When I got my current job, on my first meeting with the principal of the school, she gave me two golden rules.
Rule #1. Thy shall not spank;
Rule #2. Thy shall not use abusive words.
It was surprising that these are the only two instructions a new teacher will get. That orientation was short and precise. There was no mention of curriculum, lesson planning, lesson delivery, assessment, etc. I soon realized that the school has a good structure for the latter.
Apart from the fact that she trusted me through my CV, the school has an adequate internal arrangement in place to take care of inadequacies in lesson planning, delivery, and the likes. However, what they did not have, is a structure for how to manage the behavior of students.
The poor and sometimes damaging behavior of students has become so overwhelming that even the school can no longer handle it. They have no practicable policy to manage students’ behaviors adequately and while they are completely incapacitated, they understand perfectly that it will not only get out of control of teachers, it will also frustrate them and could make them revert to the use of abusive words or spanking.
I later got the third rule in a hard way.
Rule #3. Thy shall not send the students out of the class.
I got it after I almost entered into trouble, yes you heard me right, trouble with the mother of one of my grade 5 students who I had to send out during a class because his behavior has become so unbearable that I must sacrifice him for all others to learn, if not I will spend the entire time managing his behavior without teaching anything.
Yes, teachers can actually get into trouble nowadays for doing their job. We are in such an unprecedented time in the teaching profession.
Now, my story is not local, it is a story common to almost all high schools globally, especially the private-owned (for profit) ones.
The big question is, how do we allow ourselves to get to this point that students now have so much control to such an extent that proven disciplinary measures are no longer effective in managing students of this generation.
As a teacher for quite some time now, I know that one of the major problems that teachers face in the classroom is managing the behaviors of the students in that close room. The difficulty in doing this is increasing by the day because of the overexposure of students to uncensored information occasioned by the availability of the internet and more importantly, social media.
Social media is the silent manager that seems to be controlling the behavior of the children without us noticing. This has made the task of teachers even more difficult to the extent that, sometimes you have to leave what you are supposed to be teaching to entirely control the behavior of the students.
It is important to mention that every trained teacher has some pockets of training in managing behavior, this is however barely enough as the increase in social media penetration is really changing the way and manner students behave and that is happening on a real-time basis and at a rate that teachers can hardly catch up with.
For instance, in a particular semester, I noticed that the students are always experimenting with a certain kind of dance whenever they want to disturb the class or at least jubilate over a feat. And this dancing style seems to be uniform among boys and girls and in almost all the class with a slight exception of the senior classes.
It took some time before I realized that the dancing style was displayed by a particular character in one of the popular games at that time. Once this happened, I became more aware of the genesis of this misdemeanor and was able to at least keep my calm once they use the dancing style as a tool for misbehavior.
This is the reason why I often argue that teachers alone can hardly cope with the increase in the level of misbehavior of students and effectively deliver on the pedagogy as it is primarily required of them.
And once a teacher faces series of misbehavior challenges and had to manage that on his own, the effect is monumental, ranging from lack of motivation, burnout, little time to deliver on the content and the truth that most stakeholders (including parents and school administrators) don’t realize is that in the end, it is the students that suffer the most. These and more are the effects of poorly behaved class on the teaching and learning process.
I remember that I always mention this to my senior students; that if they refuse to cooperate with their teachers and a teacher is frustrated to the level of having to be sacked by insensitive school managers, then, they are the ones that will suffer the consequences because, the teacher will most likely get a better job and for them, they will face the remote and extended consequences of having to be changing teachers all the time.
So, back to the main issue. With this increase in behavioral issues, there is no better time than now for all the stakeholders in school management to realize that unless we looked at the issue of behavioral management as a multi-sectorial one where different experts will have a role to play, then, we may continue to shoot ourselves in the foot without us realizing it.
Mrs. Sue Cowley is a behavior management expert, an author, and a consultant I never get tired of listening to. She is an author of over 25 books including Getting the Buggers to Behave. She was asked this question; if a teacher feels they have completely lost control of their classroom, what should they do? She responded that ‘the teacher should send a trusted student to go to the administration and call someone for help’.
This is to underscore the importance of engaging everyone in the school business in managing students’ behavior. That means that school administrators must also be ready to get dirty in controlling students’ behaviors. It is no longer business as usual in terms dealing with students’ tantrums in the classroom so, the school leaders must also get involved.
I am however not suggesting that teachers should completely relegate their behavioral management responsibility to the administrators of the school, no, because that will mean that they are not adequately equipped to manage their class. However, it is important to note that sometimes, the room gets tough and you just need someone to help you out at that time. Once this happens, the administration must also realize that they have a role to play and the teacher should never be judged for it.
Behavioral management issues are real-time issues that teachers and school administrators must collaborate to deal with. What I have found to be effective is that if the students know that there is a unity of purpose and instruction between their teachers in the classroom on one hand and the school administrators sitting in the office on the other hand, then behavioral management becomes a lot easier.
What we noticed these days is that private schools give the students a lot of respect, for the simple reason that they are the ones paying the fee to run the school. They then allow them to get away with a lot of things. For instance, I know a school where the principal will invite the students and ask them about the performance of their teachers and as a result, the students have the power to determine the teacher that will be sacked or retained in the coming session.
Once this happens, the students are very smart to observe this and they will respond appropriately by disobeying their teachers even more because the students are fully aware that they are in control.
The multiplier effect of this is that the discipline level of the school will fall drastically and as a result, teaching and learning become difficult and slow. When this happens, the expected positive outcome from the students becomes a dream and the school loses potential enrolment as a result.
It is therefore important for school owners and managers to stop living with the illusion that once priority is placed on satisfying the students at all costs, then, it will give them the projected revenue.
That at best will be short-lived or generally will never come to fruition. Schools must know that the roles teachers are playing in the entire ecosystem is like oxygen, the absence of which the entire system will hardly be able to survive.
Therefore, for schools to effectively manage the behavior of students, there has to be a synergy between the teachers, the administration, and parents. This tripartite synergy will help in providing a solid foundation for behavioral management mechanisms in the school system.
Finally, support for teachers in behavioral management is not a wasted effort but an investment that the profits will be retrieved in no distant time.
Director of studies, Golden Aleef online school.