Can you help me bring a student in line?
June 4, 2009 8:37 PM   Subscribe

How do I discipline a student that doesn't care about detention?

Hi there,

I have a student who for whatever reason has very recently gotten a serious case of silliness/defiance. What concerns me is that when he is kept in for detention he finds the whole thing to be a big joke and giggles constantly. Even within detention he is defiant by getting up and walking around, etc. Clearly, he would be a candidate for a suspension or office referral, but for various reasons I'd like to avoid that route for the time being if possible. Obviously I've spoken with his parents.

I would like to reel him in mainly because normally he works pretty well, but also because he is capable of distracting the whole class. I worry that he's actually trying to see if he can get sent to the office for some reason. At the same time, it could be a physiological thing (13–14 years old) or a genuine desire to get under my skin. The last option seems very bizarre as up until this point in the year I've had a great rapport with him in class.

To be specific, I don't think that he gets the teacher – student distinction very well (almost all students when spoken to one on one have enough respect to discuss the issue if they are spoken to politely and openly – with him he just laughs right in my face).

So, any suggestions on other things I can do to get him to be respectful again? His parents have agreed to have him do extra homework, but I'm keen to know if there are other ideas. I really don't think detention is the right fit for him and besides which, I have to supervise it and if he's giggling the whole time it'll really undermine the authority. The other thing I've done is isolate him from the class and have him do his work individually for the time being.

Thanks for any suggestions!
posted by anonymous to Education (38 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Embarrass him in front of his peers for acting like a fool.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 8:50 PM on June 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

There's probably some psychological issue.

Do you command respect in class? Do you make it clear to other students that you're the teacher? Keep some boundaries between yourself and your students - you're in charge.

Have you inquired of his parents whether he has any issues with authority at home?

Figure out WHY he's doing this, especially now, since he seems to have had a good rapport with you until recently. Have you mentioned this to his parents?

I'm no teacher and no psychologist, but people have reasons - sometimes good ones, sometimes bad ones - for doing some things.
posted by kldickson at 8:50 PM on June 4, 2009

Do you have in school detention rooms for during the day? Maybe whenever he acts out in class give him a warning, and if he doesn't stop kick him out of the room. Keep doing it. When he can't pass a test because he's kicked out every other day reality might hit him.
Alternately, perhaps say if he doesn't behave after one warning you'll deduct a point off his next test for every infraction?

Any chance his parents may not be taking it as seriously as they may be leading you to believe? Does he act out in his other classes as well? Have you talked to other teachers to see how he behaves there and what they do about it?
posted by Kellydamnit at 8:53 PM on June 4, 2009

A few months ago I read about a school in Belfast that tried an alternative to detention that has, apparently, been very successful. Here's the link.
posted by Effigy2000 at 8:54 PM on June 4, 2009 [8 favorites]

Dang, I wish you could do follow ups anonymously, as I have these questions:

What do his parents say about home behavior? Has it changed, as well? Is the silliness "appropriate," or does he appear to be reacting to internal stimuli at times? (Hard to tell, I'm sure. I hope that question even made sense to you.) I'm just wondering if he's not having some sort of hallucinations, though there are plenty of silly 13 year olds out there without that excuse. Your question made it sound as if the behavior was somewhat sudden, causing me to consider this.

When I was in school, our counselors were about useless for anything other than scheduling classes, but I would hope that today's school counselors might be able to brainstorm with you about alternate disciple for this fellow, whom it is clear you like quite a bit. Good luck with a difficult situation.
posted by thebrokedown at 8:55 PM on June 4, 2009

When you have him in detention, give him stuff to do: clean the boards, stack the chairs, organize marker collections, collate papers. Then leave him alone. If he starts giggling / goofing off, ignore it. My guess is if you ignore it, he'll get bored -- and if you give him stuff to do, he might come around on his own.

That's my advice from watching other people do it for this age group. I don't have any really solid ideas for how to handle this in the classroom. I'd call him out on it, obviously, but that only works if you already have authority.
posted by puckish at 8:59 PM on June 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

Embarrass him in front of his peers for acting like a fool.

That doesn't work if the peers respect him for the goofing off, or he THINKS they will.

My freshman year of high school, I went to a school that posted a weekly "demerits" total for each student, presumably in an effort to do a similar shaming. I just made it my goal to be at the top of the list, without doing anything "too wrong" that my parents would actually care. YMMV.
posted by nomisxid at 9:10 PM on June 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Send him to the office. Don't put up with the behavour, if there is a natural escalation in consequences you need to do this and be consistent about it- boundaries are important. He won't learn the lesson otherwise.
posted by mattoxic at 9:12 PM on June 4, 2009 [7 favorites]

I second puckish. I don't like giving detentions but when I feel I have no choice I give the student undesirable tasks. Cleaning the overhead roll is a good one. I make them wash the entire thing and then dry it. It takes a while. I have also had the students go to every class on the same floor as mine and offer to clean the white boards. The custodian is only too happy to provide cleaner and rags and teachers are happy to have a student clean their boards.

