The ring master

Manaswini Sridhar

ask-and-answer I don’t mind the teaching hours or the time involved in preparing for a class. What throws me off balance, even after two years of teaching, is the presence of unruly students in some of the classes. I really am not sure how to handle some of them. Sometimes I feel threatened by their very presence. Is it me or is it something that affects the performance of all teachers?

The stumbling block that most teachers encounter in the classroom does come in the form of the unruly student or the class bully, who manages to not only threaten his classmates, but also the teacher. Lay down rules from day one to make it clear to potential bullies that you are a teacher who will not take any nonsense. Spell out explicitly that everyone in the classroom has come to learn and therefore there will be no unpleasantness in class, particularly no teasing or harassing of fellow students. In the light of the learning that is to take place, tell your class that you will not tolerate a poor listener, an impertinent questioner or one who is just plain rude to his classmates or to you. The majority of the students will appreciate you because they know that they will be protected by you and so will offer you the kind of support you need in getting on with your teaching, in spite of the interruptions from the class bully.

It is the so-called bullies who put pressure on you, leaving you stressed out and hence unable to focus on the task at hand – which is the teaching and development of the students. Hence, don’t waste time in hesitating to deal with any kind of unacceptable behaviour; however, do it calmly and in a dignified manner. Do not stoop to the level of the bully by either shouting or threatening; instead, adopt strategies that will help you control the class so that the learning process goes on uninterrupted.

The entire class must never be held responsible for the unruly or rowdy behaviour of a single student or group of students. Sometimes teachers tend to hold back an entire class as punishment. This is completely unfair towards the innocent students who had no role to play in the disruption of the class. What the teacher will inadvertently be doing by this mindless act is to unite the entire class against her because the innocent students will harbour a grudge against her. Acting only against the guilty will get the bullies to understand that they cannot afford to misbehave. The well-behaved students will approve of the act; the students who may be in two minds, will naturally lean in favour of the teacher. The unruly students will understand that the teacher means business and will respect her.

An unruly student does need to be sent to the principal’s office after two or three warnings. It doesn’t really help talking alone to the student after class hours because there is no sense of embarrassment or remorse since the interaction takes place in private. If the school permits, call the parents and talk to the parents about the disruptive behaviour of their child. Point out to them that it upsets the balance in the class, thereby negating any kind of productivity. It is imperative to remind the parents that you are involving them in the discussion so that together you can work towards making learning more pleasurable in school. At no point of time should you exhibit your helplessness to the parents. You must inform them that the child’s behaviour is as much their responsibility, as it is yours.

Sometimes the class bully has to be singled out and seated separately so that he does not have the opportunity to either disturb fellow students or be heard. By pushing away the student, the teacher will be able to get back her composure and be in a position to deal with the rest of the class pleasantly. As you tackle the class bully or bullies, remember that you are doing so for a cause: so that other children do not get hurt and so that you can teach the errant child self-control and discipline for his own good too. By being patient and focussed on your goal, you can tame the wild ones in your class. It takes a while, but then that is one of the greatest challenges that teaching offers.

The author is a teacher educator and language trainer based in Chennai. She can be reached at manaswinisridhar@gmail.com.