Managing Difficult Behavior While Substitute Teaching

Handling a difficult student as a substitute teacher can be challenging. Without background on the student or an opportunity to build rapport, often, the poor behavior can quickly escalate and cause significant problems for the entire class. There are many philosophies when it comes to handling student discipline, and while they all have merit, they don’t necessarily translate well to a substitute teaching situation. Here are the four steps to take when confronted with poor behavior.

Step 1: Some students will cease negative behaviors as soon as they realize that the teacher has become aware. This can be done without even interrupting instruction. If you notice a student who is misbehaving, try correcting it by moving near the student or making direct eye contact. Proximity or visual cues are an easy way to keep control of the situation without allowing the situation to become the controlling force.

Step 2: If behavior persists, quietly address it with the student. State it in terms of your expectations for what he should be doing compared to what he is currently doing. This is a non-confrontational way to directly address the problem without giving the student an opportunity to escalate the situation.

Step 3: If steps 1 and 2 did not help resolve the issue, provide the student with a clear cause and effect description of what will happen if the behavior continues. A clear statement removes the perception of bias or personal attack and makes it easy for you to follow through should a consequence be needed. Be cautious, however, not to threaten a consequence that you are not able or not prepared to follow through with. Many substitutes find it effective to warn students that a note will be left for the primary teacher, the seat may be moved, or in some cases – the student will need to be removed from the class.

Step 4: Children can be unpredictable so it is always best to plan for all possible scenarios. In the event that a student has become so disruptive that he is affecting the entire learning environment and/or he’s at risk of injuring himself or others, then it may be necessary to remove that student from the room. If this is the case, follow the protocol that is established by that school regarding where the student should go and who you should contact. Removing a student from the classroom should always be regarded as an absolute last resort.

Don’t let a difficult student ruin an otherwise enjoyable substitute teaching experience. The steps are effective because they are progressive in nature, easy for students to understand, and maximize a commonsense approach to handling problems in the classroom. For more helpful substitute teaching tips, follow our blog or contact us!

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