Disciplining Students

Question 1

What do you do with a student in your class who is a disorganized mess, constantly distracted in class, and refuses to listen? Should you use class time to try to get the student on task? How can you get a distracted student to start paying attention in class?

As I read your question my inward response is, “This is a student who needs help.” Organizational skills need to be taught to students who exhibit this behavior. The “constantly distracted in class” and “refuses to listen” statements likely flow from the need to have some organizational skills. How can a child pay attention or listen in class when life is in disarray? If this child happens to be in middle school, consider that prior to this time students often have one teacher for all subjects. Students with one teacher can adjust more easily to the way that teacher gives assignments, organizes, and operates the classroom or expects work to be done. When faced with a number of teachers, the time to adjust increases and may result in discouragement as order appears unattainable. So even though the student may have functioned quite well in elementary school, the disability involving lack of organizational skill becomes apparent in the middle school setting, where many changes occur throughout the day.

Children lacking organizational skills have to be taught to have on their desk only that which is required for a particular lesson. They need help to clean and organize their space. Either a teacher or parent may help the child learn that only school materials should be stored in the desk, rather than toys or any other articles that can be a distraction. From an early age, children must be taught how to sort and store school materials.

Following are a few of the suggestions Darcy Andries (2006) makes that may apply to the middle-age child:

  • Frequently monitor notebook, pencil pouch, locker, book bag, and desk. A place for everything and everything in its place.
  • Encourage student to have notebook with dividers and folders for work.
  • Provide student with a homework assignment book.
  • Supervise writing down of homework assignments.
  • Send daily/weekly progress reports home.
  • Regularly check desk and notebook for neatness. Rather than criticize messiness, offer suggestions on how to improve.
  • Arrange for a peer who will help student with organization and provide nonjudgmental reminders.
  • Ask for parental help in encouraging organization.
  • Provide organization rules and guidelines.

Michelle Fattig (2010), who lives with disabilities, cautions:

None of us wake up in the morning hoping to forget things, disappoint people, or feel stupid. We, like every other person in this world, have our strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, our weaknesses sometimes look like laziness or defiance to those around us. Learn to self-advocate! Plan ahead for those contingencies and don’t let setbacks get you down! Some of us have tried for so long to mask our poor planning skills, we haven’t learned to tell people what we need or what we struggle with.

Works Cited


Question 2

I have seen a student get physical with teachers when he or she does not get a turn right away. If I allow a student to pick a game, this student will start to yell until someone says, “Okay, you pick the game.” It is not fair to the other students. How do you control the student’s behavior so he knows how to take turns and that not every turn is his turn?

I trust that this incident happened in the primary classroom. It appears that this student has not yet learned the fundamentals of taking turns, a concept that usually is learned prior to coming to school. Possibly because of an emotional or developmental delay, the child has not yet learned this concept. Corrective action must be taken regardless of the reason for the behavior, because of its effect on the total classroom atmosphere. The way the teacher handles the situation indicates to the class, as well as the child, what behavior is acceptable. The child must be made aware that this behavior is not acceptable. I expect the verbal outburst occurred prior to the physical attack.

My approach would be address the child by name in a calm voice, possibly getting down to the child’s level, saying, “That behavior is not acceptable in our classroom,” and repeat it until the child calmed down. Watching the reaction, I would discern whether it was appropriate to touch the child. Touch could either calm the child or cause the child to react. At this time (or later) I would explain to the child why this behavior is inappropriate and how it affects the rest of the class. The child would be given a choice: take a turn like the other children, or sit on the bench/floor away from the other children until ready to be part of the classroom community. If I had no assistant, I would wait until the next break, at which time I would talk privately to the child about the behavior, try to determine the reason, explain acceptable behavior, and have the child articulate what s/he would do in a future turn-taking situation. Should an incident reoccur, the child would be reminded of the agreed-upon appropriate behavior within the classroom setting, and hopefully the class could continue. If that failed, the previous procedure would be repeated.

One has to pray for much discernment about when to involve the parents or principal and when to talk with the class about the effect the child’s behavior has on them. I have seen amazing outcomes from a classroom discussion; sometimes a fellow classmate will serve as a monitor and talk the child down when s/he sees that the child might explode in disruptive behavior. Intentional teaching could focus on turn-taking so that the whole class learns and is given language to talk about taking turns and is better equipped when an incident occurs.

I have also dealt with physical attacks and found the best approach was to remove the child from the situation. In one incident, I called the parent to come for the child because that seemed the most respectful action to take in that case. The parent then talked with the child about appropriate behavior and future consequences. Continued occurrences of this behavior could indicate a larger problem that would require more thorough investigation and intervention.


Question 3

What do you do with a student who continually talks in class, even when asked to be quiet? I’ve seen this in numerous junior high settings I’ve observed. The students will talk to friends or talk out of turn, then will be yelled at or asked to stop, but will just start talking again. Even when there is punishment, the student still doesn’t learn, mostly because he/she doesn’t care. How do you make such students realize that they are causing a major distraction as well as being rude and disrespectful?

Teachers as a group have to agree about what action to take for talking in the junior high classroom. It can be a frustrating situation if there is no discussion regarding the issue. Even after discussion, I have seen teachers disagree and then choose to do what works best for them in their own classroom. Consistency is ideal, but with many teachers and their respective personalities, this does not always happen.

For the junior high student, school is a time of socialization and a lot of communication (either verbal or via media). By talking, they learn about their world, themselves, and others, and formulate their own opinions. They also learn what is and what is not acceptable by talking through issues and bouncing ideas off their peers. Keeping this developmental stage in mind, a teacher has to determine how to approach teaching at this level.

I know very few junior high students who like to listen to a teacher talk for a long period of time unless the teacher is amazingly engaging and creative. An effective communicator can tell by body language when the audience is no longer present. A junior high teacher, being aware of this, must teach accordingly. That may mean the time for “teacher talk” is limited and utilizing other ways to engage students must be key in planning. A teacher may make a contract with the students to indicate that “teacher talk” time will be limited, but that when it does occur the students will listen respectfully.

Talk with your students. Find out what they need in order to learn. Find out from them how other students talking bothers them and what they feel can be corrective action. Do not be afraid to let students know what you need from them in order to teach effectively. There may be times when “teacher talk” may exceed the norm, but a trusting, respectful teacher-student relationship will likely allow that to occur. This relationship happens when a teacher knows the students well by taking the time to listen to and talk with them. Check out “A Practical Approach to Christian Teaching: One Million Helpful Tips” by Ron Vandenburg in the February 2010 issue of Christian Educators Journal for practical ideas.