There’s a saying in football, “The best defense is a good offense”. I’ve often thought of that when I’ve watched troublesome students misbehave in classrooms. They remind me of John Bender in the “The Breakfast
Club”. You could see him go on the attack - the reason, to keep the dean off balance and keep him from saying the hurtful things he so often did to Bender. I’ve seen “good” students come out of a classroom laughing because some chronic
misbehaving student engaged a teacher so much that they never had to do any work during the period.
Think about kids who are chronic discipline problems. Haven’t they probably had a lifetime of being told and believing they
don’t live up to other peoples’ expectations, both academically and behaviorally. That’s the formula for shame. If you believe you haven’t/don’t live up to expectations, you’re more likely to imagine not doing so again in
the future. That’s the formula for anxiety. In this way, everyday events like being asked to do work you don’t think you can, or to take a test, become bigger threats than they are or need to be. To such students, a teacher initiating/conducting
a lesson plan feels like an assault on them.
So they do one of three things. They become turtles, and suck into their shells, and simply don’t do anything. Or they become a rattlesnake, coil, rattle and perhaps even strike
out. This is especially likely if the teacher does the equivalent of poking them with a stick. A third way is to go on the offensive. Force the teacher to play defense. As long as a teacher is playing defense, he/she can’t launch their offense, and what
the students finds threatening. Ultimately, the end game can be to get kicked out. That way they don’t have to do the work they find threatening, and can blame the teacher for not being able to do it – “She kicked me out of class”.
This can be an example of the “mistaken” goal of avoidance of failure. Kids know what will get them kicked out. Get kicked out, and you don’t have to risk failing.
Another way to look at this is that as long
as kids like John Bender stay angry, they don’t have to feel other emotions like shame and guilt, or anxiety, or even depression. My “Tool Time” guys would come to school, get angry and pick fights with their teachers on a regular basis.
But at night, when they didn’t have that trigger or provocation to make themselves angry, they were left with shame, guilt, anxiety and depression. It’s why they often self-medicated so much at night, and often didn’t make it to school the
next day. Or even occasionally “got high” before coming to school.
Anger gives anyone a false sense of power, righteousness, permission and protection. So the more powerless a student feels, the more they’ve
been told they’re in the wrong, the more hurtful things they’ve had said and done to them, and the more shame, guilt, anxiety and depression they struggle with, the more attractive anger will be to them – because anger will serve more purpose
in their lives.
Many use anger like they might use drugs. You can often see them do the equivalent of “shooting up”. For example, a good friend who was our dean of students would often invite me to sit in on meetings
with students regarding discipline issues. He always tried to get them to let go of their anger before trying to deal with them and knew I was good at doing that. And when they did, they would often start to tear up. Then they’d immediately rekindle
their anger to try to keep us from seeing what they perceived as a “weakness”. Anger is often like an anabolic steroid for those who feel powerless.
Unfortunately, too often, chronically troublesome students can get
teachers to unwittingly become pawns in such scenarios, and even leave a teacher thinking they had the upper hand. They can also get teachers to help them recreate their crummy pasts.
I invite you to read about the "Tool Time" approach
I've developed, and take with the most troubled and troublesome students at:
To pull this approach off with
troubled and troublesome students, it's important that teachers be able to get into the best mental and emotional place. There is an article about "Mindset" on this blog. Mindset is key to having what Dr. Robert Marzano calls "emotional objectivity", which
is crucial to dealing with students, especially the most troubled and troublesome. You can also read about "tools" I think will help teachers get there and that I believe should be given to every teacher at: