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All teachers will know the sinking feeling that comes when a class is inexplicably rowdy and restless.

Occasionally, an entire class will forget their usual sense of decorum and rile their anger up to its very limits. On rare occasions, discipline problems can become chronic, and teachers will find that their students are running the show.

Knowing what to do when an entire class misbehaves cannot be easy. One route teachers tend to go down involves setting disciplinary assignments requiring them to discuss classroom expectations and to reflect on their behavior problems. This can backfire, however. The kids driving the bad behavior are also the least likely to get the work done, and they may end up getting away with their shenanigans.

Remember that you will also have to grade the essays – not an activity you want to do during your free time.

Fortunately, alternatives to the traditional ‘expectations essay’ may improve student behavior in the long term. Follow our five simple steps to handle students who are slipping out of your control:

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1. Stay calm and wait for the buzz to die down

Sitting down and refusing to engage in bad behavior will eventually unsettle your students and encourage them to quiet down. Do not be tempted to make eye contact with them. Sit down and make your displeasure known with a stern look. For tips on keeping your cool, check out this helpful article.

2. Be honest with your students

Once the noise has died down, let your students know that you are finding their behavior frustrating and challenging. Make sure, to be honest with your students. Point out that their behavior is unusual and ask whether there is anything, in particular, causing them to act up.

3. Probe a little further

It is unlikely that any students will respond to your initial question, so you may need to follow up with more questions. Ask whether something happened in a different class or whether they have had a difficult day full of important tests and assignments. Again, this is unlikely to bring many results. If a student does try to explain, tell them that you can sympathize with their position but that you will not tolerate disruptive behavior. You can then move on to the following step.

4. Set an assignment

Tell students that you want to understand the reasons for their bad behavior, so you are setting a special assignment to figure out any issues that may need to be addressed. Ask them to include the following:

  • What went wrong
  • Why was the class having so much trouble listening to instructions
  • Whether Are there any steps you, as the teacher, can take to make tomorrow’s class run more smoothly

5. Finish the class with something boring

Once you have given your class a stern lecture and have assigned the homework, tell them to get on with a boring task, such as reading grammar notes or listing equations to reiterate your displeasure. Tell them that you planned a fun activity but will only be able to do it in the next class if the assignment is completed and behavior drastically improves.

This is all you can do for one day. Once the kids have completed the assignments, read through their accounts carefully, paying particular attention to those written by students that tend to behave impeccably.

The accounts may contain some helpful suggestions. Perhaps a seating change is needed, or an incident occurred before class that needs looking into. Perhaps the students had too much candy at lunch and were hyper from all of the sugar.

Regardless of their reasons for acting up, this disciplinary technique is a great way of showing that you are on your students’ side. It shows that you are willing to solve issues with students and that you want to treat them like adults. Do not be tempted to grade the assignments, however. This will provide you with more work and is unlikely to be particularly useful in the long term.