A teacher places ever-increasing demands on students as a means to develop them. Proper communication is necessary when assigning tasks, but it’s also worth making expectations consistent and well-explained so that students do not rebel against them. PE teacher Sándor Rábel tells us about teacher-student conflict.

About school conflict in general

In the first part of the series, I made an important remark: my experience is limited, and these limits narrow my scope of opinions to an average high school environment. This is the extent of my competencies, even if parallels can be drawn between this environment and other stages of education. I emphasize this once again because the topic of school conflict is a very delicate one, and giving universal advice isn’t easy in this case either.

The source of teacher-student conflict

Call me a naive idealist or just lucky, but I’m sure that, with a few exceptions, teacher-student conflict stems from methodological shortcomings of the pedagogue. This doesn’t mean that students are never at fault, but that the situation that has developed must be handled intelligently by an adult, as you can’t always expect this from a child. Why? Because it’s a child. This is not contempt or degradation, but a fact. Students are at a stage of personality development where appropriate conflict prevention and management techniques have not yet been developed, and protocol knowledge is also in its infancy.

Almost any teacher-student conflict can be traced back to the teacher or the educational system trying to squeeze out performance by getting students out of their comfort zone. Getting someone out of their comfort zone isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the system would disintegrate without an educational framework and rules, and there’s very rarely a way to keep all students motivated for long periods.

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Basically, we also need to impose requirements that students must suffer through in the short term but benefit from in the long term.

Compliance with the requirements usually goes without conflict, but only if they’ve been prepared with appropriate communication and consistency.

In my opinion, these two things are the key to almost everything. As soon as a child detects inconsistencies, holes or unfairness, they become defiant.

The silent protester type

This group includes students who neither voice their problem nor get involved in direct conflict, but are unwilling to fully meet pedagogical demands. They use stubborn passivity and reduced metacommunication to make their problem felt by the teacher. They turn away and close up. Their problems are harder to notice in time, as they’re likely introverted (introspective, largely directing their energies inwards instead of towards the outside world) to begin with. But if you pay attention to your students and know them, you can quickly notice the moments that reveal their problems. They can be developed into calm, pleasant, understanding persons.

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The openly defiant type

These are students who always and immediately let you know what they think. Undoubtedly, they can create much more tense situations in an instant than the silent protester types, but at least the pedagogue immediately knows that there’s a problem. They are master provocateurs. Basically, they’re extroverted (focusing outside, largely directing their energies towards the outside world, willing to act), and thus require immediate, decisive, striking response and action. They’re fast-paced and impulsive, and they take advantage of any hesitation on the part of the teacher. With patient care, they can become the doers of tomorrow.

It would be foolish to say that every student clearly falls into one of these two categories. There is, of course, a variety of reactions depending on genetics, upbringing, experience and situation, yet these basic personality types can serve as useful guidelines.

Handling conflict

I’m a bit hesitant at this point, as this is one of the most difficult aspect of the work of a pedagogue, and we’re most diverse in our methods. Additionally, not every teacher is compatible with every student, and this requires constant adaptation.

This is another topic where you can’t really generalize, but in my experience it’s worth setting up a sequence, or if you like, an escalation plan, which, of course, can be shaped as you go if necessary.

0. I become aware of the student being defiant.
1. Depending on the situation, I either react in front of the other students or wait.
2. I take the student aside (outside of classes, during a break or in the afternoon) and ask them what the problem is.
3. I try to understand and discuss the problem, I ask the opinion of the student and even try to solve the problem if I can and if I’m competent in the matter. If the student is right, I try to accept it, but at the end of the conversation, I’ll make them aware of the expectations and behavioral standards. I let them know that next time they have a problem with me, they should turn to me instead of protesting.
4. At the end I give them a high five to show that I’m not working against them, but for them.
5. If they keep being defiant, I apply mild sanctions.
6. If they persist, I invite one or both parents and initiate a conversation with the student present. I conduct the conversation according to point 3, but at the end I make it clear that this was the last conversation.
7. If the problem still cannot be solved, it’s time for more serious consequences.
8. This is the point where a teacher’s influence is exhausted and the issue is taken over by the principal. This is a rare case, but you know, you can only „save” those who let you save them.

I stress that this is just my own technique and not universal truth.

Some teachers have many conversations with a student before any kind of sanction, some have none at all.

Some teachers rush to the homeroom teacher as soon as they have a problem with a student and expect a solution from them. The first point on their list is to push the problem over to the homeroom teacher. This is one behavior on teachers’ part that I will never understand. In my opinion, this is clear evidence of being unfit for the job. For the sake of orientation and getting to know a child’s background, of course, it’s very helpful to talk to the homeroom teacher. In fact, it’s almost mandatory. There may also be a case where the homeroom teacher simply has greater influence over the student and the subject teacher uses this influence. I don’t think having this point on your list is bad, but having it on top of your list is.

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In general, I advise to make your expectations clear and precise, and your demands consistent. Develop your own conflict handling strategy based on your experiences and the advice of your older colleagues and tailored to yourself. Make students aware of your strategy, and shape it if you need to.

If a student knows what’s coming next, there’s a bigger chance they’ll feel secure and initiate conversation with you instead of protesting.

In this world full of unnecessary stimuli and confusion, where the family background of a student is far from certain to be intact, the importance of predictability cannot be overstated!

If you liked Sándor’s article, read the previous parts of the series! Part 1, part 2, part 3.

Source of featured image: unsplash.com

Translation by Ádám Hittaller

16170cookie-checkWhen a Student Protests Against the Assigned Task – Pedagogy 101, Part 4