Longtime teacher stumped by behavior of unruly 4th-graders

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I have about 12 out of 24 fourth grade students who cause issues in the classroom. They shout out whenever they wish. They will get up during a lesson and talk to each other. I have two that throw tantrums when asked to do school work. I have had many things stolen and broken. The stealing and vandalism happens when I am not looking, so I am not sure who is doing it. I have tried positive rewards such as classroom cash but it was being stolen. Grades and behavior comments do not mean anything. After 27 years in education, I am out of ideas. I have signed up for your workshop this summer but I still have 5 weeks of school. Please help! – Jessica, Bexley, Ohio

Non-educators have no idea of the level of suffering that exists for teachers who are trying to teach in this environment. Kids who are trying to learn amongst the chaos are the collateral damage in these classrooms.

Though circumstances vary, the reasons for this level of craziness are always the same: you are trying to teach by telling kids what to do and you are trying to teach without consequences. You cannot make kids do things (legally), so telling kids to do things invites tough kids to either show or tell you that you can’t control them (they are right, in any case). When you tell kids what to do and they do the opposite, and then there is no consequence for this, what you are saying to everyone in your classroom is the following:

You are allowed to do whatever you want, and I will not do anything about it.

Here are two steps that you can use in order to do a hard reset on your classroom:

1) Only tell your students how you live your life, not what you want them to do.

2) When they do not cooperate with how you live your life, create massive suffering on a wide scale.

This is how I would press Control-Alt-Delete on your classroom. Please note: I am planning on them being uncooperative.

Kid Whisperer: I will begin our lesson on improper fractions as soon as everyone is seated and all eyes are silently on me.

Kids continue talking and wandering around the room.

Kid Whisperer waits with a silly smile on his face until the 12 cooperative kids are angry at the 12 uncooperative kids.

Kid Whisperer: Oh, man. When will I start our lesson?

Kids continue talking and wandering around the room.

Kid Whisperer waits until the now 15 cooperative kids are angry at the now 9 uncooperative kids.

Kid Whisperer: (with a smile) Oh, man. Yikes. Looks like you all aren’t very good at being quiet when you are supposed to be quiet. Looks like you will have to practice being quiet. If you all can successfully practice being quiet five times before I grow tired of you all practicing, we can move on. Otherwise, we will have to practice later.

When they fail to successfully practice five times, and they will, have them come in at recess and practice, this time until they get 5 successful practice sessions in a row. Hopefully this takes several recesses.

You can do the same practice procedure with other classroom procedures. You are rebooting your classroom and retraining its inhabitants by allowing them to suffer the consequences of anti-social behavior for a relatively short period of time, instead of making everyone suffer constantly for the rest of the year.

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