The Negative Consequences of Engaging in Power Struggles with Your Students

If you have been following my work, you know I spent 7 years a K-12 teacher and 7 years as a university professor, eventually becoming the dean of a school of education. As a teacher, I was passionate about helping students reach their academic potential and become productive citizens. As a professor and education dean, I was devoted to developing the next generation of teachers and education administrators. For the last two and a half years, I have been an education entrepreneur, launching an education company, Lynch Educational Consulting, which also manages the following web properties: The EdvocateThe Tech Edvocate, and Edupedia.

However, I often miss being in the classroom, and when I do, I usually channel this energy in an article, resource, or project that will benefit educators everywhere. This time I decided to create a series of case studies that are meant to help pre-service teachers get a glimpse into the problems and issues that they will encounter in the field. These case studies will also give them a chance to reflect on how they can use each scenario to inform their own practice. Let’s get started.

In most classrooms, most of your students will comply with your directives. However, there usually a few rebels that will try to test limits, and in the process, test your patience. How you respond to this power struggle will affect your relationship with that student for the rest of the school year. To find out what the negative consequences of engaging in power struggles with students can be, read the case study below, entitled “Out of Control Classroom.” Afterward, reflect on the questions below, using your thoughts to shape your own practice.

  1. Was Amy right in her decision to give the student an ultimatum of either following her rules or leaving the class?
  2. How should she have handled the situation? Think of other ways Amy could have dealt with this student’s misbehavior.
  3. Should she have disciplined all three students or just one? If all three students, as a group or individually?

Out of Control Classroom

When Amy entered her classroom, she saw students running around. She told the students to take their seats and quiet down. Most complied with her directive. However, three students continued to talk and sit on top of their desks. After making one more general appeal for quiet, Amy directed her attention solely to those three students.

“I have already asked the class to sit down and stop talking,” she said. “You three are the only ones who are refusing to listen.”

One of the three students laughed and said, “I’m sitting, aren’t I?” and went back to talking with his friends.

Amy, getting more annoyed, said, “If you don’t want to be in the class, you may leave now.”

“Oh, can we? Hey, class, the teacher is dismissing us early today. Let’s go!”

The class started to get noisier, and the impudent student continued to talk. The other two students who were sitting on their desks became quiet and were clearly deciding if they should take their seats or not.

Amy then said, “With that attitude, you will never learn anything. Since you cannot follow directions, you should leave.” The students finally sat down, though the main troublemaker kicked his chair while doing so. For a few minutes, he mumbled expletives. Though he did not speak up during the rest of the class, he also did not pay attention. Amy was quite satisfied that the whole class remained silent for the rest of the class.

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