The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get

Even after fifteen years in the classroom, the thing that causes me most grief, the thing that results in more sleepless nights than anything else is behaviour management. It’s the thing that new teachers ask most about and struggle with in the same way we all did in those first years. Because there is no quick fix, is there? There is no strategy which will eradicate the bad stuff. It takes years of classroom experience to be able to deal well with that, whether your lesson is ‘worth behaving for’ or not, as someone tweeted recently, and even then it is difficult to get right.

So it would be daft to ignore bad behaviour, wouldn’t it? Storing up problems for the future, surely. Well, maybe not. After trying everything with certain students this year I have decided to ignore them. Hold on. There is some method to my madness. In general, students misbehave because they desire attention. Problems arise when we give them that. And, of course, sometimes we have to. However, I’ve experienced a bizarre turnaround with two students who I have, more or less, ignored for the last two weeks. It has been difficult. It has been hard to bite my tongue, take a deep breath and concentrate on the well-behaved masses for a change. But I did it. And I think it worked.

Starving that desire for attention seems to have caused the students to look for it in another way. By doing the work. By being polite. By putting up a hand to ask for help instead of shouting out. And, slowly, I have started to return to them. Not always, yet. But I have and they seem to be responding. The rest of the class are working like troopers and the ‘ignored’ realise that they have lost their audience. Now, of course, the danger is twofold here: firstly, that I bring them back too soon and we return the way it was before – some days an unteachable class; secondly, that I ignore them for too long and they permanently disengage. It’s a situation I  must deal with carefully.

But before you go back to school and ignore every badly behaved student, proceed with caution. There may be silly things like making an obvious show of being bored or resting a head on a desk which might not be the thing to ignore. There may well be genuine disengagement already and ignoring them might be exactly what they are looking for. Think carefully about the individual and consider how they might react. If it’s a last resort, hey, it’s worth a try.

Bad behaviour is so difficult to deal with because we take it personally at times. We take it as an affront to our well-prepared lesson and and and an insult to us as teachers. It’s not, of course, or very rarely, but that feeling only disappears after lots of experience. But it is our reactions that very often escalate situations. Our egos take over and we, whether we like it or not, get into conflict with young people. That young kid who is behaving like a midge on a camping trip we simply want to swat away. Perhaps if we simply let it buzz about it would go away without our intervention.

One thought on “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get

  1. Too true, we have to leave our ego at the door. I agree that teachers sometimes fight fire with fire and it’s often better to ‘strike when the iron’s cold’ than getting into conflict.

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