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Five Pesky Classroom Behaviors I Don't Allow

As a new teacher, I was concerned with the important things—lesson planning, student learning, and building relationships.  I wasn’t an “old school” teacher who sweated the little things (Yes, I was totally trying to be “cool”.)  As long as students were engaged, I was happy. Some of you are probably laughing at me as you read this, because you know I was naive to think that small behaviors in the classroom have no relationship to student learning. I gradually figured out how to sweat the small stuff in a way that still seemed to put important things, like student learning, first.

Here are five pesky behaviors I’ve decided aren’t allowed in my eighth grade classroom.  They are not “rules” I post on the walls.  I deal with most of these behaviors as they come up. However, I make sure to explain to students why they aren’t appropriate for the classroom environment, so I don’t seem arbitrary or overly controlling.  Because I've arrived at my position based on experience, I am very confident in my authority on these small matters. A calm, authoritative tone that shows the matter is not personal is key to shutting these behaviors down before they become issues.  

1. Loud entry into class.  In most schools, students tend to be loud in hallways. Hallways and classrooms, however, are two distinct spaces, with very different functions.  The way students enter the classroom sets a tone for themselves and their classmates for the period.  What’s the tone of an ideal learning environment? I ask students.  How does it feel?  It might be happy and upbeat, but it needs to have space for quiet thinking as well.  Shouting as one enters a classroom doesn’t create the tone of the learning environment we want. Whether you require a silent entry or just a calm one, it’s worth having some talking points prepared when students test the boundaries. 

The quiet entry can become a tempting moment for an attention-craving adolescent to claim as his or her own.  Find ways to give a student like that some attention at the start of class that won’t disrupt the environment, such a classroom job (watering the plants, passing out notebooks, etc.) or an energetic high five. 

If a student has anxiety about the class (for academic or social reasons), shouting to a friend across the room and creating a disturbance is a way to deflect that feeling.  The student puts everyone's attention on the teacher—testing your authority and character through your reaction.  For this reason, it’s especially important not to show anger toward the student, as annoying as the behavior may be, because this will get in the way of you and the student addressing the underlying problem.  Sometimes, showing that you won’t “dislike” the student for this behavior, but you will redirect him or her actually solves the problem, because you’ve begun to gain the student’s trust. In other cases, additional problem solving will be necessary (not in that moment, but later).

2. Leaving backpacks on during class. Some students seem to have anxiety parting with their book bags during class. Students have various reasons for this—some are conditioned to protect their property by keeping it close at all times.  Some adolescents feel physically awkward, and keeping their backpacks on makes them feel less exposed (same goes for coats in the winter time, even if it’s warm enough in the room).  Either way, I have found that this small behavior sends a message to the group that the student is not fully present in the classroom.  The student is uncomfortable for some reason.  

On the first day of school, after students enter, I’ll publicly ask them all to remove their bags and put them on the backs of their chairs or on the floor, “if you haven’t already.” If a student clearly hears me, but doesn’t follow this direction, I will try to address it with him or her individually, rather than having the interaction in front of the class, because the reasons for this behavior are not always simple.  However, I won’t bend on the rule—just try to find a solution that the student feels comfortable with.  Often, simply acknowledging the student's perspective is enough to earn the student's flexibility. (“I understand that your bag is your property and you want to keep it close, but I can’t bend on this rule.  What I can do is make sure no one feels like they can touch your belongings.”)

3. Sitting with book bags on laps during class.  The reasons for this behavior also vary.  Some students want to keep their book bag out of reach of other students and don’t want the bag to get dirty resting on the floor.  However, students often want to rest their bag in their lap so they can slickly check their phone and send some texts during class.  That is a distraction for them and others, so I definitely don’t allow it.  Again, if a student is defiant about the placement of the bag, I’ll try to address it privately in the beginning of the year to figure out what’s going on; however, once we’ve established the expectation and discussed any obstacles, I’ll be very strict on this.                                                                                                                                                                          

4. Grooming during class. This is one of my biggest classroom pet peeves! Whether it’s boys obsessively brushing their short haircuts, or girls trying to do one another’s hair or put on make-up during class, grooming can easily become a big distraction.  The next thing you know, someone takes out lotion for their dry hands and four other students suddenly “need” lotion. Then it somehow spills all over another student’s desk. I could actually go on and on about the chain reactions that a little innocent grooming can create in the classroom… but I won’t.  

