The first half of my almost thirty years of teaching was in a primary regular education classroom. The second half has been in special education. My thoughts on behavior management have evolved with my journey through the system. Let me tell you my story.
Rethinking Behavior Management
Once upon a time….I thought students should behave well for intrinsic reasons. They should want to do well for the teacher, themselves, and their parents. In my regular education classroom, I could for the most part make that happen by dangling the occasional proverbial carrot. Not only have my views transformed slightly, but our students have changed dramatically. We see more extreme behaviors than ever from children who have less stable homes than ever before. When I first started teaching, I did not have to instruct students in the basics of good behavior. Most of my students were willing to accept my authority as the teacher and do what was asked of them. If there was an issue, a phone call home was all it took to improve the behavior. Today, I can no longer assume that my students are coming into my room with the requisite behavior skills essential to be successful. It is now necessary to teach those skills.
My group of fourth graders this year will need to concentrate on learning skills to become successful in organizing and managing classwork and homework. These are skills which I will spend time explicitly teaching and practicing. I will be encouraging success by dangling the incentive carrot. I have set in place a plan centered on the theme of pirates which flows with my tropically decorated room. Each student has a small cardboard treasure chest for collecting gold coins. Coins can be earned for returning homework and such, or lost for not completing assignments, etc. Friday mornings before school will be a time to spend or save their gold coins. I use the acronym: P.I.R.A.T.E.S. and define the letters with words that work for my group of students. I found a suggestion online which uses words like, “prepared, achieving, students”, and etc. A quick Google search will give you ideas to use. My bulletin board is decorated with a Pirates Bulletin Board Set. Students will be able to earn rewards from the treasure chest, but also special privileges such as using the teacher’s chair for the day or free homework passes. As the year progresses and I see my students succeeding, more of the rewards will be for privileges in an attempt to wean them from the treasure box goodies. I feel strongly that once a skill is learned and practiced, the incentives need to begin to fade. Because I work with special education students, I can do this from one year to the next as most of my students remain on my caseload.
If I could make only one point about behavior management, it would be the importance of a personal relationship with each child. This is easy with the students who try hard and do what is asked of them, but not so easy with the more difficult students. It may take some thought on your part to come up with one thing you like about that child, but it is vital. Each child deserves to feel like their teacher likes them, really likes them. I have found that if I am capable of this, behavior problems are much less of an issue. Every child has some lovable gold nugget just waiting for you to discover…go searching for the treasure.
About the Author
Patty is a special education teacher with over 27 years in the public school system and has a master’s degree as a reading specialist. Patty is a reiki master and a certified level 2 clinical aromatherapist, aromatherapy instructor, and bellydance instructor. She is married and has two grown sons.