Difficult students are probably the hardest aspect of a teacher’s day. All behavior serves a purpose, but finding out what the purpose is can be very difficult, especially when a student is getting under your skin. I remember sitting in a math class in high school, wearing a pair of shoes with wooden soles. I would tap my feet together to make them clonk and annoy my teacher. Why did I do that? Was it just to annoy her? Was it for attention? It certainly wasn’t for attention because I would have gotten in trouble if I got caught, but it was because I was bored (and I wanted to annoy her a little bit too). I didn’t understand the math and instead of trying, I took the easy way out and distracted the teacher.
Things like this happen all too often. Students don’t want to try if they know they won’t be successful, or they think work is too hard and instead of asking for help, the behaviors start. A teacher who gets mad is right where the student wants her. Outbursts or behaviors can be a very effective way for students to get out of something. Make enough noise or bother enough people and the teacher will remove the student from the situation. Done! The student got what he wanted. He got out of completing the work that was challenging.
There are ways to avoid student outbursts and manage behaviors effectively and get work completed. First, the teacher must establish what purpose the behavior is serving. Many times, especially in younger children, this is pretty easy to identify. If the teacher gives the student a particular assignment, and he always acts out, it’s a safe bet that the assignment is part of the problem. For example, I had a student in my kindergarten class named “John.” I knew school was a little harder for John, but I didn’t know how hard until we started writing. Every day, the kids would practice their writing by copying a student generated sentence off the board. John sat in the front so he could see better, but was never able to confidently copy the sentence. He would always throw his pencil, or start bothering the student next to him. When I would go over to see what was going on, he would then tell me it was too hard. After this happened a few times, I decided to give him his own mini white board with the sentence copied because it was too hard for him to transfer his writing from the board to his paper. We also worked on the proper way to get my attention. I taught John to raise his hand and then I would come over to him. He was too embarrassed to ask out loud, but once I was there, he would ask for help. Once we made these accommodations, his behaviors decreased.
John was an easy case. Sure he got into plenty of trouble, but he also ended up being one of my favorite students because when he was good, he was the sweetest kid ever. Other students can be much trickier. Some students, especially those who may already be in special education, may need to undergo a Functional Behavior Analysis (FBA). A school psychologist conducts a formal FBA by observing the student and keeping data on behaviors, when they occur and what happened before and after the behavior occurred. The FBA leads to very specific reasons why a behavior might occur, and then it is easy to come up with replacement behaviors.
Replacement behaviors are essential for any educator (or parent)! A replacement behavior is what you want to use replace the undesirable behavior. For example, John’s replacement behavior was raising his hand to ask for help instead of misbehaving to get my attention. Once it is determined which behavior you want to replace, the teacher works with the student to practice that behavior.
Below are a list of sample behaviors and replacement behaviors:
|Undesirable Behavior||Consequence of Behavior||Replacement Behavior|
|Hitting students||Gets teacher attention||Raise hand or special signal when desiring attention|
|Pushing student during play time||Gets the toy he wants||Use words to request toy (i.e. can I use the toy?)|
|Disrupting class and gets sent to office||Avoids doing work that is hard for him||Signaling to the teacher when he doesn’t understand so teacher can offer additional assistance (i.e. putting a bookmark in his book, holding a thumbs up on his desk)|
|Student hides under table during loud activities||Gets away from an anxiety inducing situation||Signals to teacher that it’s too loud (i.e. hands over ears) so he can be removed from situation|
|Pokes or bothers student next to him during instruction||Gets attention from other student||Activities to keep student busy during direct instruction (i.e. fidget toys or other materials) to keep from bothering other students.|
Many replacement behaviors involve the use of signals. Signals can be verbal or non-verbal. It can be as simple as “Jessica, use your words” to remind a student to use her words instead of her hands, or putting a post it note on the desk to notify the teacher that help is needed. The teacher and student need to agree on the type of signal and then make sure to use it consistently. Consistency is key to using a replacement behavior. It must be followed through on in order to be effective. Once the replacement behavior becomes routine, it should eliminate the need to use the undesired behavior.
While this list is not exclusive of the type of behaviors a teacher might see in the course of a career, or even the course of a day, it must be remembered that all behavior serves a purpose. And it is also important to remember that you can use your own kids to practice. I have had to practice extensively with my own daughter! When my daughter starts taking her diaper off and getting naked, it’s because she wants my attention. I have taught her to come and ask me to play with her instead of removing her clothing. Give it a try! Hopefully you can get little Timmy to stop biting his brother!