So, grooming is not allowed in class.  My message to students about this? We need to arrive to class ready to focus on learning. Any emergency grooming must be dealt with in the bathroom.  Most things are not emergencies though.  I explain this by describing the expectations for behavior in the professional world.  Brushing your hair during a business meeting makes you look unprofessional.  Doing your nails in a work meeting might even get you fired!

5.  Eating during class.  This is sometimes a tough one for me to enforce. I feel for the student who arrives to school in the morning hungry, because she didn’t have time to eat that egg and cheese sandwich before the first bell, because the line at the corner store was too long.  I do understand this.  I have also been known to occasionally eat something during class.  However, eating easily turns into a distraction, because kids want to share with each other.  The intention is great, but conflict will quickly arise when there isn’t enough for everyone.  And this will distract students from their work.  

Even worse, if word gets around that you allow eating in your classroom (while most other teachers don’t), students will start bringing food specifically to eat in your class.  The next thing you know, everyone will know that Tommy brings chips to English class and everyone will start making excuses to walk past Tommy’s desk.  Tommy loves the attention and starts bringing lots and lots of bags of chips, and the focus of your students has quickly drifted far from academics.

Every now and then, if a student asks to eat some of his sandwich and he looks really hungry, I’ll tell him he has 30 seconds to discreetly eat whatever he can of his sandwich, and that’s it.  This usually takes care of any real hunger emergency.  (Diabetic students have special privileges when it comes to eating.) If I eat something, and students catch me, I make a joke of it, exaggerating the unfairness of it. “Sorry guys. I’m the only one who gets to eat in here! I can eat, and you can’t, and that’s because I’ve already graduated 8th grade. One day, you can become a teacher and eat in class whenever you want...” This seems to work with middle school age students, in part because they know I’m not a power-tripping kind of teacher, so it’s funny to see me mocking my own “abuse” of power.  

What pesky behaviors do you disinvite to your class?  Since my experience is with middle school students, what “small stuff” do you sweat or forget for your age group?

 

 

21 Comments

Sandy Merz commented on August 16, 2013 at 6:18pm:

Perfume and Cologne

I have no problem with kids learning to wear fragrances. It's one of the cool things about growing up.  But when they put in on in class, it's too much.  Plus a kid with asthma had a major attack once after someone sprayed themselves.  So I'm always a little freaked about it.

But here's a funny story.  One day in the last period it was real obvious that someone had sprayed a lot.  I was kind of getting after them and thought it was a female scent so I was mostly talking to the girls.  They claimed it was Mario and he admitted it and said he was sorry but liked to wear a lot to "bring the girls in."  Everyone nodded.

I told them they had it backwards.  If you want to bring someone closer the trick is to just put on a little scent and then they have to get closer to smell it.  My goodness, the eyes opened up, the "OOOOOH's," echoed and all the girls were imitating themselves putting on fragrance, "I'm like..." and they'd pretend to spray about 10 times. 

I guess they went from crayons to perfume that day - do you get the reference?

Ariel Sacks Ariel Sacks commented on August 16, 2013 at 6:24pm:

Love it!

Thank you for the story, Sandy!  What a great teaching moment ;) I know I will have occasion to steal your line this year  It's so much fun to work with adolescents, isnt't it?  It's funny how writing about the annoying behaviors is getting me excited for thenew school year!

