What’s a Teacher to Do? Hypothetical Situations in the Classroom
One of the many challenges teachers face is classroom management. The Glossary of Education Reform (2014), identifies classroom management as the wide variety of skills and techniques that teachers use to keep students organized, orderly, focused, attentive, on task, and academically productive during a class. Unfortunately, earning a teching degree cannot possibly prepare graduates for the breadth of difficult situations they might encounter during their career.
In fact, all teachers, regardless of grade level or years of experience are tested when it comes to making decisions regarding classroom management issues. What works for one teacher in one school, district, or state may – or may not – work for another. We spoke with teachers from around the country to get their perspective on how to handle a variety of common scenarios.
Hypothetical Situation No. 1
A teacher reads a student’s journal entry and discovers that some students are making comments about a female student on a social media site. According to the contents of the journal, the comments are rude and suggest unsavory conduct on the part of the student. The student expresses fear in the journal entry because a confrontation is expected.
“If the journal entry was a part of a class assignment I would make written comment on the journal entry considering propriety. I would check the social media site and address the contents. Depending on the comments and conduct, I would act according to my school and state's mandatory reporting requirements. Bullying must and should be addressed and taught at all ages in appropriate ways. Teachers can lead the way by not overreacting but by acting quickly, professionally and incident appropriately.”
“As teachers, we are constantly surrounded by students using social media. Cyber bullying has increased over the last few years. I’ve had numerous students (especially females) approach myself or a co-worker with a social media situation. In this situation what i would do is: First, I would make the student feel like she came to the right place. I would sit with her in an environment that she felt comfortable. I would express that she is not alone and that this is a common situation. Then, I would ask to see the post. If she shows me the post and I feel it is a situation out of my control, I would tell the student that I plan to contact her school counselor. I would advise the student to take a screenshot in case it is later deleted. I would write down all names that are involved in the post and then I would deliver the names to the guidance office and possibly the school psychologist. I would also inform my athletic director, the dean of students and an assistant principal.”
“Allegations of cyber bullying are serious. Therefore, the situation has to be investigated to determine validity. While teachers have a responsibility to address such issues, issues are too precarious to be handled strictly by teachers. The first step would be for the teacher to touch base with the student and express concern about possible repercussions of such an incident and let them know the administration will need to be involved. Secondly, the teacher should offer the student an opportunity to talk with a guidance counselor to discuss any fears. Thirdy, the teacher should inform the administration.”
Hypothetical Situation No. 2
A student is scheduled to be inducted into the National Honor Society during the fall ceremony. However, the student submits a project almost identical to a student in the past. The teacher suspects duplicity and underhanded behavior. However, there have been no other reported incidents of cheating or plagiarism of which she is aware.
“I would turn both projects into the principal, assistant principal, and head of NHS. Though it would most likely keep one, or both, out of NHS, it is imperative to uphold the standards of NHS.”
“This is a very delicate situation that needs to be investigated thoroughly. My first step is to discuss the project with the student and ask if she has borrowed someone else's project as a model. In this case, I would give the student an opportunity to make revisions. I would then look further at the comparisons and move forward from that point on.”
“I would first seek supporting evidence to back my theory. If this were impossible, I would simply bring about a discussion with the entire class to talk about having pride in their own work. We would discuss the temptation to commit plagiarism, but list the consequences. I would share several incidents where students cheated and were forced to suffer a penalty. However, if the evidence could be found, I would approach the student, share the evidence and offer them an opportunity to make things right. They could choose to redo the project, take a failing grade, or decline the invitation to be inducted. The student would be left to make the decision. However, the parents would be notified and informed of the student's decision.”
Hypothetical Situation No. 3
A class is on a field trip to the museum. Students can browse and purchase items from the museum gift shop. Several students come to the teacher and accuse another student of stealing from the shop. One student claims to be a witness to the impropriety. However, the chaperone is unaware of any inappropriate behavior.
“I would pull the student aside and talk to them and discuss the consequences of stealing with them. Being as non-threatening as possible, I would tell the student how we can fix this problem and return the items with minimal penalties and if he doesn't come forward and is found with the items I would share the punishments he or she faces.”
“I would pull the accused student aside and explain that a student saw him or her take something from the museum gift shop. I would give him or her a chance to respond and based on the response I would probably ask to see the contents of his or her backpack. If something was taken from the gift shop I would ask him or her to return it and apologize. If an item was not taken, I would thank the student for understanding the difficulty of the situation and allowing me to clear it up.”
“I would take the student aside and share that allegations had been made. I would inform him or her of the procedures for this type of allegation. First, I would need proof of any purchases made in the shop. Second, museum security and I would search belongings. If found guilty, I would ask security to let the student return the item and suffer the consequences for the behavior at school. Additionally, the student would not be allowed to return to the museum as long as he or she was a student at our school.”
Hypothetical Situation No. 4
A parent contacts a teacher because her son could not complete the previous night’s assignment. The parent appears to be upset because the assignment was lengthy and too difficult for him to finish in a reasonable amount of time. When the class begins to review the assignment, he announces the teacher is in trouble with school administrators because he keeps assigning work that is lengthy and too difficult.
“I would reach out to the parents and offer an extension and/or a modified assignment depending on the situation. I'd also speak with the child to see what specifically he is struggling with. I would offer extra help or to sit down and guide him in starting with the assignment if that helped. Hopefully we can reach a solution that will benefit the student before the parents actually do go to to administration. If they already went to them, I'd make sure to touch base and keep them informed on what decisions and steps are being made.”
“I would simply state that was false and that class time is not the time for that discussion but I would be more than happy to discuss assignments with him after class or another appropriate time. I would arrange a meeting with the parents, student, and administration to discuss class assignments and expectations.This conflict is easily prevented by having a syllabus at the beginning of the year that outlines course expectations and is signed by the parent.”
“Addressing the situation in the front of the class could escalate the issue. I would simply say, ‘It is important that we all show respect for each other even if we have different ideas and opinions. Now it is time to move on to our goals for class today.’ Afterward, I would invite the student, parents, and an administrator to a conference to discuss how I can support the student's learning and to diffuse any further comments from being made during class.”
Learn More About Managing Classroom Situations
Every teacher will deal with conflicts and difficult situations in his or her classrooms. Taking professional development courses can help you prepare for these situations. Check out our courses on Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports for Successful Classrooms, Feedback is a Gift: Framing Difficult Conversations, Classroom Management Strategies for Student-Centered Instruction.
About The Author
Cynthia Privette is an educational contractor specializing in interpretation of Common Core state standards and a teacher in North Carolina public schools. She received her or Ed.D. in educational leadership and M.Ed. from East Carolina University. Over the course of her career, she has been particularly interested in instructional leadership, the subject of her dissertation, and training other educators on effective curriculum, testing, and instruction in low-performing schools.