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Virginia Journal of Education

On Point

Disruptions must go!

by Maloney R. Hunter-Lowe

Teaching is an awesome experience, but it's getting more difficult. More and more children from troubled, chaotic homes are bringing disruptive behavior, such as talking back, using profanities, rolling the eyes, threatening, and refusing to cooperate, to my school and my classroom every day. Some students express a "don't care" attitude, leading others to feed off their negative energy. Many of these behaviors are not corrected at home, or by school administrators. Disruptive behavior has negatively affected my teaching, and finding the will and courage to teach has become more challenging than ever.

Belligerent, disruptive and rebellious behavior wastes much of my instructional time, disrupts the learning of all my other students, and can even threaten my safety and the safety of others. I devote too much time and energy to controlling it.

I believe the key to eliminating such classroom behavior lies in better leadership, both at home and in school.

Let's start at home. Unfortunately, many children get non-structured, less-than-firm leadership from their parents. This leads young people to behaviors such as disobeying parents, constant whining, yelling at parents, throwing tantrums when things don't go their way, and threatening-even hitting-parents, all in an attempt to avoid doing what their parents want or expect. Some parents who don't provide strong leadership may accept these behaviors, finding them non-threatening, even "cute." But when these students come through the doors of a school, they are difficult to handle, especially with so many different personalities in a classroom.

I can't help but wonder about the priorities of some parents. They appear not to understand the value of academics to their children's future. When a child looks up to parents for leadership and guidance and finds it lacking, how can the child be successful? He or she will become discouraged, disappointed and angry, which will then show up as disruptive behavior.

What about school administrators? Principals and other school leaders definitely have an impact on disruptive behaviors through their styles of leadership. A strong example from the top that disruptive behavior will be dealt with quickly and seriously sends a message to potentially disruptive students, and how administrators perform their leadership duties has a big effect on teachers' decisions and students' responses. Effective leadership makes a significant difference.

From a teacher's perspective, it's important that schools consider the types of leaders that are assigned to schools, especially schools that have had a significant problem with disruptive behavior. Some school leaders seem to be somewhat intimidated by the threatening attitudes or appearance of students to the point where the leaders' appearance in a classroom has no real effect on student behavior. I think it is helpful to reverse that and have leaders put themselves in the position of creating a little healthy fear on the part of students.

Teachers, however, are the ones who end up having most of the responsibility for dealing with disruptive students. Some of us are also guilty of a lack of leadership in the classroom. It can begin when we negotiate with students instead of firmly enforcing classroom rules. Some teachers are also fearful of what their students may do or say, so they give in to disruptive behavior, often without even realizing it. Many of today's classroom teachers are purchasing toys, games, candy and similar items and using them to ensure appropriate student behavior. In fact, I've discovered that these practices often make disruptive students worse. Teachers need to consider what kind of leadership style they are going to practice, taking into consideration the students they're dealing with each day. Some teachers are autocratic leaders, others rely more on their personal charisma-there are a number of different styles of leadership. But we must lead.

Educators at all levels must be aware that multiple factors contribute to disruptive behavior in the classroom. Some of those factors are out of our control, such as family dynamics, peer relationships outside of school, and neighborhood contexts. We clearly need strong leadership in those environments. However, how we choose to exercise leadership in our school buildings and classrooms can also go a long way toward reducing classroom disruptions. Without a team approach, with the collaboration of parents, teachers, administrators and students, the futures of both our teachers and students will suffer.

Hunter-Lowe, a member of the Portsmouth Education Association, teaches at Victory Elementary School and is a facilitator for the University of Phoenix Online.


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