Sherlyn Laurelli commented on August 16, 2013 at 11:10pm:

The wrong word

I also teach middle school, and over the years I have learned to pick my battles. The one thing that just unnerves me is the phrase "shut up". The get angry with them until I explain why I detest it. I explain that when they tell someone else to shut up they are saying that what the others have to say doesn't matter. In my classroom, everyone matters.

Deb commented on August 23, 2013 at 10:09pm:

The "Door Slammer"

The term 'shup up' is an immediate Door Slammer in our 8th grade hall, and requires an apology quickly.

Brianna Crowley commented on August 17, 2013 at 4:30pm:

The High School Student...

...can be a different beast altogether, but I find myself nodding to your rules about bags and personal grooming. These irritate me to no end, but I had never thought about making it an explicit "no compromise" rule for myself. Thanks for giving me some internal processing to do about what my "no compromise" behaviors will be for this year. 

One thing I am notorious for in my class is not letting my students use the words "gay,"  "retarded," or "girl" (as in "stop being such a girl...") as derogatory words in my classroom. My standard phrase is "Don't use that word in that way in my classroom," and by the end of the year, they finish the phrase before I do. I'm surprised how long it takes for them to self-monitor since I would expect none of my colleagues to tolerate these words, but the students seem genuinely surprised when I make  a "big" deal about it. Anyway, it's my "no-compromise" rule for myself. 

Thanks for the great discussion starter!

Marsha Ratzel commented on August 18, 2013 at 9:18am:

Ops....I allow eating!!!

Dear Ariel,

Loved your list except for one thing....eating in class.  Instead I'd substitute the long-winded excuse about why you don't have your homework.

 My school starts at 7:45am and loads of kids come to school hungry because they didn't eat breakfast.  Our lunch time isn't until 12:40 and that is a really long time to be hungry.  I do allow eating but I have parameters within which the eating has to take place---it is a healthy snack and it  doesn't become a distraction.  Quickly students learn to stay within those boundaries.

The except is lab days.  I don't allow eating on days when we are working on a lab because there's lots of equipment, sometimes chemicals and always lots of "stuff" to manage.  Food gets in the way.

What I'd substitute is the story behind why you don't have your HW.   So many students routinely don't do HW and have amazing stories (you wouldn't believe what happens to these people) about why HW didn't get finished.  I like to tell students that if they are having trouble with HW on those unpredictable and nonrecurring basis, they should write me an email that evening to let me know what is happening or they should drop by my room before school starts to explain what happened and make arrangements.  

I guess my bottom line is that if you didn't do it, OK, just own it and don't try and rationalize it.

Great conversation.

Carrie Kamm commented on August 20, 2013 at 12:51pm:

Will share this!

I am sharing this with my middle school team today-thanks!

Rob Kriete commented on August 20, 2013 at 2:18pm:

Audible Yawns

As a middle school teacher beginning my 20th year in the classroom, I appreciate the "pesky behaviors" you curb in your students, and I reinforce all of the those ideas about which you wrote.

One pet-peeve of mine that middle schoolers seem to enjoy is the audible yawn.  Always at the worst time of a lesson a teenager will thrust two arms in the air as if they were on a roller-coaster and howl a raucous yawn. There have been instances wherein I thought there was a Wookie in my classroom!  Therefore, I cover this "peeve" under my "Be polite" classroom rules and remind them that if the assignments we do are so easy that they induce audible yawns, I need to increase the challenges!

Kristine Boydstun commented on August 20, 2013 at 7:16pm:

Audible Yawns!

Rob, this is one of my biggest pet peeves, also!  It never fails that while I am trying to hear someone ask a question from the back of the room (always the person with the quietest voice) someone will yawn to loudly I cannot hear what is being asked.  It never ceases to amaze me that students don't get why this is rude!  If it continues after we've talked about it, I do give consequences.  Thanks for sharing!

Carla Beard commented on August 20, 2013 at 8:45pm:

No gum. None. Seriously.

Almost immediately I realized that I couldn't allow students to have gum. It was simple: gumchewers distract me no end. I always apologize about the rule and tell my students that every OTHER rule has a solid basis in education, but that the gum rule was just my personal preference. (No, I don't chew gum myself. Maybe once a year.)

