There he is. That kid.
Of all the kids you’ve taught, he just doesn’t belong. He’s rude, he’s blunt, he’s awkward socially, he’s lazy—you name it. That kid makes you question why you became a teacher.
You work hard, and you’ve got your lesson plan down. You’ve rehearsed it and considered all scenarios. Now this kid comes and derails your plan. He takes the attention away from the other students, and your blood begins to boil.
It escalates. This can go a number of ways from this point on:
- Scenario 1: You say or do something you’re sorry about. Maybe you say something you regret afterward.
- Scenario 2: You use the mindfulness practices of a “patience warrior” to calmly de-escalate the situation.
The Patience Warrior in the Classroom
If it’s Scenario 1, consider the following:
- First of all, remember who you are. You are a human being. We make mistakes.
- If you’re afraid of repercussions, find an admin to whom you can talk about your mistake. If they know before the parent calls, they can help you.
- Forgive yourself. If you subscribe to the mindset that every mistake is a learning situation, realize that every failure is an opportunity to learn.
- Make amends. A skillful patience warrior can accomplish this without relinquishing all credibility they hold with a student.
The other extreme would be to exercise mindfulness and channel your best Jaime Escalante:
- You pause. “Do no harm.”
- You calmly do whatever you can to separate the problem individual from harming others. “Keep everyone safe.” Either move the child out of the others’ space to a cool-down area, or if you have to, move the class. “Let’s have our class outside today!”
- You take time to address the student when s/he is calm and rational.
- You follow up and make sure you are developing a trust relationship.
This may seem like going above and beyond the call of duty. There are some teachers who are willing to go the distance. When teachers lose patience, it’s because they themselves lack skills or tools to react adaptively to challenging situations.
It is hopeful that challenging episodes don’t get that far. If you set up your classroom from the very start for success, you will be in the company of master teachers.
Resources for the Patience Warrior
Here are a couple of resources of master classroom management that we highly recommend:
- The First Days of School by Harry and Rosemary Wong
- Smart Classroom Management, a site run by Michael Linsin
- Lives in the Balance by Dr. Ross Greene
Here are some things we’ve learned from them:
Having kids come up with their own rules is overrated. There are better ways to accomplish the task of giving them ownership of the class. You start with a vision of how you want students to enter your room, and what you want them to do from the start. You model this the first day.
You teach an entire lesson on entering the classroom and setting up. You act out the part with your bookbag in hand, entering properly, and you get them to do the same. Nothing moves forward until this lesson is mastered by all. Once you establish your flow of the classroom, creativity can flourish.
The trick to staying calm is to remember that this is not about you. This is about the success of the child.
Why isn’t the child understanding how to behave in your class? The answer is lagging skills. This is not to say that the skills cannot be taught. When we exercise and teach a Growth Mindset, that intelligence and skill is not set in stone; students learn from mistakes, then you can keep things in context.
You have to be detective here. Observe and make hypotheses about why a child is exhibiting challenging behaviour. And don’t stop there. When there is a calm moment outside of class, take time to talk with the student in a non-threatening setting.
In other words, change your lenses. Bad behaviour is not really unpredictable, is it?
You announce a pop quiz? Freak-out time. It happens every time, but why? Is there something about pop quizzes that are challenging for the child? And so on.
These are unsolved problems that need to be addressed as just that. A patience warrior doesn’t act from a place of judgment or any label they might want to put on a kid. “Lazy, stubborn, rude, slow, etc.” Throw labels out the window and focus on problems just like you would a scientist and detective. Learn to love this part of the job.
If you can get to the heart of a student’s difficulty and teach them useful skills in how to interact with others, then you’ve already done a great thing, and possibly won the heart of the student.
You may say, “But I don’t want to give special treatment!” In fact, you must. Would you fix a Mac the same way you fix a PC? Would you troubleshoot Windows 10 like you do Windows XP? A Lamborghini like a VW Beetle? Would you accept glasses from a perfect stranger even if you have a different prescription? Of course not.
Remember that teaching is about the student. Not the teacher.
All students will develop at their own pace. Yes, you’ll be pushing and pulling like a tug-of-war rope, trying to get students from point A to point B, but everyone has their pace.
As one individual on Quora answered the question of how a teacher keeps their patience: “Whatever it takes, it takes. Learning is on their timetable of development, not mine.”
Respond, Don’t React
Lastly, here are some tips from Rebecca Alber on Edutopia about being responsive as opposed to reactive:
- Breathe. Leave the room if necessary. “I am breathing in for 4 … I am holding for 4 … breathing out for 4, holding again. Repeat.”
- Count. What’s your magic number? 3 seconds, 5 seconds, 10 seconds?
- Use question to instruct. Instead of “Don’t do that” try “How might you rephrase that comment so it’s more respectful to your classmate?”
- Pause/think/speak. It’s called ‘creative tension’ or ‘dramatic pause.’ You can call it “listening for the gears turning.”
- Smile. This can work wonders and break surface tension.
- Don’t touch a burning pot. Wait to address behavior issues at another time. Before, after class, in the hallway, or over lunch. Never in front of other students where it becomes a power play.
- Stay healthy. Get lots of rest. Seek help. Talk to other teachers (who are also patience warriors)!