One of the great things about my job is that I often have the ability to spend as much time as needed with a student in crisis. If they are having a difficulty, maybe one that has led to behaviors that helped get them to my office, I can sit and talk with them. At the same time as I reflect on my years in the classroom, I always tried to find the time to talk to my kids one on one and find out what was causing the issue. Kids will act out, that will never change, and if we focus on the behavior we miss the bigger issue. We need to ask the important question: Why?
If we see a kid crying, we are always so quick to ask “What is wrong?” or “Why are you crying?”. When a kid tells us off, or is disrespectful to a classmate or staff member we jump to discipline. Why the difference in our response? Are we not curious what has brought about this behavior? Are we not concerned with what might have driven a student to act in this way? We should be. Not because we want to find an excuse for the behavior or a reason to let the kid off the hook but rather to identify the trigger and help them understand their response. Anger, like sadness, is an emotion we can’t just stop because we are told to or because its not “acceptable”. Our students are going to go through times of anger and how they deal with that anger is something we can help them with.
To do this we need to remember some important points:
1) A great deal of the time the anger our students are directing towards us or towards a classmate has nothing to do with us. We need to remember that our students don’t all have perfect home lives or perfect relationships with their parents or siblings. They may not have food on the table, they may not have slept the night before, they may be ill, they may be hungry, they may be scared, they may be hurting. We can’t take things personally because when all is said and done, its not about us, its about our kids.
2) We are the models for our students. How we handle our emotions teaches our students how to handle theirs. Do you we react emotionally when confronted by a student? Do we hold grudges? Do we belittle or attack when provoked? We can’t very well demand respect from our students if we aren’t giving them respect in return. We can’t expect them to show up the next day and start fresh if we never wipe the slate clean as well.
3) Take your time. I know I have made this mistake a number of times and constantly need to remind myself. If a student is acting out, we often start the discipline flow chart in our heads very quickly. We start deciding on the punishment before we even finish with the conversation. What’s the hurry? Put the kid somewhere they can cool down, take care of what you need to take care of and then give that student the time they require and when its all said and done involve them in how to resolve the issue.
When I think about how we handle discipline in our schools, I wonder if detentions or suspensions have ever really helped a young person develop better anger management or emotional control. What I don’t doubt is that a great teacher CAN help students with developing these skills. By taking the time to ask our students why, we show them we care more about them then the discipline. We build a connection based on trust and care and through that connection we can help them develop skills to become better people. I believe that is far more important than developing compliance.