An unexpected benefit became obvious quickly, though. If I have a student who really needs to act out, all s/he has to do is chew gum. They chew; they get in trouble: mission accomplished. If that's all it takes to get in trouble (so to speak -- it's not like they get detention -- they just have to get rid of it), my classroom tends to be lively but under control.  

 

Vicky Tusken commented on August 21, 2013 at 6:51am:

Extension on eating

I agree with you about the eating in class.  I have a slightly different take, however.  There are some teachers in my building who give out treats and candy at the end of their teaching periods.  Also some kids swap treats when in the locker bay.  My rule is if they want to eat those treats in my room, they have to have enough to share with the entire class.  

Patrick H. commented on August 21, 2013 at 9:20am:

Head down

I rarely allow my students to put their head down, explaining to them that if I allow them to put their head down in class, it shows that I don't care about their education. It's a bit of contorted reverse psychology -- wait, it looks like you don't care about me when put my head down? -- and they'll sit there and puzzle it out for a moment before the meaning dawns on them, but they usually get it, and understand and, in the end, appreciate it, and it sets a professional tone for the classroom, something I really strive for. Exceptions include if the student is obv. sick, or if we're doing silent reading or journaliing or something. 

 

 

 

Kkbrown2 commented on August 21, 2013 at 1:03pm:

Class rules

The public schools in our county keep bags in lockers as a safety measure. Students come to school, go straight for their locker, unload and get what they need for classes. At the end of the day, they pack their bags to hit the bus. After Columbine--no bookbags in class (middle school level). Purses are allowed, yet if they carry books within them then the purse is seen as a book bag and must be returned to locker.

About entry into class--directions are on the board so student know work begins fast.

Susan Graham commented on August 21, 2013 at 7:14pm:

Workplace Rules

As a  middle school Career and Technical Educator, one of the overarching program expectations is workplace readiness. My classroom is a workplace. Therefore:

In the workplace any language that might be sexually or racially offensive may be defined as harrassment. It can cost you your job and your employer a law suit. It is not tolerated. Period. No warnings. No exceptions.

Behaviors that put you, other workers, or equipment at risk are not acceptable. If someone gets hurt, the workplace gets shut down. (Especially important in a classroom that has fire, knives, power equipment, pins and scissors.) Workers who put themselves or others at risk will be temporarily assigned to a desk job to be retrained on workplace safety standards. 

"Nah", "Nope", "Yeah", "Uhuh", "Yo", Huh?", are not words and therefore not acceptable workplace language. "Yes" and "No"are.

Say "Please", "Thank you" and "Excuse me." It would be nice if you do it because you care about others, but even if you don't, it is expected in the workplace. Employers care about basic good manners because they eliminate friction and make the workplace more efficient and productive.

"Yes, ma'am" and "No, ma'am" are not required, but realize that they sometimes helpful. They can be the difference between  a mistep or a confrontation, or being percived  as assertive rather than aggressive.

If you feel you have been treated unfairly by me as your supervisor, see me privately. I promise to hear you out and try to resolve the issue. No employer wants to lose a good worker. But do not expect me shut down the workplace and resolve the issue on the spot.  And please realize that complain to your co-workers rather than coming to me is not likely to result in positive changes. 

Nobody likes everything about their job. Accept that some parts are less interesting or rewarding than others. Try to remain positive. If you can't be positive, consider trying to avoid being negative. (Which means please don't whine, sigh, complain, roll your eyes or make that "Uhhhh" middle school noise.)

Everybody has bad days at work. When you have one, put it behind you. I will too. Tomorrow is a new day.

QUESTION FOR MYSELF:

Are my decisions and interations as a classroom manager motivating and expediting the workplace performance of  my students?

Does my classroom workplace produce a learning product that has measurable marketplace value to students, parents and the community?

