Before becoming a psychologist and doing thirty-five years of therapy, I was a K-12 teacher in science, speech, and drama. I learned fast that I needed more than mastery of my subject matter. I needed practical psychology for classroom management. Otherwise, the couple of unruly kids that showed up in every class would have ruled me!
Haven't you, too, run across the child or adolescent, or even college student, who is mouthy or defiant, who has a vested interest in sabotaging the learning experience. These students become defensive, irritable, and critical of the teacher who has much to teach them, if only they will listen.
Most teachers enter the profession because they love their subject matter and care about teaching. And it is very shocking to meet the first few students who are defensive about being taught, who are rude and demanding, or who act as though they know better than the teacher what should be going on. You try to give them an assignment and they argue or roll their eyes. You tell them to stop talking and pay attention and they tell you to shut-up. Or they expect you to drop everything you're doing to help them, and get mad if you don't.
In worse case scenarios, they regularly distract the whole class and make learning impossible.
I've sat in as a psychological consult to classes where the students, led by a few aggressive or narcissistic ringleaders, had the teacher running around in circles from beginning to end, begging them to behave to no avail. However, by implement a few Self Compass insights we can turn usually restore teacher dignity and inaugurate firm boundaries to the classroom that benefit everyone.
Likewise, I want to help you preserve your self-esteem, increase your classroom management skills, and enhance your enjoyment of teaching through the power of the Self Compass.
In brief, there are four universal compass points in every human personality, and students are no exception. Love and Assertion form one pair of compass points, while Weakness and Strength form the other.
When people have developed personality health, they integrate Love and Assertion. They show their caring openly, and when needed, assert themselves with diplomacy. They also integrate Strength with Weakness by showing a degree of confidence balanced by a degree of humility. When you teach students who have balanced Self Compasses you know why you chose this profession. Their politeness, curiosity, industry, and willingness to comply with your guidance is gratifying.
However, trouble comes for nurses when students are stuck on the Strength or Assertion compass points.
Strength-stuck controllers lack Love and Weakness compass points, so they are neither warm nor teachable. Instead, they are full of demands of what you should or shouldn't be doing. From their view, they are right, you are wrong, and that's that! So what do you do with a compulsively controlling student who keeps making demands on your time and energy, and finding fault no matter what you do?
- Recognize that perfectionist/judgmental students get worse when you kowtow to them and need their approval.
- Show them from the start that you know your job by calmly performing it.
- Listen to their complaints without raising your anxiety level.
- Refuse to be rushed by their impatience.
- Relax and breathe when you're around them.
- Step back and objectively see the pattern in action. This will help you deal with the pattern without feeling frantic or picked apart.
- Be in charge of your own self-esteem.
- Don't be afraid to have a private talk with them or their parents, suggesting ways they can contribute to a better learning environment for the class.
- When you walk out of their room, relax your shoulders and find something pleasant to focus on.
Oddly, it is your calm and professional demeanor that often quietens a student like this. They sense that their criticisms don't ruffle you and their infantile demandingness doesn't distract you. Once they have sensed these firm boundaries within the classroom, they feel emotionally secure and surrender to their temporary discomfort of having someone else in charge of their lives.
Now for aggressive students, who are chronically stuck on the Assertion compass point.
Your secret here is to predict the arguments they will start, the rude comments they will make, the mean glare they're going to give you. This is the power of the Self Compass, that it gives you X-ray vision into a student's motivation, and keeps you in charge of your reaction to them.
The hostile, antisocial, or verbally aggressive student is used to getting their way through attacking and intimidating others. But you are not in teaching to take a verbal beating from an obnoxious student. They are quite unnerved if you don't fear them or do everything to appease them.
- Don't be pushed into reaction behavior, where they pull your strings by escalating their aggression. Keep you breathing relaxed and your pulse rate normal.
- Expect their challenges to your authority; predict their defiance.
- Keep the rules of engagement simple.
- Don't get into argumentative power struggles, which would reward their behavior by usurping your attention and showing your impotence.
- Keep your focus on what you are doing to provide competent teaching.
- When they show anger in their voice and eyes, make full eye contact that shows you have no fear.
- If they call you a name, take it in stride, so that they see this has no effect on you or your self worth.
- If they make threatening physical gestures, stop the class and take them to the principle for direct discussion of their behavior.
- Keep providing your high standard of teaching, but take an attitude of nonchalance toward their antics.
Strangely, aggressive students will intuitively know that you are one of the few people they can't intimidate. And they will behave better once they respect you.
The key to dealing with both controlling and aggressive students is to quickly recognize their rigid personalities, so you can disengage your emotions and deal with them firmly without feeling wounded. Keep a storehouse of the faces of positive students and gratifying moments in teaching. Keep your own Self Compass in good balance. And when you run across one of these troublesome types, handle it competently and let off steam in the faculty lounge!