Sep 12 / Joel Medley

Student Behavior and Teacher Assumptions

In this final blog on trauma for teachers and classrooms, the Stride Professional Development Center want to turn to a specific context within the classroom – your beliefs about behavior build or break balance in responding to those actions. 

Sometimes, we are guilty of making assumptions about students and need colleagues to challenge us to the core – it makes all the difference in the world.

We, as educators, imagine how perfectly our classes and lessons will move.  We anticipate students being fully engaged and everything going according to plan.  Rarely do we, in our minds, picture chaos and student misbehavior; yet, when we do, we begin to make assumptions about the students that are not living up to our expectations.

Picture a new student that joins mid-year and is more reserved than other students.  In thinking about that child, you design a lesson based upon their volcano interest and are confident it will engage them.  The exact opposite occurs.  The student explodes causing a major disruption and must be removed by administration.

During your planning period, you mention to another teacher that you had no idea this child had some “issues” as they did not appreciate your efforts to incorporate their interests.  Right then and there, they cut you off and ask two questions: (1) what belief did your statement about their behavior reveal and (2) how certain are you that your belief is correct?  You keep your ego in check, quickly change the subject, and continue with the rest of your day.

In the afternoon, those questions continue to bother you and you reach out to your grade-level administrator to see what happened.  They share the next steps and tell you something shocking – last night, the student’s live-in grandmother had a massive stroke and passed away sitting next to them as they read a book on volcanos.  Then, reality strikes – that perfectly-planned lesson, to engage the student, was an unknown trigger.

Far too often, this scenario stops when a colleague challenges our assumptions.  Unfortunately, we continue teaching and planning based upon those assumptions.  As educators, we need to explore why a student acted the way they did.  We must consider the context that led to their choices.  We need to challenge our internal beliefs about a student’s behavior.

As the school year progresses, offer students grace.  Do not take every misstep personally as a public power struggle.  Remember that actions are a form of communication, so consider what is being said and what it may reveal.  If you do that, then you are adopting a balanced approach as trauma may always be lurking in the background.

And as always, remember...