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Behaviors At School

Talks Back

Action: Identify causes of misbehavior. Pinpoint student needs being revealed. Employ specific methods, procedures, and techniques at school and at home for getting the child to modify or change his/her behavior.

Primary Causes of Misbehavior

Attention
This student seeks attention in a very negative way.

Power
Talking back is a real form of power for youths confronting adults.

Primary Needs Being Revealed

Escape from Pain
This behavior reveals that this person is willing to get into a great deal of trouble rather than show his/her real self.

Secondary Needs Being Revealed

Affiliation
There is a chance to change this behavior if a strong association is formed between this student and an adult.

Power
Learning how to use power positively is very important for students who are negative.

Status
This child may not be a good student academically, but by talking back he/she gains status and becomes "somebody."

Actions to Take
  • Recognize that some students seek attention by playing "cops and robbers" with teachers- and getting caught is a reward for some young people. A perfect example is the child who talks back and says, "What would you do if I . . . ?"

  • Refrain from punishing or saying, "You wouldn't do anything like that, would you?" Rather, counsel this student seriously in an adult way.

  • Encourage appropriate behavior and reveal your disapproval of the misbehavior-but not of the child.

  • Give this student attention so that he/she doesn't have to resort to negative behavior to be noticed.

  • After you have discussed an incident of misbehavior with a student, have the student write out what happened-who did what and why. Then have the student write what he/she feels should be done about the problem. When the student has finished, discuss the entire incident from beginning to end. You'll find this technique works in many situations, and teaches students more than you might suspect. It teaches something about reading, writing, and communication, in addition to proper behavior and improper behavior such as talking back to teachers.

  • Always talk to this student privately. Like it or not, it's unwise to confront publicly. The student's behavior in such a situation is predictable. Remember, when you ignore the back talk in the classroom, and counsel the student privately, this behavior never works for the student. Rather, it always works against him/her.

  • When counseling, explain the difference in points of view. Talk about respect for each other. Ask the student what he/she expects from you. Then ask, "What should I expect from you?" Arrive at an agreement. The best approach is that both can say anything privately, but nothing publicly which would embarrass the other.

  • Always operate on a friendly rather than hostile foundation.

  • In the process of handling this student, don't forget the rest of the class. Calling attention to behavior you want to encourage in young people is one positive way to achieve good discipline. Comments such as "Thanks for raising your hand" or "I'm pleased you didn't let that interruption disturb you" not only praise a student, but signal to others an example to be followed. The same is true for following your leadership. Give comments of approval for actions of other students. Doing so reinforces and promotes accepted behavior.

  • Because insults hurt, it's easy for the recipient to lose his/her "cool." How you react to an insult is very important. A degrading remark can "take" only if you allow it to. Here's a simple technique for handling the insult. After the insult, simply ask the person to repeat it. Say, calmly and without emotion, "I am not quite certain that I heard you correctly. Would you mind repeating your comment?" Most often, a person will not repeat the insult. Instead, he/she will either apologize or tell you to "skip it." If the student does repeat this insult, do not say one single word. To avoid degrading yourself, always leave an insult with the originator.

  • Sometimes, the desired purpose of a private student conference is thwarted because the teacher takes too strong a stand. It is not always wise to "read the riot act" to a student. Too often, the teacher's talk goes in one ear and out the other. Occasionally, try this approach: Sit down with the student and don't say a word. Instead, get the student to begin and continue the conversation. For example: The student finally says, "What's the matter?" and you reply, "What is the matter, Johnny?" He replies, "I don't know," and you reply, "I don't know either." He might say, "What did I do?" and you reply, "What did you do, Johnny?" or you might say, "If I asked the class what you were doing, what do you think they would say?" The student will begin talking. Then you can too. Don't be afraid to wait for a long time between questions. Be slow and speak with a soft voice, and this technique will prove effective. If you are hard and quick, your approach will be regarded as sarcastic.

List of Behaviors

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Please Note
We are labeling behaviors, not children! For the sake of convenience, we will describe behaviors with terms such as The Whiner or The Interrupter.

Never use such labels when talking to—or about—children! Doing so could cause many new problems and seriously damage the teacher-student or parent-child relationship.