After 3 years of working as a teacher, I have reflected on a lot of the issues that have been faced by many teachers, typically in the area of dealing with defiant students. Most of the rants that I have heard is that students nowadays lack respect and today’s generation of students are constantly challenging the teacher’s authority. I understand that this causes a lot of stress for the teachers because all we ask for is for the students to listen to what we say and obey our orders. But most of the time, even in many different school cultures, this isn’t what we get. I’m not sure for other teachers but for me, one of the causes of stress is because of our mindset and expectations. What I’m about to elaborate here may be unconventional but sometimes the unconventional way seems to be the only way for us to change our mindset in order to feel less stressed out when dealing with certain types of students.
The mindset of a teacher and how it constributes to (less) stress
Firstly, the problem with our mindset as a teacher is that we DEMAND and EXPECT students to respect us. We feel so entitled for respect that it sometimes acts like an addiction. If we don’t receive it, we’ll experience withdrawal in a form of stress. Do we really deserve to be given respect when our way of disciplining or teaching them doesn’t manifest the character of a teacher that is deserving of respect? Do we deserve respect when our way of asking for respect is being executed in a forceful manner? Perhaps being respected makes our job easier but in reality, respect isn’t easy to get. Respect is given, not earned. It is earned through our character. Students may not see it. They may not realize it. But demanding for respect isn’t an effective way to gain respect either. So, don’t demand for respect and expect it to be given automatically. How we gain respect is in the way that we treat them and disciplining them. Being lenient is never an option. We just need to be firm, strict, and rational, but never cruel.
Another problem with our mindset as a teacher is that we get easily offended when they misbehave in front of us, especially when we are teaching. This is also related to our expectations. We expect students to behave well in class but the reverse is happening. Therefore, this causes us to feel stressed. It’s because our expectations are not met. What I personally do is that I change my mindset. I ANTICIPATE them to misbehave when I am teaching but when that happens, I already have sought an effective way to deal with the misbehaviour. For example, what we teachers typically do when we see a group of students who are not paying attention (they could be singing, talking to each other, passing around items, etc), we’d shout at them from the front of the class. According to the authors of the book, ‘Teaching with Love and Logic’, Jim Fay and Charles Fay, this is isn’t an effective way of getting them to pay attention in class. What we should do is that we should go to them and whisper to them in order for them stop their misbehaviour. (I suggest you to read the book. It has helped me a lot in changing my ways and perception when it comes to classroom management.)
Another cause of stress for teachers is when we talk to a student, they would respond in a way that lacks civility. They would also respond in a way that challenges our authority. This will indeed cause us to feel offended and stressed out. Again, why we feel this way is that we EXPECT them to be a ‘yes, sir’ and a ‘yes, miss/madam, or a ‘yes, teacher’ kind of student. How I switch from this mindset is that I always expect the reverse. I ANTICIPATE that they’ll disrespect me. I ANTICIPATE that they’ll say ‘fuck you’ to my face. I ANTICIPATE that they’ll challenge my authority and debate with me. We expect them to be compliant. Well, news flash, we cannot expect them to be obedient all the time. There will be those who are defiant and are smart enough to challenge us. They may lack civility, but it’s our duty to teach them to be civilized and make them realize of the consequences when they don’t. They might debate with us and we’ll see that as an act of disobedience, but how about bring them to a slow discussion and help them understand our point of view. During the discussion, they could even lie to us and wish that we have a lie detector at our immediate disposal, but if it matters that much to us, we investigate and in the end, the truth will prevail. But if it doesn’t, just let it go and let it be. That is how I see it. There is no need to be offended when they lie to us either. This is a form of misbehavior. ANTICIPATE IT to happen.
The problem with us teachers is that we expect students to always comply to us but when they don’t, we get offended and stressed out. Based on the above elaboration, my way is that I change my mindset. So what if they misbehave? They’re still immature. So what if they lack civility and have the nerve to spit out insulting words in front of us or at us? They just haven’t learned and understood the concept of being civil when dealing with people. They also have their big egos intact. Especially in teenagers, there is a part of their brains that is still undeveloped which is the prefrontal cortex. When it’s undeveloped, they still can’t think of the consequences for their actions. So, it would be illogical for us to expect them to be well-behaved and act like mature adults. Even so, when we have this mindset ingrained in our minds, we should already have adopted effective ways in order for them to be less defiant or less disobedient. This is also to help them develop their prefrontal cortex. To anticipate such behaviors coming from them and not do anything about it would be irresponsible for us as educators. We’re agents of change. Look for ways to change them into a better human being, even if it’s challenging. They may not listen to us the first and second time, but this is why it isn’t easy for us teachers. The cliche thing to say and do is to just persevere.
My philosophy of being strict and firm with them is to be reminded of our mutual (between student and teacher) dignity, empathize them, and build a relationship with them (but within professional boundaries). However, to empathize them doesn’t mean we should let them get away when they commit serious disciplinary problems. They should face the consquences.
My experience as a teacher may be different than that of yours, and my school culture may be different than that of yours too. I understand that city school culture is more challenging than interior school culture. Also, I do not claim to be better than veteran teachers, whom have years of experience in dealing with problematic students. What I’ve adopted here may not be applicable for you but this is how I personally change my mindset when dealing with challenging students. My approach may backfire one day but ever since I’ve adopted this mindset, I feel less stressed (almost no stress) when dealing with problematic students. Perhaps when it backfires, my approach just needs to be refined.