No matter how carefully they’re constructed, teacher-ed programs cannot fully prepare you for your first year in the classroom. You just have to experience it, eat a few mistakes, and make adjustments until you figure it out. That said, life is easier when you understand one very important fact:
Kids’ behavior is not about you.
You have to address disrespectful behavior, but how you address it is up to you. When one of my students does something out of character, I find out what’s going on before I respond.
Several years ago, a boy walked into my room, sat down, and started talking. When I told him to get started on his bellwork, he dropped an f-bomb on me.
I asked him to come chat with me in the hall, where we had the following conversation:
ME: That wasn’t really about me, was it?
ME: What’s wrong?
KID: Just some stuff I’m dealing with.
ME: Can I fix it?
ME: Do you want to talk about it?
ME: Can you settle down if you come back to class, or do you need me to write you a pass somewhere so you can cool off first?
KID: I can settle down.
ME: OK. Now, you know if the rest of the class thinks you got away with dropping an f-bomb, they’ll all start doing it, and it’ll be anarchy — so I need you to go back in there looking contrite, like I just yelled at you.
KID: (Grinning) I got you.
I never had another minute’s trouble with that kid. By remaining calm and modeling appropriate behavior, I showed him I cared about him, which was what he needed most.
Sometimes kids will confide in you; sometimes they won’t. Over the years, I’ve heard about breakups, pregnancy scares, incarcerated parents, illnesses, stillbirths, and umpteen other tragedies. In every case, that conference in the hall tempered my response. Sometimes kids need help. Sometimes they need a good cry. Sometimes they need a hug. Your response will depend on the need — but you can’t know the need if you don’t ask.
It also helps to have a place unhappy kids can hide. Mine was the library. The librarian and I were good friends, and if I sent kids to her, she’d find them a quiet corner and let them cry in peace.
Kids are not adults, but sometimes they have to deal with adult problems. It’s not reasonable to expect them to respond maturely and sensibly every time. It is, however, reasonable to expect that of yourself — and the more you can do it, the fewer discipline problems you’ll have.