11 Oct Why can’t you just behave?
Problem behaviour in the classroom is an almost daily issue for teachers. It can cause significant amounts of classroom time to be spent managing the behaviour, make it difficult to attend to the educational needs of all students, and cause stress for the teacher, the students and their parents.
We often think of problem behaviour in terms of disruptive behaviours, such as calling out, acting the ‘clown’, and oppositional responses. However, we often overlook non disruptive problem behaviours, such as avoiding work by being overly helpful, failing to ask for help when it’s needed, or remaining quiet / trying to remain unnoticed. Although gender stereotypes are often over-applied or misapplied, it is difficult to ignore the fact that boys most often exhibit the disruptive kinds, girls the non-disruptive (though this is NOT a blanket rule). Whether disruptive or non-disruptive, problem behaviour in the classroom leads to reduced educational outcomes for the student choosing these behaviours, and can also have a significant impact on the learning and enjoyment of their peers and teachers.
When a child is exhibiting disruptive behaviours, it is very easy, with our jam packed curriculums, our unmanageable workloads, and the ever present pressure of achieving good exam results, to begin to see the student as a nuisance. When teachers think about behaviour management, our minds immediately travel to how we can respond to poor behaviour, such as teaching students better self-management and reflection techniques. So much of our behaviour management is reactive rather than proactive.
We often do not have the time or emotional energy to stop and ask ourselves ‘Why is this student; behaving poorly, writing jibberish without asking for help, constantly making their peers laugh at the expense of the lesson?’ However, we teachers must find the time to stand back and look at the whole child. It is too easy to get caught up in treating the symptoms of poor behaviour, without looking for the causes.
No student comes to school each day thinking “Today, I’d really like to fail. I’d love to annoy as many people as possible, and make life as difficult as I can for everybody around me.” Almost all students (unless they have a particular personality disorder or mental condition), feel a sense of achievement and belonging when they are able to conform, please others, achieve at their own level, and receive praise. Humans are social beings, therefore we enjoy positive relationships and interactions with others. In fact, the quality of our relationships has been shown to be a key contributor to happiness.
So why is disruptive behaviour so prevalent in our classrooms? Common, everyday classroom practices can contribute significantly to the learning failure of students with specific learning difficulties (SpLDs), and teachers are often totally unaware of the types of practices which can better support these students. An estimated 10% of the population has dyslexia (which amounts to 1 in 10, or around 2-3 in every classroom). Add to that figure students who have dyspraxia, Asperger’s, specific language impairment, dyscalculia and ADHD, it is not difficult to see that SpLDs are extremely common in our classrooms. Problem behaviour can be an act of rebellion at feeling misunderstood, an attempt to cover up insecurities or anxieties, an attempt to avoid work, to avoid being noticed as struggling by peers, or due to low self-esteem caused by prolonged learning failure. Many students would prefer to be known as ‘the class clown’ than, ‘the class idiot’, as these students often see themselves. We must not underestimate the exhaustion completing daily classroom tasks causes these learners. Can we blame them for being out of their seats, slumped over the desk or leaving the room? Unidentified SpLDs are a significant contributor to poor behaviour, and given the lack of focus on SpLDs within most initial teacher training courses, teachers cannot be blamed for missing the signs that something deeper may be going on with a student who is poorly behaved.
We can, however, arm ourselves with the best information possible to learn to identify these issues, and take simple steps to reduce the frustration these learners experience by removing barriers to their learning. If we can learn to spot the signs a student is experiencing a specific learning difficulty, and support these students better in the classroom, our proactive efforts can result in better learning environments, lower stress levels, and improved educational and emotional outcomes. This is something all teachers want for their students.