Ways to Handle an Unruly High School Class

Making behavioral expectations clear can prevent class disruptions.
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Squealing desk chairs, shouts echoing across the walls and students who spend more time playing with their smartphones than listening all make up the challenging experience of an unruly high school class. When dealing with difficult teenagers, you might be tempted to turn your classroom into a dictatorship, or even give up altogether. Clear communication and classroom management, though, can bring civility and organization to the most challenging classes.

1 Make Expectations Clear

Putting your class rules in writing and discussing them on the first day can immediately make your expectations clear. Set policies for classroom etiquette, including use of cellphones, talking during lessons, appropriate language and classmate respect. Establish clear consequences that keep students in class rather than sending them to the hall or office, such as docking their grades or removing them from class activities. To hold students accountable for their behavior, try having them sign a contract acknowledging that they've read the rules and agree to follow them. If problems arise, showing them the contracts with their signatures can remind them of this agreement.

2 Reassess Your Methods

You might be tempted to blame the toxic environment on the students, but your own classroom management might actually be part of the problem. Martin Henley, professor of education at Westfield State University, says instructors who don't regularly evaluate their methods' effectiveness can contribute to a chaotic atmosphere. If you're regularly disorganized, fail to state clear objectives for lessons and don't show enthusiasm for the subject, students can have a harder time seeing the class's importance. Making clear lesson plans, setting daily goals and establishing a class routine can all positively change how your classroom functions.

3 Avoid Reactive Behavior

Your expectations and etiquette rules will be most effective if students observe you following them as well. Because much adolescent unruliness comes from brain development and a tension between finding respect from adults and seeking independence, controlling your own behavior in challenging situations will assert your authority. By contrast, visibly reacting to student behavior gives them their desired response: creating disruption. Practicing enthusiasm, positivity and respect for all students promotes the conduct you expect from them. Even small actions like starting and ending class on time demonstrate your respect for students, often deterring unacceptable behavior.

4 Get a Little Personal

It's easy for students to feel anonymous and disconnected when you don't know their names or take an interest in them as people. Take time to learn not just the names on your roster, but their hobbies, interests and backgrounds. As you're waiting for students to arrive, engage them in conversation about how their day has been. While you may be reluctant to share personal information with students, Fayetteville Community College also advises that sharing relevant details about yourself can make you approachable and trustworthy to students. Learning about your life outside of school shows them you're human, which can decrease hostile behavior.

Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.