Responding to Behaviors With PRIDE
Most teachers and parents are familiar with the cliché, “Example is the best teacher.” In the school setting, this can mean that whatever behavior a teacher displays toward his students will be mirrored. The saying also reinforces the need for teachers to resist the urge to engage in sarcastic comments, put-downs, or ridicule. It is critical that teachers remain professional at all times and not allow a student’s behavior to trigger a personal reaction. A “trigger” is an action, event, or thing that evokes a personal response from the teacher resulting in verbal abuse or even corporal punishment. Triggers include student behaviors such as the following:
- Leaving or attempting to leave the gymnasium without a teacher’s permission
- Being verbally rude or disrespectful
- Disrupting the educational process
- Using profanity or taking part in lewd acts
- Using racial, sexual, or ethnic slurs against a classmate
- Defying a teacher’s directions and disobeying the teacher’s authority
Happily, one of the best responses to an occasional inappropriate behavior is simply using a calm voice and asking the student by name to “be nice.” This suggestion gives the student a “door to walk through,” and many students will respond by saying something like “OK, OK” and stop the inappropriate behavior.
Unfortunately, however, many urban teachers face far more serious resistance with individuals who obstruct their teaching effectiveness. To avoid responding inappropriately, they must maintain a sense of professional pride as they react. Teachers can incorporate the acronym PRIDE into their repertoire: place, refrain, ignore, dismiss, and encourage.
1. Place the behavior or action as the main focus of your response. Example: “Slamming the gymnasium door hard enough to break the hinges destroys school property and warrants a week’s suspension, Samuel.”
2. Refrain from revealing your frustration or anger. In fact, the greater the problem in the class setting, the greater the need to control your temper. When teachers react with anger to a student’s behavior, they should turn away slightly or take a step back until they are composed and in clear control of their emotions. Some teachers refrain from revealing their frustration by saying, “I see you are very frustrated, Jolene, but . . . ,” or “I can hear your anger, Jolene, but . . . ,” or “I am not certain why you are saying that, Jolene, but . . .” followed by a description of the behavior. These responses help to defuse the teacher’s behavior and the student’s behavior in order to calm the situation.
3. Ignore the urge to yell at a student. There has never been a teacher who said, “I felt so much better after I blew up and shouted at a student.” If a teacher must confront a student who is lashing out verbally, he should proceed slowly and quietly to where the student is and put one finger to his lips as a signal for the student to listen. He should ask the student to “please stop” shouting and then walk away. It is important for the teacher to remember that the student wants attention. If the student resists, the teacher should avoid making an issue of it. Rather, he reflects on the behavior (e.g., “Cursing out a classmate, pushing, and then grabbing the ball will not be tolerated, Hosea—find a seat”) and then walks away. If any member of the class obstructs the teacher’s task, the situation must be treated calmly. The individual should be expected to either leave the class immediately (with advanced administrative approval) or preferably sit alone. At the first opportunity, the offense should be dealt with in a private conference.
4. Dismiss any thought of invading the space of a hostile student. Even touching a student’s arm, shoulder, or back can raise the student’s level of aggression and constitute a form of invasion. Student aggression is most often visible in the face, from disapproving frowns and pursed lips to sneers and full snarls. The eyes can be used to stare and hold a gaze for long time. Students may also squint, preventing the other person from seeing where they are looking. When a student is about to physically attack another student, he normally gives a visual signal such as clenching of fists ready to strike and lowering and spreading of the body for stability. He is also likely to show anger signs such as redness of the face and chin tilting. All of these gestures may be sudden, signaling a level of aggression and testing the teacher’s reactions. Avoid physical confrontations at all times.
5. Encourage respectful interactions and avoid derogatory comments, which make a teacher appear less than a trained professional of high character. In general, teachers must strive to maintain a professional relationship even if a student has just shown a crude gesture, made a barbed comment, or yelled out a personal put-down. If a teacher is not certain about how to respond to an individual’s difficult behavior, he should not do anything until he takes a moment to think. Common sense based on professional training will prevail.
Most schools offer in-service workshops focusing on class management techniques. All physical education teachers should be aware of their school’s program and preferred routines. It is imperative that all teachers be on board with the same classroom management system. In the situation in which a school does not have a formal system, teachers should ask to review the school district’s policy. All school districts in the United States are required to have a written plan, and urban schools usually have detailed plans. New York City, for example, has a 34-page document titled “Strategies for Preventing Corporal Punishment and Verbal Abuse.” This document assists with understanding of corporal punishment and teacher violations. Chicago’s school district offers its teachers a 61-page document titled “The DCPS Philosophy and Approach to Student Behavior and Discipline,” devoted to a safe and effective learning environment, and includes eight additional pages on disciplinary response to student behavior. The Washington, DC, 55-page document is called “The Student Code of Conduct.” Most school districts post their class management suggestions or guidelines on their website under the concept of student behavior, or teacher violations, or disciplinary actions.