d-money (laralikesska) wrote in badass_teacher,

Power struggles.

This past fall I student taught, had a great experience, and now I am subbing while looking for a permanent teaching job. Subbing is making me come up with all sorts of new classroom management skills I never needed in my own classroom where I had a relationship with my students. It's difficult trying to manage a class where you don't know the students and they don't know.

My specific inquiry is about how to avoid and deal with power struggles with students. I haven't encountered this too many times, but at a job the other day I had one student that pushed his boundaries as far as he could. I don't like sending kids to the detention room, so I try to use it as a last resort, but with a sub, a lot of students think there is no consequence to not listening to a sub, until you warn them that the next time you will send them to detention. Most of the time that warning works. But with this student, he would be doing one thing and I'd tell him to stop (mostly things that were distracting other students, or when the aide in the classroom told him to sweep up the (art) room to keep him busy, he was using the broom inappropriately, etc), and he'd keep doing it, and I'd say if you do it again you're going to detention. And he wouldn't do that one thing again, but he would start doing something else he shouldn't, and I'd give him a warning for that, and he would just move on to another inappropriate behavior. There were also small things, like when he was sweeping, he kept coming by me, and every time he would bump the broom into my foot and say, "excuse me" loudly. It was just small things, done for no other reason than to annoy me, but not large enough for me to kick him out of the room. I left a note about his behavior for the teacher, for him to handle however he wanted when he got back, but that didn't do much to help me through a very annoying and exhausting hour with this student.

I know he was doing it on purpose, I know he wanted to annoy me. So, how can you stop a power struggle like that from escalating? And how do you keep it from getting to you? I never show my emotions in front of the class, but I had prep/planning the next hour, and I just sat down and cried because I felt so helpless to do anything with this student. Any advice or suggestions? Thanks!
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How about saying "the next time I need to talk to you" instead of "the next time you do that" so that the message isn't change to another annoying behavior but stop being annoying period.
Great idea! Thanks for the advice.
I think the main problem might've been that you "started new" with your warnings for every new thing, that way he knew he could win simply by inventing something new. Maybe next time you could warn in a more general way - "the next time you misbehave/etc" you go into detention", or something like that?
I agree with the previous statement...never assume that a warning is only for a specific inappropriate activity. The warning is for being disruptive in general. I would start by giving the "warning look" nonverbal warning. At the second offense I would walk over to him (trying not to make a scene of it, maybe just in passing while making rounds through the room), and lean and whisper in his ear something along the lines of "this is your official warning for distracting yourself and others. This is your chance to change your behavior so you can enjoy the rest of the day. If you continue with doing these things, there will be a consequence. It's your choice how you want to spend the rest of your day." If he persists, I would move him to an isolated seat (depending on the student, being close to the teacher or being in a more remote location works best), and I would assign him some sort of age-appropriate reflection activity. Since it's a substitute situation, perhaps a letter to his teacher explaining what he has been doing, how this relates to the class rules/procedures/expectations, and perhaps even what he thinks his consequence should be. One sub I had even had a form with prompts printed up so they can just hand it to them to write on and walk away. Once he's done, I'd give him an opportunity to integrate back into class. If he's STILL acting up, perhaps sending him out is the best temporary solution. Depending on the kid, sometimes silent proximity helps...just standing right next to their desk while generally ignoring them sometimes intimidates them into stopping. No matter what, never let the class become his stage, and try not to reprimand him across the room in front of others. As soon as he has an audience, he will generally gain power. Good luck!

(I subbed for 2 years and have now taught middle school for 3 years)
I used "private islands" a lot when I subbed. If students persisted in communicating over the "moat" they were then removed.


8 years ago

First, you do show your emotions. The students know what you feel, because they read your body language, tone of voice, et cetera.

Second, never engage in a power struggle with a student. There is a series of about 15 steps that Dr. Ken Peterson at Portland State University has pioneered. I have just finished taking his class. I will type them out for you when I can and get back to you.

Yes, you will still have challenging days, but there is NO reason for you to experience this. It is *your* room and your students' civil right to a quality public education. NO ONE has the right to violate that right.