 

 

 

 

 

Jacque Fisher commented on August 25, 2013 at 6:04pm:

Crumpling Paper

Yep, that's my pet peeve: We are in writing workshop, everyone is in their "writing zone," and suddenly someone crumples a piece of paper. It's like a gunshot! NO crumpling paper--ever--in my class! Instead, I tell them to fold the paper in half and recycle it at an appropriate time. Seems to work.

Jan commented on August 25, 2013 at 8:23pm:

Lit/Language Arts

I generally see this annoying behavior with boys -- they take their pens apart in class and lay the pieces out on their desks. Then when it is time to write, they have to spend 10 minutes putting their pen back together!  I let my students know that this is a distraction to their learning.  I remind them that if they "perform surgery" on their pen in my class, they run the risk of me taking it away from them.  This usually nips it in the bud!

Denise commented on August 28, 2013 at 9:46pm:

FACS

SOOOO glad to see someone who agrees with me on these! I teach home ec, so the kids just for some reason assume that they'll be allowed to constantly snack, especially because so many "non-foods" teachers allow them to in class. Nope! It's enough work making sure the kitchens are properly cleaned after each lab, not going to do the Battle of the Ants in the general work areas!

Last year I had a lot of people - primarily girls - sulk about my no bags/no purses at the desks rule, but oh well. The less than covert texting was one of my main reasons; also keeping aisles clear in a tight room, not to mention that pretty much anything they pulled out of their purses was going to create some kind of distraction.

And oh, the grooming. Yeah, so much fun to be in the kitchens and see a hair "tumbleweed" roll on by. Or the nauseous after-scents of nail polish, etc.

Thank you for holding strong over these not so little pesky things!

Brielle Erazo commented on October 6, 2013 at 1:33pm:

Backpacks

I read this blog right before the school year started, and decided to try out your rule about not having backpacks on desks or in laps.  In addition, I have asked students to remove their non-uniform sweatshirts and hang them on the back of their chairs with their bags.  Of course, I started this day 1 and with a big smile.  I have to say thank you, Ariel, because this has pretty much eliminated any problems with uniforms and phones during class.  The classroom looks and feels like students are ready to learn.  

Kevin Dooley commented on November 3, 2013 at 3:26pm:

R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

Here are rules for my classroom, which contain anti-pet peeves:

RAISE YOUR HAND before speaking or getting out of your seat!

EVERYTHING should be KEPT to YOURSELF! NO passing of notes. NO touching others or others’ property. NO throwing anything. NO leaning in chair.

SILENCE when teacher or others are speaking OR when called for! Always use POSITIVE and APPROPRIATE language.

PERSONAL ELECTRONIC DEVICES are NOT ALLOWED.

EATING or DRINKING is PROHIBITED without consent, especially GUM!

COME PREPARED with necessary MATERIALS, READY to LEARN.

THROW AWAY TRASH AFTER CLASS and CLEAN YOUR AREA!

I definitely follow-up by stating consequences.

Viola Hilliard commented on March 20, 2014 at 10:30pm:

Sustainable Study Environment

Indeed I believe it is the "small stuff" that is important to create a rewarding study atmosphere. While there are many new rules one can make against "pesky behavior", it is nearly impossible to cover them all. Where Ariel said:

"I ask students. How does it feel?"

I think she nailed it right there. While rules are important, it is equally important to understand, observe them and discover them by the students themselves. This promotes an atmosphere where students start to create an amazing study environment for themselves. This could be called a sustainable method :) Thank you for sharing your interesting views. bw, Viola.

Petrina Puhl commented on March 22, 2014 at 11:08pm:

I teach high school.

I have many of the same rules no gum, food, drinks, inappropriate language, no hitting, no hats, etc.  My warning phrase is "don't make mother yell."  Many of my more troublesome boys call me mom and are truly stars in my classes.

I have a more important rule for myself.  I make sure they know how much I care about them and their futures.  Every day as they leave I tell them I love them and I want to see them all tomorrow.  

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