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Too Rough, Too Rowdy: External Causes of Student Misbehavior

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Managing behavior in the classroom is one of the aspects of teaching that new teachers find the most frustrating. Although misbehavior is easy to identify, finding the solution to effectively deal with it by finding the root causes may be more difficult. Get to the root cause of problem behavior as soon as possible, because the misbehavior will continue and may get worse, if not dealt with effectively. Teachers should look closely into students' behaviors to find the influential factors that are shaping their behavioral patterns.

Home Factors

Students' home environments often affect behavior in school. Children model their behavior on that of their parents, and their parents are also likely to have a high degree of influence over their points of view. Students with well-educated parents are more likely to have been instilled with respect for education and the institutions and authorities that accompany it. These children will be more likely to maintain a high level of personal discipline because they see the purpose of their presence at school and understand what they will achieve if they adhere to prescribed behavior. Some students' parents expect perfect scores and may force their children to take the most advanced courses offered, against the children's wishes.

Rules and customs that are set by parents for children directly influence student behavior. Students with extremely tolerant parents, who let their children have things their way all the time, will talk back to teachers and get into trouble with other students who disagree with them. These students may struggle to understand why such behavior is not allowed at school but is allowed at home. Students who grow up under authoritarian parental guidance also exhibit classroom misbehavior, although this may be manifested in a different way. These students may show overt fear and anxiety in response to authority figures, including teachers. This may result in under-performance, lack of engagement in activities, or an inability to focus appropriately.

Poverty, among other socioeconomic factors, is cited as being a particularly important factor in understanding why students misbehave. This is not necessarily because there is a direct lack of discipline in homes affected by poverty. The impact of poverty on school behavior is a reflection of the different values present at different socioeconomic levels of society. If children are unsure of where their next meal is coming from, or can't rely on parental support (e.g., if their parents work multiple jobs), their values will be fundamentally different from those of children who grow up in homes where they have the privilege of being able to take these things for granted.

People living in poverty, and particularly those in extreme poverty, will value survival more highly than academic achievement. People living in poverty also value interpersonal relationships, which are likely to assist with survival, and entertainment, which allows them to temporarily mentally escape the confines of their situation.

Conversely, in high-income families, parents may not allow adequate time for effective parenting. Parents may be required to fly around the country, or even around the world, leaving their children unsupervised during this time, particularly once they are old enough to look after themselves.

Parents who show over-involvement in their work for any reason may also play a less active role in their children's lives. Increasingly, parents of high-income families are also providing their children with access to their credit cards. These children now have the ability to live and function as adults in most aspects of their lives, other than at school. This functional independence will influence their behavior at school and toward school authority figures.

Classroom Factors

Various factors within the classroom may also affect whether or not students behave appropriately. Good air circulation in the classroom is essential and should never be compromised, and classrooms should be neither too hot nor too cold. Students should be made as comfortable as possible in their environment, because discomfort may prompt them to engage in undesirable behavior. Observe whether or not students are seated at desks and chairs that are suited to the size of their bodies. It will be impossible to accommodate every child, but an effort should be made to do so.

Mismatches between the abilities of the students and the learning material being presented will also tend to encourage misbehavior. Students who are insufficiently challenged will display a lack of interest in various ways. This may take the form of disinterest in the teaching, or may result in disruptive behavior. It's important to adjust your teaching to make the lesson interesting to even the most gifted students in the class, while also taking into account the interests of all your students.

Conversely, students who can't grasp the material being taught, or who are being presented with material that they're completely unfamiliar with, will also be more likely to misbehave. Bear existing levels of knowledge in mind when you plan lesson content, and conduct frequent informal assessments to ensure that you understand what is appropriate for your students to be learning.

Misbehavior, however, may also be due to factors arising from the teacher themselves. In some cases, teachers aren't that they are indirectly a cause of the poor classroom behavior, making it clear why you should conduct regular self-evaluations and self-reflective exercises. As previously highlighted, continuing your professional development is important to enable you to remain in touch with effective teaching practices. There's always room for improvement to your personal teaching methods and your approach to teaching. In particular, ensure that you identify situations you're unable to cope with early, and seek assistance from other teachers, principals, or school counselors, all of whom may offer creative and innovative ways of addressing classroom behavior problems.

Strive to treat all your students with respect, as individuals as well as in terms of their cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. If you set a good example of behavior for your students, they're likely to pick up on this and treat you with respect. Avoid raising your voice or using a disparaging tone, and always ensure that you respond to students with appropriate validation where necessary. Never humiliate or embarrass your students, because this is highly counterproductive and is never in the best interest of your students.

Students may try to provoke you during classroom time. You should be able to identify these attempts without reacting to them and without losing self-control. You need to demonstrate adult methods of conflict management when dealing with your students at all times. You may be dealing with your own personal difficulties, and this may be a challenge. It's important to maintain awareness of the boundary between your duties as an educator and your personal duties. Leave your own personal frustrations outside the classroom as much as possible, and try to deal with issues in your personal life outside of school.

It's important to be clear with your students about what behavior will be tolerated and what will not, because consistency in your approach will encourage them to adhere to your requirements. Always aim to plan effectively, and avoid frequent and unnecessary disruptions to your teaching plan, because this may contribute to misbehavior by allowing students idle time. Prepare class materials and be ready to deal with any unexpected disturbances, giving students minimal idle time and ensuring that they will be adequately occupied if disruptions occur.

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The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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