Dealing with Classroom Bullies
For the teacher who decides to deal with the class bully, there are some concepts to remember. You are dealing with this student to protect other students. You are dealing with this student because you are hired to direct the class, not someone else. You should remember that a bully has had some success in his/her actions in previous classes, or the action wouldn't be happening in your class. Also remember that bullies have a configuration that may resemble bullies from the childhood of the teacher and cause an illogical fear 'memory' that may even be subconscious. If the latter is the case, remember that you're not that little 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th grader, etc. that you were when you were bullied and that you don't look like that today... and if you don't feel like that, you won't send any 'vulnerable' messages to the bully.
Some teachers try to curry favor with bullies by appeasing them, allowing them some control of the class, or in a sad scenario enlist them in the discipline of otherwise unruly students. This type of 'discipline' consists of the class ridiculing impertinent or unruly students and usually occurs in the lower grades, but can happen in high school. For those teachers who use this method, there are better ways, and there are hazards to using this method of control.
To control bullies in the classroom, make it clear from the first day of school that you will not allow harassment in your classroom. If you make that one of your first rules, you will enlist most of the class in your support, because who likes to be harassed. See Classroom Rules for Behavior I begin my classes with an introductory speech unit and make it clear that anyone who hassles another student by being rude, a poor listener, a rude questioner, etc. will be dealt with promptly. I tell the class that they should not 'get back' at another student until I have had a chance to deal with the student, that if I don't, then they may be justified, otherwise their actions will be dealt with also. Using an introductory speech really creates teacher support for dealing with bullies and harassment because everyone needs some extra care when they are alone in front of a class. Just be very sure that when the students are done with this unit that they feel that their teacher will protect their feelings and rights. [Included in this consideration is the type of questions that your introduction asks. Make sure that the questions that you ask do not create more problems than you intend to solve.] See The Introductory Speech.
A 'side' or Equal benefit to the introductory speech for establishing discipline is its contribution to classroom learning. Once the students have introduced themselves, they are more willing to participate in class activities. They have less fear of what someone they don't know is thinking, and they have all been through a common learning experience together. Also, they know that the teacher will respect their comments, and will expect the class to do so also.
You may choose not to do an introductory speech, but you may choose to do an equivalent activity. However you begin class, deal with any harassment quickly, but calmly and not arrogantly. There are some general discipline techniques found in other articles on this page.
Part of this issue may be dealt with under Philosophies Underlying Discipline under the area of not punishing the entire class for a few students' actions.
Return to: Strategies for Classroom Discipline