Teacher HELPLINE: My kids are so disrespectful! Is it too late to get them under control?

Teacher Janelle writes: “We’re almost halfway through the school year, and my classroom management is out of control. My students do not respect me at all, and it’s not just one or two of them–it’s become the culture of our […]

Teacher Janelle writes:

“We’re almost halfway through the school year, and my classroom management is out of control. My students do not respect me at all, and it’s not just one or two of them–it’s become the culture of our classroom. The students just do not listen to me. I want to turn things around, but I’m worried it’s too late in the year. What can I do?”

Janelle, we totally get it, and we’re here to say that it’s NEVER too late to get back the respect of your students. Here is some advice from our helpliners on how to start fresh.

Make achievement a group effort! Give “points” to each class for certain things that everyone does well (like following directions or everyone turning in the assignment), and then when the class accumulates a certain number of points, everyone gets a reward, like a homework pass. –Brenda M.

I give tickets to my students (bought from a party supply store). They can redeem them every other Friday. A certain number of points can be cashed in for prizes, like a piece of candy or extra computer time. Sometimes I give 1-2 tickets and other times I pull of a long string of 10-15, especially if I want to change the behavior of other students! Tickets can be earned for good behavior, turning in work, showing respect, appropriate class participation, and so on. – Becky S.

Talk to other teachers about the classroom management strategies they use that work. A lot of it is setting an expectation and following it, and you can do that at any point during the year. It’s just a matter of sticking to it and being consistent. I use a point system and give bonus points for on-task students. – Heather S.

I teach fifth grade and use Class Dojo. I keep a total of their points for the month. Then they get a copy of the “menu” to fill out, choosing how they will spend their points for the month. Only 14 points can be carried over for the next month. The choices range from 15 points to 80. It works well with little effort on my part! – Kate F.

Don’t be afraid of calling parents; they can be your biggest advocate. If you do call a parent for negative behavior, also make sure you call that parent when the child has a good day as well. That will also help get the parents on your side. – Jodi W.

I started using “kindness points,” and every time they show manners, they get a point. If they don’t, I take one away. I keep the points on the board so they can see their progress. If the class gets 20 points in one day, they will get a treat, like extra time at recess. Doing this has really helped curb the negativity and disrespect. – Kathy M.

If students are being loud, my instinct used to be to raise my voice to try to be louder than them. Now, I’ve started doing the opposite–I’ll speak more quietly. This tends to intrigue them, and they’ll start hushing each other so they can hear what I have to say. Try it! – Erin F.

“Fake it ‘til you make it.” Even if you don’t feel like you are in control, act as though you are–cool, calm, collected. The next time you walk into the classroom, convey through your directions, expectations, and the way you carry yourself that anything less than respectful behavior will not be tolerated. Then have a plan for how to enforce those expectations. Avoid getting emotional or angry. – Greg T.

Maybe try having the students begin each class period instead of you beginning it (or beginning the school day, depending on what grade you teach). If you teach English, assign each student a day to bring in a poem to share at the start of class. If you teach math, have a student lead the students through the warm-up math problems. See what happens when the students lead each other as opposed to you having to corral the behavior every day. – Laura E.

Teachers, what other advice do you have for those struggling with classroom management?

Posted by WeAreTeachers Staff

One Comment

  1. While doing graduate work in England, I found that “Open School” technique was effective in managing educational goals to the benefit of everyone involved from school administration to children. Adapting this “open” idea to New York requirements resulted in the article Dear Teachers. The great bugaboo in school management is the varying methods and philosophies of the Boards of Education, administrators and teachers. Dear Teachers proposes classroom efficiency without altering educational philosophy.

    Dear Teachers

    You are the hard working, responsible and ethical support for the nation’s children and their parents. It is because of you that children read, write, and gain knowledge. You are underpaid and you work at night for no pay. I’m going to try to help you in your classrooms by revealing a small change that worked for me after my graduate studies in Manchester, England. I have no intention of changing your philosophy or style.
    The English were very strict about school discipline until cities were bombed in World War II. To protect the children, they moved school into the open spaces of the country. Thus, “Open School.” The British can be literal at times. While fearing that the scores of the children would “plummet,” the scores rose higher. Why?
    I saw methods that I couldn’t use here because my school and yours remain rooted in the belief that children are a problem unless strictly controlled by seating arrangements and quiet. So, I made a small change that saved me and served my kids.
    Here it is in brief:   The first day of school I told the class that we have an hour to do math.   They groaned.

    I then stated that IF we could finish in 45 minutes, that we then had 15 minutes to spare for ourselves.

    This 15 minutes was to be used as free time reward for completing the required math.   Now we have English to do.

    IF we finish in less than an hour, I guess that gives us more time for ourselves as  reward.   We made a list of the stuff we could do—legally–which happens to be an English lesson on note taking.   The kids chose reward activity ( that they wanted to do and I approved.) Two rules: 1. you can’t do anything dangerous—duh, and 2. you can’t make noise that bothers other classes and such (hallways for instance.)Each subject was similar in form.   I had no disciplinary troubles after a few days (and, peace in the classroom.)   I found Kids hushing other kids who were off task. What about the kids who couldn’t or didn’t finish early?

    They spent their 15 (or so) minutes with me doing their lesson.   They hated it, but they did their work because they wanted to join the others in reward time.


    1. “The school is built and I am paid to make you smarter and better.   In the math class, you will be smarter at the end than you are right now.   You will also be better at the end of class than you are right now.

    2. How smarter? You will learn skills that make you smart.   How better?   You will be a nicer, more capable person in 45 minutes than you are right now–at least that is my plan for you to be happier and make more money as a grown-up. BONUS: The “smart kids” who learned quickly could (for extra credit) help the others during the lesson. Now I have several “teachers” as individual helpers to be even more efficient. The class is easier for everyone (me too) and we finish early for reward for the class and maybe time for me to plan or complete other teacher tasks that usually keep me past dismissal.
    I have no intention of changing your teaching philosophy or style. There are lots of successful styles! The small change offered here is meant to reduce wasted time, increase class attentiveness and get adult behavior from our children; while you use the same class structure that works for you. It also reduces stress for the teacher, shortens time spent in discipline, and provides cooperative students working for adult goals that we all expect. Bonus: I was shocked to find that the students disciplined themselves so they could complete their tasks (the way we all hoped they would.)

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