What About Tyke? Managing Challenging Student Behavior


Tips for Managing Challenging Student Behavior

Photo Credit: Peter Eveleigh  via www.flickr.com; Creative Commons License Oct. 2012

I just wrapped up a series called Bonding With Your Students, inspired by the children’s book, Stay: The True Story of Ten Dogs.

I covered some of the basics of bonding with students and building classroom community. But what about Tyke? (See the original book review to learn more about Tyke.)

What about those kids who don’t respond to the basic bonding experiences? What about the rule-breakers? What about the kids who defy us, refuse to do their work, and don’t get along with their peers?

Today I want to tell you the story of my own “Tyke.” His name was Kevin (*not his real name of course) and he rocked my classroom management world! I was a young teacher with high hopes for my school year. I had spent weeks decorating my classroom and dreaming about all the wonderful activities I would do with my students. (Sound familiar?!) Unfortunately, the first week of school delivered a cold, harsh dose of reality.

Kevin and I didn’t get off to a good start. He was blasting through my “green-light, yellow-light, red-light” behavior plan by 9:00 AM each day. He threw his chair and ripped the pocket off his behavior chart before the end of the first week. I remember feeling upset, unsure of myself, and totally unprepared for the challenge of Kevin.

In Kevin’s defense- he had been through a lot during his childhood. I won’t share the personal details, but I will say that Dad was incarcerated. Mom was doing her best to balance full-time work, graduate school in the evenings, and parenting.

By the time Kevin got to me (repeating the grade, no less), he had a thick permanent record with numerous labels- ADHD, ODD, ED… you get the drift.

I was panicked. What to do with this kid? Nice didn’t work. Strict didn’t work. Bribes didn’t work. Threats and punishment didn’t work. He was totally tuned out, angry, miserable (and making me and the rest of the class miserable), friendless, and failing the grade for the second time.

Then I got my break. During a faculty meeting my principal announced that some local professors were looking for a teacher who needed help and support with a challenging student. Was anyone interested? I started jumping up and down and waving my hands like a maniac, “Me! I need that! Send them to ME!!!”

The professors came to meet with me. They explained that they would be spending the next six weeks observing and gathering data before they would be ready to share their suggestions. I almost passed out. Six weeks!?! That seemed like an eternity. But I was desperate, so I agreed. Thus began six weeks during which small groups of professors and graduate students would come sit in the back of my room with laptops and watch me like hawks watching a chicken coop, clicking away on their computers. It was agony, my friends. I swear it seemed endless. And while they watched, I wrangled with Kevin- trying desperately to forge a path to his heart.

Finally, the professors announced that they were ready to sit down and talk. I rejoiced but also had serious jitters. What would they say? Was I doing it all wrong? Would they be critical of my teaching?

It was one of the most helpful and beneficial meetings of my life. They praised me for the things I was doing well- being consistent, ignoring unimportant misbehaviors, praising his good behaviors (though few and far between.) They showed me a chart of Kevin’s incidents of misbehavior over the past 6 weeks.

Chart showing incidents of misbehavior before intervention

(Apparently it was normal to have the incidents start low and then spike. Children almost always act “better” when observers are in the room until they get used to it.) The professors stated that their goal was to help me find methods to permanently lower Kevin’s incidents of misbehavior.

They then gave me 3 specific suggestions for supporting Kevin and improving his time-on-task, academic performance, and general behavior. They were:

1- Increased Teacher Attention and Support

2- Intentional Movement Breaks

3- Active Student Response Strategies

This post is already long and there is a lot of good stuff in each of those suggestions. I believe they will help you gain ground with your challenging students. For the next 3 days I will break down each of those strategies and tell you what they are and how to do it. Stay tuned!

Posts in this Series:

#1- This post

#2- Tips for Working With Challenging Students: Increase Teacher Attention and Support

#3- Working with Challenging Students: Plan Intentional Movement Breaks

#4 – Working with Challenging Students: Active Student Response Strategies

#5- The Arts Save: Kevin Takes the Stage


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  1. D. Chamberlain says:

    So glad I found your site. I love it and my step-daughter is in school to be an elementary teacher.

    • I’m happy you found it too! Glad your daughter is in school to become a teacher. We always need more good ones! :-) Thanks for commenting.

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