The English Teacher

Push/Pull Students

This article regarding student behavior and discipline issues is purposely placed with the other articles on student caused discipline problems. Yet it varies from the others because it deals with two types of students' actions that teachers may think are a discipline issue and yet may be dealt with in other ways. Teachers should be aware that when a situation is not a true discipline situation, dealing with it as a discipline problem will result in frustration for the teacher as well as the student. The two types of problem behaviors are 'push' and 'pull' behaviors, and can be dealt with by the following actions. First, when the students push' the teacher can 'pull' and second, when students 'pull,' the teacher can push.'

The first type of behavior, 'pushing,' occurs when students know more than the teacher knows about a subject, [and it is inaccurate to think that teachers will always know more about the subject than their students in an area as broad as English/Language Arts] and teachers may feel threatened, giving students an opportunity to feel superior and act disrespectfully. A teacher may send such students to the office for 'acting rudely', but the actual message is, 'make the student stop acting badly due to knowing more than I know about what I am teaching them.'

There are other more effective ways to deal with this inevitable situation. Teachers can instead give students praise for their knowledge and channel their knowledge and energy into acceptable paths. 1.) When they 'push,' you 'pull.'

'Pushing' by students means they are giving the teacher more on the topic than is wanted or can be handled 'at that moment of stress.' To defuse or de-energize the 'moment of stress' when students show, or claim to have certain further knowledge on a subject, the teacher can praise them, and ask them to later do an extra credit written report for the teacher, or report orally to the class, on their area of expertise.

The teacher might also simply ask the student what he knows, being careful not to lose control of the class to that student. The teacher might ask what other students may know about the subject to spread the influence to other students, being aware that there could be more than one opinion or 'set of facts' on the subject. Even one other student opinion takes influence from the class expert.

Later, the teacher can ask the knowledgeable student a reasonable question beyond the normal range of student knowledge about a different topic the class is studying. When this student also acknowledges a lack of knowledge on the new subject, the class realizes no one, even the class expert, knows everything. Finally, be humble and not defensive in your lack of knowledge, be willing to learn more yourself, but don't let the 'power' go from you to the 'experts.' In these ways, a teacher can 'pull' when students 'push.'

'Pulling' by the student as opposed to 'pushing,' occurs when students want more help, more tutoring, more attention, than the teacher wishes to, wants to, or perhaps is able to give at that time or at any time.

These students' actions differ from the normal student who wants help to personally progress. 'Pulling' students use this technique because they wish to gain control of the teacher and are satisfied with having the teacher do the work for them. To deal with this situation, give these students 'more' than they ask for. In other words, 'push.' Provide special tutoring after school 'on their time,' three or four times per week. Provide special ongoing, extra, and detailed attention toward their work or assignments, but do it after school, 'on their time.' Then they will draw back to 'pulling' on a level that gives more comfort to them and to the teacher. And in the future they will be unlikely to 'pull' for attention again because they are not getting the control and satisfaction that they want by means of these actions or these techniques. [Incidentally, keep a record of the help given and offered to such students, because 'pulling' students tend to scapegoat teachers, saying they are to blame for the students' lack of knowledge "because the teacher wouldn't help them."] The control of 'pulling' students allows teachers to find and help those students who will truly use and benefit from the extra help that teachers wishes to give.

Return to: Strategies for Classroom Discipline