How do you know deal with challenging 5th grade boys?
Boys have always been more of a challenge for me to deal with than girls. When I first started teaching 5th graders, I felt really lost knowing how to handle the more difficult boys. These are the guys who are talking at the wrong time, not buying into what you are teaching and in general making the class more difficult to teach.
In figuring out what to do with these boys, I’ve definitely made some missteps. The thing that led to these mistakes was my perception of these boys as a problem instead of as people. That’s where the most important thing we always need to remember with our most challenging students. They aren’t the enemy, they aren’t a problem to fix, these are people. They might be annoying and aggravating people but they are people and they are just kids.
Fix the good/bad balance
If the only interactions you have with a kid are calling them out or redirecting them, your words and actions will have little meaningful effect. Every negative interaction with a student needs to be balanced out with a positive one. If that means you find that kid are recess or lunch, to just chat, than make it happen. Effective classroom management is all about positive relationships with students.
It’s really hard sometimes to find those positive moments, but it’s critical. If you work at this, something else even more important will happen, you will learn to like that student as a person. Without finding something you genuinely like about kid nothing you will do with that student will be effective.
Validate, Validate, Validate
If a kid is bored in class, that’s fine. If a kid hates the activity that is happening in class, okay. If a kid thinks you are a poo-head, well, that’s his opinion. Just because you validate a feeling doesn’t mean you have to accept a behavior. A kid can be bored in class, but they cannot express that boredom by interrupting other students’ work. Drawing a line between the validity of their thoughts and feelings and their unacceptable and disruption actions helps students understand that you are working with them, not against them.
There's a concern that by validating negative feelings you are accepting negativity, but as long as your validation is based in your belief in them, then these negatives can be turned positive. For example, “Clearly you are bored, this stuff is too easy for you because you are one of the smartest people in the class, but stop interrupting me when I’m talking." Or “Okay, you don’t like me. I would rather that you did, but this is how you feel and I respect that. Regardless, we need to work together. You are capable and smart and have something to offer. I accept how you feel about me, so I’m going to put that aside and focus on the great stuff you have to offer the class.”
Take What You Can Get
A couple years ago, I had a 5th grader who hated music. Whenever we sang a song, he would make loud animal sounds or sing purposely off-key. I met with him in lunch, tried to get him to sing in a nice way, but he refused. When his homeroom teacher suggested that I stop trying to get him to sing and just focus on him not being disruptive, the “everyone can sing”-music teacher part of me was offended. By the end of the year, whenever the class would sing, he would quietly mouth along or simply stand there. This was progress, not musical progress, but important growth. When I stopped fighting him to sing, and focused on him not being disruptive our relationship also improved.
5th grade boys can act annoying, but they can be even more awesome than you think. They have the enthusiasms of 3rd graders with the beginning of the abstract thinking of middle schools students. They are funny, challenging, empathetic, and really do want to learn and be challenged.
These boys are trying to figure out their way through the world just like the rest of us. Sometimes the things they try on for size, don't fit, so we need to help them. Even if they seem to be going into a weird space, never question their intentions. Because in order for them to grow to believe in themselves, they need us to believe in them.