Combating the Classroom Terrorist
For those of us in the teaching profession, we have all heard stories about that student in the faculty room for at least two years before he is assigned to our class. These stories are so gruesome that we visit the counseling office to beg the head-counselor to send him to the old, veteran teacher who might chew him up and spit him out before breakfast. Every assistant principal, not only knows him by name, but has kept a detailed account of each interaction because he is one of the frequent flyers that they each hope one day to begin expulsion procedures. The school resource officer has not only heard of him, but knows him on a first name basis. In fact, he has made him his “special project.” He is classroom terrorist, the student that all teachers fear. Some of these terrorist have created serious havoc. I had one who held a knife to my throat, one who hit me over the head with a 1000-page literature textbook, and another who punched me. I have seen others light a teacher on fire, bite a teacher and I have heard of one who raped and murdered another student who was heading to the rest room, but most of these terrorist are more like Bart Simpson and only want to disrupt the orderly process of education in one creative form of tomfoolery or another. This is the student who put a dead mouse in my teacher's desk or took all of the drawers from that desk and put them back upside down, so when I opened my desk drawers, everything fell on the floor to the amusement of all of the other students. This is the class comedian.
How should a teacher combat the classroom terrorist? First, understand why he has chosen to become a classroom terrorist. Students often choose to behave this way for three reasons: first, the child needs his parents’ attention; second, the child lacks self-confidence or academic skills and has decided if he can’t be the best of the best, he will become the worst of the worst; and third, the child is psychologically or emotionally disturbed. As a teacher, you can’t do anything about the third cause except notify the school psychologist and hope he/she will be able to get the child the professional help he needs, focus on the first two and hope one of them is the reason for his disturbance.
If the child is acting out to get his parents’ attention, the teacher can usually discover this by calling his parent to a meeting.. If the parents are not available by phone, email or in person that could be an indication. The other type of parent will be more than happy to answer the teacher’s phone call and expect her to stay on the phone for thirty minutes to an hour long after contract time so they can berate the teacher for every problem in which the child has ever become involved, decrying that this teacher is the culprit who is responsible for everything and anything that child has ever done or been a party to. You can guess that this teacher will be waiting with baited-breath for the face-to-face meeting with this parent. Be sure to invite an administrator to witness the bedlam so he/she can add more interesting facts to the file he/she is collecting. Maybe you’ll get lucky and this will be the tidbit he/she needs to make that expulsion a reality. Dreams do come true. The good news is you don’t need to take his behavior or the parents’ rage personally. Just note that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. If on the other hand, the parents act frustrated and confused, you know he isn’t acting that way to get their attention.
If the student is acting out because he lacks good self-esteem or academic skills, these are both easily resolved. First, move a desk close to the teacher’s desk, facing the teacher. When your little terrorist begins to act out, simply move him to that desk and tell him he “needs positive-time with the teacher.” This will give you time to show him how to do the assignment while the other students believe he is being punished. He does not want to lose face for lacking skills and he won't, because he still looks like The Billy the Kid, the image he desires. It is a win-win situation. Second, sometimes a silly technique works with these students. Another teacher shared with me that when a particularly difficult student became restless, he would say, “Frozen Man.” The student had to freeze in whatever position he was in for a given amount of time. When the teacher allowed him to “thaw,” he was ready to join the class and the disruption was over. Third, I have used rewards, I begin small: if the student behaves himself for one class period, he earns a piece of candy. After a week, I extend it to an entire week to earn a larger prize, a candy bar. If you are working in teams, you can have the principal call him down if he has behaves himself in all of his classes for a week to receive his candy bar. Other teachers use cards: a green card means the student's behavior is appropriate, a red card means it is inappropriate. Some students need to learn what is appropriate and what is not appropriate. Fourth, social interaction with the teacher also serves as a reward. Take the student out into the hall when the class is engaged in an independent activity and either praise him for appropriate behavior or correct him for inappropriate behavior. After a week if he has behaved appropriately, write a positive note and mail it to his parents. They will probably appreciate it, because this may be the first time they have every received praise about their child. Fifth, often times these terrorist are suffering from emotional trauma at home like divorce, a death in the family or abuse. Talking to the parent, a counselor or even the child himself can give you some insight. When students feels they have an adult to talk to or someone who is willing to understand their situation, they behave better in school.
What you don’t want to do with a classroom terrorist is become angry or fearful around him. He is the master of manipulation who wants to run your classroom. If he sees any signs of weakness, he will go for the jugular, because he is an Alpha Dog. At all times remain calm, but assertive. If you lose your temper, he will discover the buttons to keep you angry just for his amusement. Don’t ever allow that. Fighting with this type of student is like wrestling with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig loves it. To combat the classroom terrorist, you must maintain the master of your domain.