More ASAP. Friend me if you'd like to hear about my teaching quest. I'll friend you.
I really like having the mistaken goals chart around my desk so I can glance at it if I need to get myself centered and figure out whats really the problem.


although most of the things do relate to a regular classroom with a steady teacher or things to do at home, there are still a couple things that you could use as a sub, such as "Redirect by involving child in a useful task." Even just pulling the particular student aside and saying that their behavior is not working and that you two need to quickly figure out a way to make your class time work for both of you so that they can still be silly and have fun (or meet whatever goal they have in mine), that you can stay sane and that the other kids are not being distracted. I've had kids come up with easy solutions in a matter of minutes and it turns the rest of the class period totally around.
There's definitely some ideas in this chart that I can use--Thank you!
Sometimes it helps to frame very specific, positive expectations -- for example, "Everybody needs to be in his or her seat and working quietly."

When you've stated that expectation up front, you're not getting into a separate argument about each choice the child makes; you can simply

- restate ("Remember, you need to stay in a seat" "Honey, you're talking and everyone needs to be quiet")

- offer choices ("you need to be working; do you want to start the homework and then come back to this?" "you need to be in your seat; would it help you to move to the front?")

- and if the problems continue, insist ("I'm willing to remind you twice more to solve the problem. You need to be in a seat, working, and quiet. After that, we'll need to solve the problem another way by calling your parent/ asking you to stay after class/ asking another teacher to come sit with you.")

Deleted comment

Okay, now I have time.

First, stop trying to hide your emotions. Doing so only damages you while telling the students they control you, which they do, as of now.

Second, take their control away. You are not being paid enough to take that kind of stress. Your good students are having their civil right to a quality public education violated. And it is your responsibility to protect that right. Here's how:

Students know teachers are busy managing entire classes, and they use this against teachers. They blend in the crowd. The key is to take that away from them by getting them alone, one on one.

Take this young man. He wants attention and you give it in front of the whole class. No. After one or two warnings for any student, it's time to have a private consultation. You say:

"Johnny, can I talk with you a minute? Thanks. You know, when you ____ [action], it disrupts the class, makes the lesson go badly, and that makes me angry. Then I call you out. Today I had to call you out more than once, for ___ and ___. What happened? What's going on with that?"

Listen to his side of it.

Then say:

"I know you don't want me to keep calling you out, and I can't have disruptions in my classroom. So what can we do to solve this problem? What are your ideas?"

Listen. The more reasonable the idea is, the more time you give it, thus:

"Okay. I like that idea. Let's try that. You do X for Y days [1-2 for bad ideas, more for good ones], see how it goes, then I'll check back in with you on [day] and we'll compare notes. Okay? Good."

Then let him go back to his seat.

The problem is this is all ideal for a regular teacher. For a sub, it's got to be:

1. "Can I talk with you a minute? You know, when you talk out of turn or goof off during class, other students get distracted, that makes the lesson go badly, and that makes me angry." Depending on the demeanor you convey from the first moment, that should be enough to make them think and act differently.

The key, in all circumstances, is to remain calm and relaxed. Do not let them yank your chain. Do not engage in battles. Remember: one or two gentle reminders ("Johnny, not right now." "Maria, eyes up here. Thank you.") and then private consultation. Disarm your opponent.

"Jimmy, I see you brought out your cell phone in class again, after I asked you not to do that yesterday. What were you thinking?"

"Um . . . I don't know."

"I'll tell you what: you thought you could get away with it, didn't you? Yeah. Or perhaps you weren't thinking at all. So . . . did you get away with it?"


"Do you still think you'll get away with it?"


"That's right, you won't. So what are you going to do differently next time?"

"Not use it."

"Good. Who's your favorite teacher?"

"You are."

"Yes, I am."

Then, if he does it again, you problem-solve, as above. If that doesn't work, there's more of a track record. More ASAP.


8 years ago


8 years ago


8 years ago

I just give a general warning. If he acts up again, he's already had his warning - it doesn't matter if it's a different form of acting up or not.
Everyone--thanks for the great advice and ideas! I think this is really going to help!!