Dealing with Oppositional Students 1

This passage is from PQA in a Wink! It connects with recent discussion around Sean’s video:
PQA and the Oppositional Student
Why go to conferences, read books, spend money to learn the method, only to be undercut by one or two defiant students at the beginning of the year? It happens all the time and it is a fair question.
TPRS as a method can be represented by the image of a house. The foundation, that which holds up the method so it can work, is classroom discipline. It is not addressed enough in TPRS workshops and foundations.
Classroom discipline is integrally connected to and emerges from the idea of personalization. It is a cooperative, not a confrontive, process. In a class of thirty students, it is the sum of thirty agreements made between one teacher and one student thirty times.
However, these agreements cannot be written down. Written contracts are made and broken every day in schools. They don’t work, because the students are forced into them. Students do not enter upon written contractual agreements with a teacher out of free will, therefore such contracts must fail, as they are one-sided.
In point of fact, classroom discipline is an invisible thing. It is the result of an acceptance by the student of a feeling of unconditional positive regard from the instructor. This unconditional positive regard obviates the student’s need to act out in the classroom. As such, classroom discipline cannot be the result of threats, or negativity of any kind.
Having studied the process of creating identities for students via names and circling with sports balls, let us examine how those two skills can be used to neutralize oppositional students in the first days of each new school year.
I talked to an adult at the 2007 National TPRS conference who told me that, when in high school, he and a buddy would consciously walk into a classroom at the beginning of the year with the express purpose of “breaking” the teacher. Whether a student tries to “break” a teacher consciously or unconsciously is a moot point. The effect is the same.
Some TPRS trainers say that if you do TPRS properly, picking out and loving the oppositional child on the first day, personalizing, etc. then that will be enough to turn the key and the child will behave.
Or we hear at workshops, “If you do TPRS right, there are no discipline problems.” This is not always true. I need a system, a formula with which to deal with these students. I address such students’ behavior immediately and consciously in front of the class from the very beginning of the first class. If the oppositional behavior does not manifest for a few weeks, or even a few months, I am ready for it as described below.
Miles, who has an I.Q. of 145, never did well in school. His A.D.D. caused him to always be in opposition to his teachers. They hated him and the feeling was mutual. To Miles, it seemed like his teachers hoped he would fail, reflecting a line in an old Merle Haggard song: “Mama used to pray that my crops would fail”.
When Miles came into my classroom in the fall of 2006, I sensed that he was bringing this oppositional personality, which we can label Personality A, with him. I made a good move right away. After welcoming the students into my classroom for that new academic year, I started right in with some comprehensible input and really slow circling with Miles as the focus.
Some teachers may think that circling this early is not possible, and that the TPR phase and vocabulary building must come first. I disagree. I don’t have a few weeks to burn while Miles fires up Personality A. I must circle now.
Besides, I do focus on vocabulary building in the first week. I do BOTH vocabulary building and identity building. But if you ask me which I think is more important, I would say the latter.
In that interest, I avoid TPR at this point in the year, if there is even one Miles in the room. En masse TPR puts Miles out of his seat, and I don’t want that, because Miles has fifteen girls who need to know that he plays football and happens to be available now in my classroom.
So I prefer being the only one standing for the first weeks of class, unless I do the Three Ring Circus activity. But no Three Ring Circus for Miles. He knows why.
Together, with me taking the lead, in the first week of the year, Miles and I just set out to build another personality, Personality B, for him.
By the time we are done, Personality B feels so comfortable for Miles, so much more confortable than Personality A, that he ends up keeping it all year. Why not? What student wouldn’t want to be referred to as The Smartest Kid in the World thousands of times in a year in all kinds of PQA and extended PQA and stories and readings?
Besides, Miles knows that he can still use his other personality in all his other classes, and he also senses that Personality A is just plain not going to work in my classroom anyway.
Miles knows that it would require a tremendous psychological struggle with me, his teacher, not his friend, to get Personality A cranked up. I have given Miles every opportunity to be civil in my classroom now at the beginning of the year by treating him in a civil way.
I was happy that the Personality B that I had built with Miles suited him, but, much more importantly, I was happy that Miles’ Personality B felt comfortable to me. I was not about to embroil myself in oppositional behavior with Miles’s Personality A. I had worked far too hard at TPRS to have one kid taint all my efforts to do TPRS well in my classroom that year.
When we work with our Miles-like students in creating a Personality B, we are reflecting a truth: our students, so young and just getting started on their life journeys, are probably going to become the people whom we think they are in our classrooms, thus reflecting the old maxim: “Let me be the person my dog thinks I am.”
In fact, Personality B worked so well for Miles last year, he was such a force in class, that at the awards ceremony at the end of the year, when it was my turn to present one of the awards (for Excellence in French), I presented it to Miles, the Smartest Kid in the World and the superstar of many stories and the subject of many readings. He didn’t have the highest grade point average, but he was the best, most participatory, student and, frighteningly, seemed always about three thoughts ahead of me in the TL in class (there are kids like that).
When I presented this award, I heard hushed whispering, almost gasping, behind me on the stage. I found out later that it came from the language arts teacher and the math teacher, both of whom HAD FLUNKED Miles that year. To be clear, this and the story about Mildred below are true, with names changed.
Those teachers couldn’t believe that Miles was getting the award in French because they never knew Miles, just his Personality A. They never got to know his Personality B, which was delightful, that of a superstar and, actually, a very kind person.
Sobering, isn’t it, that our Miles are not really jerks, but good people? Miles’ parents told me later that Miles had never had any success in school, and that the only reason he went to school at all was because of my class. Otherwise, he would have been homeschooled.
How did I activate Personality B in Miles? How can you do this in your classroom?
First, refer often to their questionnaires on the first day. Ask them to respond to all of the questions carefully, to make an effort, because it will count a lot in class. Make it clear that, if you read any joke answers, you will return the questionnaire to the student and have him or her redo it, and that it is a serious matter.
Then, place the questionnaire of the student in whom you sense the most defiance, in this case Miles, on top of the stack and begin class. Formally welcome the kids into your classroom, give out a syllabus if you want, but remember that most of the kids want the syllabus about as much as they want a root canal.
Then start right in with this one student whom you have identified as a possible problem, and go. After a few days, and with the first kid thoroughly pleased with their Personality B, go to the next kid you have concerns about. Watch your discipline problems disappear, as you dance the Personality A/Personality B Shuffle joyfully on down into June.
Then start right in with this one student whom you have identified as a possible problem. In the next example her name is Mildred.



