Teachers regularly come across students who are upset – it is a weekly (sometimes daily) occurrence if you teach middle school or upper primary. When this happens, you are presented with a problem: upset students don’t care about the lesson plan you spent 2 hours passionately preparing. They are unlikely to do much work at all.
A simple and effective approach is to ask the student if they are okay and if they want to sit outside (or another quiet area) to calm down and to maybe do some quiet work on their own. Knowing that the student is unlikely to do much work anyway, you might ask if they want to have ‘a lazy day’. A common line is something like, ‘I will be happy if you get something done and we’ll pick it up tomorrow’. In other words, choose your battle. If you think the student is upset for a reason which requires your involvement, a brief and private chat may be necessary. If you’re unsure, you can always say, ‘is the reason you are upset something that an adult should know about?’ It rarely is and the best advice is to stay clear of the personal issues of students – your job is to teach the class, first and foremost.
Upset students don’t care about the lesson plan you spent 2 hours passionately preparing.
This technique is a favourite when working with teenagers. Rarely a week goes by that doesn’t see a student arrive in tears. Demanding that this student participate in the class is an uphill battle that is best avoided. Other students will understand if you cut the upset student some slack even if he or she is rude or defiant. Some students will come into class, sit down and refuse to speak or even make eye contact – they will ignore your attempts to relocate them. Provided that the student is quiet and not disrupting others, leave him or her be and follow-up the next day if necessary. However, if it is a one-off event, follow-up is probably not necessary as the root cause is clearly not defiance nor an emerging pattern of behaviour.
Hint: Research shows that teachers who are perceived as being caring can expect fewer behavioural issues and more prosocial behaviours during class (Conway & Foggett, 2017).
Conway, R. & Foggett, J. (2017). Encouraging Positive Interactions. In P. Foreman & M. Arthur - Kelly (Eds.), Inclusion in Action (pp. 245 - 298). Cengage.
Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and a #1 best selling author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of ITAC, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.
Source: Behaviour Management Skills and Strategies for the Modern Classroom: 100+ research-based strategies for both novice and experienced practitioners.
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