ) of organized themes and projects for their own! My cousin gets first dibs, though, as her protege!

Sorry for the gloating, but I am proud of her.

To answer your question (on her behalf as much as I know it… which isn’t that much), a teacher can’t “recognize” a child as having AD(H)D, Autism, Measles or even lice. They aren’t doctors or nurses or psychologists, and it isn’t their job. It is unprofessional for a teacher to tell a parent “your child has ADD, get him/her on ritalin”, but it does happen. They need to wait for a diagnosis, but they CAN refer the child to the school board psychologist, who can then refer to a psychiatrist/other professional as necessary.

Of course, if a child is displaying certain behaviours similar to [insert condition here], then the teacher is responsible for using whatever techniques he/she can come up with to help the child learn. There are courses on child psychology that are necessary to become a teacher (at least in Québec), and there are workshops and seminars throughout their career to learn how to deal with different learning needs. Most schools provide Independent Education Plans for children with all kinds of disabilities/delays/second-language issues/etc to help the child get to where they need to be.

I think there is some feedback about whether certain treatments work, but that is through the parents, not the doctor. The child’s medical history isn’t something the teacher is generally allowed to have, and any and all information given to the teacher is at the parent’s discretion.

Parents are advised to stay involved, ask plenty of questions of the teacher to bring that back to the professional the child is seeing, and to take advantage of any and all resources available (even kids with ADD can get in-class teaching aids, and I know a highly functional autistic child who was able to get a service dog through Mira to help with his anxiety issues).

As usual, the repetition of my disclaimer that I’m not a teacher, and this is what I understand about things, not necessarily as they are (except for the awesomeness of my mom as a teacher… that’s a FACT! hehe)