My most important classroom management strategy hit me like a lightning bolt one day, and instantly altered my teaching practice. Yet it was not a specific management tool, nor was it a routine, or a new intervention pyramid, rather it was a mindset change. I was driving home one day, lamenting a couple interactions I had with a few problematic students, wondering what I should do to keep them in the line – How could I keep them from negatively effecting the class? It was as if they were the enemy. That realization left me disillusioned for two reasons: One, I was feeling unhappy even though I had a day full of positive interactions with a lot of my students. Two, I did not want to accept that any students in my class were the enemy, and that their only role in the class was to make me angry and stressed. It couldn’t be true that life would simply be better if they were put in some other class. And then I realized that they were not there to make my life hell, or ruin my class, but rather they were there to teach me something. To teach me how to be a better teacher. I had something to learn and they were there to make sure I learned it. They didn’t know that is what they were doing, but they were doing it nonetheless. I needed to learn how to deal with all types of students, and these disruptive students were allowing me the opportunity to do that. And I thanked them for it.
At that moment it was crazy how the negatively just feel off me like dirt in the shower. I began smiling, and shaking my head in amazement that I had wasted so much time thinking about them like they were the problem. Thinking that they were there to hurt me and make my life worse, when the whole time they were there to help me and make my life better. And here’s the key: When that negativity drops, everything about your teaching gets better. Everything.
So here’s the strategy – when students are being the most annoying or disrputive, you need to remind yourself that they are there to help you be a better teacher, and be thankful for that . Don’t thank them out loud or anything, but in your mind thank them. Thank them for helping you become a better teacher: for offering you the opportunity to learn how to deal with the situation. Because when I began doing that all the negative energy that I held in those moments, for those students, just fell away. I no longer got angry at them, which meant that I also never acted out of anger or stress when dealing with them. And when you are not acting out of anger or stress, you naturally make better decisions. You smile more. You are more likely to laugh at something they’re doing. And most importantly, you do not carry any negative feelings inside you, that you have to take to your next class, or home.
For me, this mindset change immediately made me a better and happier teacher, and instantly improved the way I dealt not only with the most disruptive students, but the class as a whole. Because a few negative interactions with students can put you in a bad mood, and once you are in a bad mood, you are not enjoying yourself, and you can’t be a great teacher. So now when a student is being disruptive, and I feel that negative stress and anger start to build up in me, I remind myself that the student is there to help me be better. The negative feelings go away, and I get very thankful. And the light at the end of the tunnel is when that negativity doesn’t bother showing up in the first place.