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What to Do When Problems Arise

Despite your best efforts to prevent them, discipline problems can occur.
What to Do When Problems Arise
Published: August 18, 2021

You will have to gauge the appropriate response for your class, depending on the situation and problem and your students’ ages and abilities.

Here are some tips for dealing with problems:

  • Check school policy. Get a copy of your school’s discipline policy and read it thoroughly. Find out if there’s a teacher support committee for help with discipline cases.
  • Outline your expectations early in the year. On the first day of class, either present your rules or work with students to establish class rules and consequences. If these are clear, and especially if they are the result of consensus, students are less likely to think they’re being treated unfairly.
  • Review the rules. Post your classroom rules and review them periodically, especially after school breaks.
  • Be fair. Be consistent in your discipline methods. Apologize if you make a mistake or accuse someone unjustly. Listen to the student’s side of the story.
  • Don’t use sarcasm or ridicule. Be aware of how students may perceive your comments. Something you intended as a joke may be viewed as sarcastic or critical. Never use threats to enforce discipline. Don’t point out a student’s mistakes on an assignment in front of the entire class.
  • Let it be. If the event is a brief and minor disturbance and no one is being harmed, forget it. Use eye contact to let the student know you saw what happened.
  • Provide a warning. If the situation starts getting out of hand, clearly explain to the students involved the consequences of their actions. Then follow through. Record what happened, who was involved, what you did and who witnessed the incident.
  • Watch for bullying and intimidation and address it immediately. Let students know they can tell an adult when they feel unsafe, and make it clear that bullying and put-downs will not be tolerated in your class.

If a conflict is serious, potentially violent or ongoing, remember these steps:

  • Never use force unless it is reasonable force and unless it is necessary to restrain a child from injuring himself/herself or others or causing serious harm to school district property. Never hit or strike a student. Never touch a student in disciplining him or her.
  • Avoid acting alone, if at all possible, when discipline does not suffice and the incident has escalated to the point where the use of reasonable force may be necessary to correct or restrain a student or prevent bodily harm or death to another. Defer to a school administrator to remove the student.
  • Consult with the special education teacher to deal with disruptive behavior from a student with special needs. Better yet, ask to be a member of the team that develops the student’s individual education plan so the team can determine appropriate methods of discipline. Ask the parents how they deal with disruptive behavior.
  • Explore conflict mediation. Many schools are implementing such programs. The idea is to get the parties to talk face to face, identify the problem and outline acceptable solutions.
  • Take precautions to avoid situations where your behavior could be misinterpreted. Use team teaching, teaching assistants and volunteers to assist when possible. Invite parents to observe classes. Keep classroom doors open. Exercise caution and common sense.
  • Know your district’s policy for reporting incidents.
  • When in doubt about what to do, ask your mentor, a colleague or your site leader.

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