Defusing The Blowups: Get A Little Help From Your Friends

By Steven Simpson, Ph.D.

We have all had a student get out of control during class. It is not fun. Your heart starts racing. Your hands get shake.

The class is full of big eyes looking at you, waiting to see what you do when faced with real trouble.

One solution that always seems to work well is to follow the venerable advice of John Lennon and Paul McCartney- get a little help from your friends.

I learned this technique from a wise old principal, and have used it about once or twice a year since then. The idea is to find a quick, but humane way to get an out of control kid to leave your class. Once a student blows up, that student must leave so you can restore order and continue teaching your lesson.

Sometimes it is possible for you to talk a student down. A teacher gets a lot of mileage out of a calm demeanor and even tone of voice. You staying calm helps the student regain control and calm down too. However, there are times when that does not work. No matter how gentle you may be in asking for compliance, there are times when a student can't or won't comply.

Generally, this kind of situation starts with some form of disturbance. A student will be doing something like talking or throwing something. It may involve a disagreement over something you say to the class, or you changing a student's seat. It can be anything, but almost always it involves a student challenging your authority in front of the rest of the class.

So there you stand, the center of attention, and 25 kids waiting to find out if you are tough enough to meet this challenge.

You do all the right things. You stay calm. You ask the student to please go out in the hall so you can discuss the situation. You are great. Unfortunately, it doesn't work. The student refuses to behave and refuses to leave the classroom. Open war has been declared and something has to happen.

What you need is a way to get your challenger out of the classroom. You can have the conversations later, but right now you need to regain control of your classroom. You can't physically remove the student, so try something else. Walk over and pick up the phone. Call an administrator- any administrator- to your classroom.

When that person arrives, ask quietly (so the class cannot hear what you are saying) to have the student removed from your class. The administrator will simply ask the student to come with him or her.

I have used this many times and have never seen it fail. The student always leaves quietly with the administrator. You are then free to regain control of your class and continue teaching.

This technique gives the student a way to leave class without losing face. It eliminates the pressure of the student's challenge of your authority. You don't have to deal with the challenge and the student does not have to follow through on the threat.

The student does what you wanted, that is, leaves the classroom. Later you will write up an incident report and have the discussions with the administrator and the student, but for that moment you regain control of class without yelling or an escalation of the conflict. It also resolves the conflict in a way that allows the student to return to your class later without embarrassment or the need for additional acting out.

If you do not have a telephone, send a trusted student to the office with a note saying, "I need an administrator in my room immediately." If you need help faster than that, send a trusted student to the room of the nearest experienced teacher. Whatever the details of your conflict, you almost always will be able to calm things down and get the upset student out of the room if another adult arrives.

It may be useful for you to discuss this at a faculty meeting so all of your options are explored. You will find administrators more than willing to help.

If your school has security personnel, as many schools do these days, you should involve them in the discussion. Discussing problems like this in advance is very helpful because when the blow-up happens, even the most experienced teachers will feel the tension and be upset.

There are few things more beautiful to classroom teachers than watching another experienced, calm adult walk in the door when you need a little help from your friends.

Dr. Steven W. Simpson, is founder and CEO of Simpson Communications, Box 325, 7829 Center Blvd. SE, Snoqualmie, WA 98065.

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