The First Year Teaching: Resolving classroom conflict

By Matthew Lynch

There is bound to be some tension at some point in your classroom, no matter how organized or even how well-behaved your students. Conflict can easily arise between you and your students, or among them.

It is part of the job of contemporary teachers to ensure that their students resolve conflict without verbal or physical attacks. You will need to teach the students that open discussion and empathy are the right ways to go about resolving conflicts. Instead of punishing students, you should try to share the power with students so that they learn to work on a resolution on their own. A peer mediation system is highly beneficial as it teaches students how to resolve conflicts and help others to do so.

But what do you do when all of your proactive approaches fall flat?

Using punishment

Planning will definitely help you to minimize misbehavior in the classroom.  There will, however, always be students who will sooner or later cause problems that call for you to administer punishment.  Before delivering punishment, you will have to ensure that the student knows that they are responsible for being punished by choosing to misbehave. You might need to find the appropriate punishment for individual students because every student sees punishment differently. For example, in the case of a student who misbehaves to get the attention of his peers, if punishment achieves this objective, the student may consider this action to be a success.

One common punishment is issuing a verbal reprimand, but many students may not respond well to this, as it may not be authoritative enough to make them reconsider the action.  It may be seen as a minor consequence, and the undesirable behavior may continue. You will need to personalize student punishment to a certain extent. The best way to verbally reprimand a student is to do so in private.  When students are in private, they are more likely to listen to teachers, even admit their wrongdoings and/or honestly explain the reasons behind their actions.  With such a positive outcome, teachers can build relationships with misbehaving students so that they can be more aware and be better able to manage the classroom.

If the problem is severe or ongoing, opt for greater consequences such as loss of privileges. If this continues to be ineffective, consult the principal to discuss harsher punishments, such as school suspension. Not all students have the same opinion of privileges and that might make maintaining the fairness in punishment difficult.

Punishment tactics to avoid

Here is a list of few forms of student punishment that are not recommended, along with the reasons why they are not good options:

  • Giving extra work: It may be difficult to maintain fairness as academically-challenged students will fall behind more, and extra work can make students stay up and come to school with inadequate rest, causing their concentration levels to go down. This may contribute negatively to student performance, which could be damaging for both the teacher and student in the long-term.
  • Deducting marks: This often gives students more reasons to harbor negative feelings towards not only the subject and school, but also education itself.  Linking academics with behavioral mistakes will foster further negative attitudes and behavior in students.
  • Corporal punishment: This has been made illegal in several states and overall, this type of punishment fails to address the problem. Students’ discontinuation of misbehavior would be linked only to the fear of physical pain, and not actually an understanding of why the behavior was wrong.

You will need to remain calm and direct when delivering punishment, acting with consistency and fairness. By quickly and effectively dealing with students, you are able to portray your professionalism and move the class forward in its studies.

Check out all our posts for First Year Teachers here. 

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