It can be difficult to handle challenging behaviour from students. Not only do you need to keep your composure and control over your classroom, but you then need to take the emotional toll back home with you.
And it’s not just the other students who need to deal with it, either.
Challenging behaviour can be especially difficult for graduate teachers and pre-service teachers on their placements. As wonderful as your mentor teacher is, sometimes students just behave badly. At this point in your career, it can have a huge impact on your confidence in the profession.
What strategies can you use?
This is not going to be a list of teaching strategies. If you want a list of techniques you can use to control a class, you can find that here:
While having a broad and flexible repertoire of teaching strategies is essential (and will certainly benefit your well-being), you also need to think about coping strategies.
You can be the best teacher in the world, and you’ll still have rough days. Days when it all became too much, or you felt like you were in real danger. You need strategies for these times as well, when you’re sitting in your car at the end of the day wondering if you’re brave enough to come back tomorrow.
Analyse the Root of the Behaviour
The first thing, when you’re in the classroom and a student is being awful to you, is to remember that they are a person. They have their own stuff going on, and their brains aren’t even fully developed yet.
Maybe they’re angry at something that their last teacher said. Maybe they’ve had a falling out with their friends. Maybe their parents don’t believe that they can do well at school, or maybe their parents expect too much.
Some students just need attention. They need to be noticed, and will do anything to ensure they are. Understanding the underlying issues can help you get the student support. This can lessen or even prevent the challenging behaviour.
Thinking in this way has another powerful effect. It can make you feel hope. It can help you see this young person in a different light and understand a little about where they’re coming from.
Understanding this can have a powerful effect on your own well-being. It can help to reduce your own anger and hopelessness in a situation. Making sure you are curious about student behaviour can support your own mental health.
Debriefing can be a wonderful thing.
It can often be difficult for teachers to find someone to debrief with. Friends and family members often don’t understand the pressures of the job, and your colleagues have just as little time as you do. Find someone to debrief with though, as it can be a game changer.
Get together with some colleagues and spend time together during breaks and after work. It doesn’t have to be long, but taking the time to vent about your day can be more relaxing than getting home and collapsing on the couch for an additional 20 minutes each night.
Fostering a sense of community and camaraderie can help you feel supported. You’ll feel like you’re not alone, and that in itself can be enough to keep you going for another day.
Have a Hobby
Do things outside of work! Have things to do on the weekend that aren’t marking! There are more important things in life than your students getting their maths tests back first think on Monday morning.
Many teachers struggle to find work-life balance. The job is so demanding (and so exhausting) that it can feel like a fantasy to try and do something outside of work. For those of us who are introverts, it can be even harder.
Getting moving or socialising are great for your mental health, but they are two things that teaching takes from many of us.
Detach your Identity from your Job
All people are vulnerable to this, but teachers seem to be on another level.
You’re not just a teacher.
You are a human being.
There are other things that make up who you are.
Many teachers have “teacher hobbies”. English teachers will read novels and constantly be thinking about how they would teach them. Science teachers will watch the latest documentaries and be writing notes the entire time.
Spend some time just… not being a teacher.
The more time you spend being a teacher, the more your self-worth will depend on it. When you have a bad day, you can feel like a failure. This is emphasised if being a teacher is a big part of how you see yourself.
You shouldn’t have to deal with abuse in the classroom. No one should have to put themselves in these positions at their job, especially without adequate support.
If you can’t manage a situation in your class, let someone know. Don’t be embarrassed or feel like others have it tougher. Particularly in the current climate, schools are desperate to hold on to their teachers. Many will go to great lengths to support you to do your best.
This doesn’t just mean at your school either. Many teachers find that they need to keep in regular contact with mental health professionals to make sure that they are feeling their best.
Students don’t learn when their teacher can’t teach them. Your well-being is essential for you, your students, and your future students if you stay on the job. It is something worth keeping an eye on and investing in.