1 thought on “Dealing with Oppositional Students 1”

  1. (TPRS class discipline) “It is a cooperative, not a confrontive, process.”
    This is such a great statement! I too have heard teachers comment that if TPRS is done right, there are no problems. That just isn’t true. Students come to us with all kinds of issues and backgrounds that “show up” in our classes.
    I think we can agree, that many students do well in a TPRS classroom but some struggle to play the game with us. I try my hardest to avoid confrontation with students and when there is a conflict, I ask nicely with a smile. Some students still see this kindness as a weakness and will test the teacher. I hate that! I hate when immature students turn me into a babysitter.
    I love Blaine’s reaction to negativity and rude students. He says something like, “I can’t teach in this way when I feel bad. When you act like that, it makes me feel bad.”
    It takes the sting out of discipline and is communicating feelings about teaching and learning not making threats. Maybe someone else can rephrase what he says better than I did.
    I also have to restate the brilliance of these statements, “In point of fact, classroom discipline is an invisible thing. It is the result of an acceptance by the student of a feeling of unconditional positive regard from the instructor. This unconditional positive regard obviates the student’s need to act out in the classroom.”
    I wonder if outsiders of what we practice can understand and internalize such sentiments? This has everything to do with teaching to the eyes, an authentic human interaction. A teacher can’t be fake and stare at people everyday for 180 days in the eyes and not exchange common respect and acceptance for one another.
    I really appreciate these comments at a time those few pesky students are trying my patience. ?

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