Have you ever taught a student who made you dread going to class? Who made you wait expectantly for the bell at the end of the lesson even more eagerly than the students?
I know I have!
A student who won’t engage with the learning, who refuses to follow directions, who disrupts the class and with whom you feel you cannot connect can really undermine your confidence.
Don’t despair. There are ways to relieve your stress levels and improve the situation.
Here are 10 ways to deal with a student who won’t engage:
1. Meet with the student. Have an informal discussion about what is going on for them. Are there problems with students in the class? Is something going on at home? Is the work too hard, too easy, not relevant or uninteresting? Does the way the work is being presented cater to their learning style, strengths and interests? What can you do to address the student’s concerns?
2. Address behaviour privately. As much as possible have discussions about their behaviour privately, not in front of the whole class. This way you will both save face, they don’t have an audience and you are not disrupting the flow of the lesson. If you have to call attention to them during the lesson, keep it as short and to the point as possible and then catch up at the end of the lesson. Keep low level behaviours low level.
3. Phone home. Some teachers are reluctant to take this path because they lack experience;
they may be unsure about what to say, feel it will take too much time, be apprehensive about the response from parents or may not feel it will make any difference.
The reality is that most parents want to know what is going on with their child. They may not be happy to hear bad news but they can’t do anything about it if they don’t know. Working as a team with parental support can make the difference to how the teacher feels and the headway you may be able to make with a student.
4. Build a relationship with the student. Remember that as the adult in the situation it is up to us as teachers to remove our personal feelings and look at what the student needs. It is our job to find a way to engage them. If you don’t like the student then you need to find a way to make them think that you do. You will be surprised how much this means to students. Kids don’t care how cool you are but they do care how they feel when they are around you.
“People don’t care about what you know until they know how much you care” -Theodore Roosevelt
5. Ask other teachers. Find out what has worked with this student, either in other classes or in previous years. Your colleagues are wonderful mines of information that could make your life easier and more productive.
6. Stop doing the things that don’t work. If you have some strategies that consistently fail with this student, even if they are your favourite behaviour strategies, stop them! Remember we push students’ buttons with some of our behaviour so work out if there is something you are doing that is making the situation worse. It doesn’t mean the strategy is no good-it just doesn’t work in this particular case.
7. Use an individualised Behaviour Contract.
8. Give the student a leadership role in the class. Make this an authentic responsibility for the student. One of our basic human needs is significance which means feeling valued and important.
9. Positively reinforce the student. Create positive interactions with them. Show you are pleased to have them in the class by smiling at them, greeting them when they arrive (even if they are late), make eye contact and nod. Find something about which you can give positive feedback.
10. Maintain positive body language. Remember how easy it can be to be drawn into the conflict cycle and keep your body language open and passive, keep your voice low and slow, don’t take it personally and think about the needs of the student.
Teaching is a tough gig and some students push us to our limits. What you tell yourself during the tough times will determine how you feel so take heart that you may not have found the perfect solution yet but you are working towards something that looks like it.
Enjoy the ride- it could be a wild one!