Different Approaches for Difficult Students

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Teachers are experiencing success with varied and different approaches for difficult students when children are out of control and situations need quick intervention. 

Inside a fifth-grade English classroom at Foxfire Elementary School, a young boy with a history of emotional outbursts was stirring.

The youngster, was picking out a book from the shelf when he perceived another student’s actions as aggressive. He yelled to the teacher: “Make him stop bothering me,” to which the educator quickly responded in calm soothing dialogue.

About 20 minutes later, a scream echoed off the red lockers of the hallway. Rounding a corner, the same young boy walked, head down, to the in-school suspension room where John Ormond stood waiting. Before he was even addressed, the boy spoke in a clear dejected tone.

“I tried. I couldn’t do it,” he said. “I need someone to talk to.”

Emotional outbursts such as these are common at Foxfire, a school that specializes in individualized education to deal with behavioral issues. Some of the students are bused in from as far as Athens and Grove City because their former schools couldn’t handle them, Superintendent Todd Whiteman said.

But behavioral issues are not exclusive to Foxfire. At John McIntire Elementary School, during a fifth-grade class, reading time turned violent when two boys started fighting over space beneath a table. One of the children claimed he’d been punched in the shoulder, and the teacher was forced to address the situation as other students looked on.

Different Approaches for Difficult Students

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A recent study from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers found that 55.1 percent of elementary school teachers think the behavior of pupils has become worse during the past five years. Lisa Mumford, a teacher at John McIntire with 21 years of experience, said there is a direct correlation between parents’ expectations and students’ actions.

“The difference is, 20 years ago, kids who got in trouble here got it double at home,” Mumford said. “Now I’m not so sure. These kids are crying out for attention, and good or bad — they’re going to get it here. … It seems like the kids you’re roughest on are the ones who love you the most.”

Veteran teachers are tough to come by these days. The National Commission on Teaching reported that nearly a third of all new teachers leave the profession after just three years. Locally, the teachers seem committed to seeing it through. Of the 10 teachers interviewed for this story, just a handful had been employed less than 15 years, and all of those were recent graduates.

Deterrence to  Acting Out

Gone are the days of paddling and ear pulling to deter students from acting out. Teachers are forced to use new tactics when settling disciplinary incidents. For Hilary McGee, a sixth-grade math teacher at John McIntire, the most effective method has always been to engage students and keep them motivated.

Walking around the room and talking with each student, she called out a time restriction to hurry along her class and to help inhibit competition among them. The students fell silent, intent on being the first to finish.

“They really like being challenged,” McGee said in a whisper at the front of the class. “When they’re interested, you couldn’t ask for a better group. It’s during down time that they start acting up. … If you keep it fun for them, they will keep it fun for you. They have a great sense of humor.”

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Different Approaches for Difficult Students

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