8 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Calling Out Kids for Their Bad Behavior

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So, that one student’s bad behavior has finally sent you reeling. You’ve suppressed your frustration long enough. It’s time to call him out.

You may be fully aware that calling kids out in front of their peers shames them. Maybe at least in this case, that’s why you do it. Perhaps you think this kid deserves to be taken down a few notches. If you berate him just enough, maybe he’ll behave the way you’d like.

But do you really believe this, or have you simply reached the end of your rope and reason has left the building?

Why are you now willing to go there?

I know why you might go there: because you’ve been giving a certain kid the best of yourself for the last eight months, and he appears to feel as entitled now as he did the minute he walked through your door for the very first time. Or maybe he’s threatening your authority in front of other classmates. Or perhaps he reminds you of your weaknesses. Could it be that he reminds you of how you’re failing him, or even, how you’re failing yourself lately?

That’s the thing about teaching: so much of it is failure.

When I was still in the classroom, I tried not to call kids out on their bad behavior. Much of the time I was successful, but there were days….oh man, there were days. Lots of them.

We’ve all been there.

If a kid has been pushed to a point where she’s acting out in order to get negative attention, the problem is far bigger than you. You know that, right? I didn’t when I was a young teacher, but when this reality dawned on me, it was a game changer. Realizing that it wasn’t about me gave me enough space to breath a bit before I reacted.

It’s not about you either, I’ll bet. If it is, it might say something about how much the kid who is making you crazy cares about you.

Sometimes, they act out to get your attention.

Sometimes, it’s the only way they know.

Sometimes, admitting what they really think or feel or need requires a level of vulnerability they just aren’t able to conjure.

So, don’t call students out in front of other people. Don’t point out their errors, don’t name their flaws, and by all means, don’t cut them down with your sarcasm. Try to get to the root of the problem, instead. Try asking yourself a few questions.

8 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Act

1. What is this kid trying to avoid, and how is his behavior and my reaction helping him avoid it?

2. Have I pushed this kid to the point of frustration? When did this happen? How?

3. How well am I differentiating instruction and how consistently? How much control does this kid have over his own learning and work?

4. Have I taken the time to get to know this kid and what his life is like outside of my classroom?

5. Do I provide enough predictability and structure to create a sense of safety inside of my classroom?

6. What are the social dynamics in this class, and how might they contribute to the issue?

7. What questions could I ask this kid during a private moment in order find a solution?

8. How can I facilitate a more respectful relationship with this kid without shaming her?

Asking questions helps you devise a plan of action, while creating an important moment of pause, which diffuses anger.

I only wish I knew this when I was younger.

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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.

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