If phoning home, student conference, discussions with the counselor and detentions don't work then it's time for a vice-principal in intervene. If you let it go for too long other students in the class will start to behave in similar ways because they see no effective consequence.

Also, you probably know this but never, ever embarrass a student in front of their peers.
posted by sadtomato at 9:13 PM on June 4, 2009

Embarrass him in front of his peers for acting like a fool.

Don't do this, resentment ensues.
posted by mattoxic at 9:13 PM on June 4, 2009 [7 favorites]

I have a 12 year old who might be the kid. Every kid has something they don't want to lose. It might not be tangible. I would contact the parents daily with whatever his behavior is that day. I would talk with the school social worker and/or guidance counselor. I would see if he is getting high. I would try to engage him by relating whatever it is you teach to his interests. For example, if he likes cars and you teach math, you could have him calculate engine compression ratios or if you teach art have him draw his dream car. I would also have menial tasks for him to do when in detention and tell him he isn't leaving until he finishes. Get his parents on board with that because the first time he will be there late. I have to add that if you are teaching 13-14 year olds all the time, this should not be new ground. Especially with boys. Never make a threat you are not going to back up either. Consequences for actions good and bad need to be learned. That requires disciplining him and follow through.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:20 PM on June 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Um... my high school tried to employ a method very similar to the alternative Effigy2000 mentioned (difference being that instead of group discussion, students would wait in turn to have a one-on-one meeting with the teacher). It really didn't work on me. Maybe it works on lots of other people though (I know some of my friends preferred the "restorative justice" type talk to detention, but I found it sort of tedious and aggravating and not very well-executed by the teacher who seemed to be going through a very set procedure in her conversation with me.)

I agree with the suggestion you should try to find out the reasons for the change in his behavior.

I went through a phase of defiance/silliness in school, not really because of any changes at home etc, but because (from what I can remember) I was bored, I was under-challenged, I found it entertaining... basically I would finish my work ahead of the class or already know the stuff that was being taught, and then walk around the classroom distracting my classmates to amuse myself. I used to laugh in teachers' faces too, etc... I found it funny, I wanted to see what would happen, it was entertaining... etc.
The teachers that I didn't pull those sort of tricks on (or for whom I gradually stopped behaving like that) were the ones that came up with projects/tasks for me that challenged me and interested me, the ones that took me seriously, the ones that were very patient and even-tempered without being condescending (basically the ones I couldn't provoke / get a rise etc). (The teacher for whom I was the best-behaved was someone who actually looked bored when I acted up. She was also very encouraging academically.)

Of course, I have no idea whether your student is anything like the kind of student I was, but maybe some of what I've related can be helpful.
posted by aielen at 9:28 PM on June 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Detention is a big waste of time. It's all just part of a pissing contest that you can't possibly win, because the stakes are higher for you than they are for the student: in every situation, you lose face. Plus, wouldn't you rather be doing something more productive? Detention in no way helps your lesson, or helps the kid. You're a teacher.

Stop focusing on his behaviour (unless it endangers other kids). All students are going to be childish. Instead, focus on learning. If you focus on behaviour, it becomes personal, and it becomes a pissing contest you will always lose. If you focus on the task you will remove a lot of energy from the equation. It's depersonalized. And the student knows he's there to learn, so you have that in your advantage.

Let the student get up and walk around during class. If he bothers other students (not assaulting them, mind you), fine. Whatever. Remember, you're there to teach, and there are 30 other students. Discipline is just a big waste of time, energy and emotion better invested in teaching.

Make sure the other students know what they have to do, and make it easy. If this student wanders around and bugs people, tell the other students (not him) to get to work (the easy stuff). They will then pressure your problem child to bugger off, saving you the effort.

Focus on what really matters: learning. Experiment with a more relaxed classroom atmosphere with a certain amount of self-pacing. Assign several (three) assignments to be completed by the end of the week. Make it easy and concrete. Make it so easy there should be no reason why anyone should be able to give up.

One of the assignments could be completing a whole shitload of worksheets. Worksheets so simple you could easily copy the answers out of the textbook. In fact, indicate on the worksheet itself where the answers are.

Weight these worksheets as 50% of the students' mark for the year. That way, even the low-level learners will have a chance to at least pass the course. Giving such simple assignments will also offer low-level learners no excuse to not do the work.

Next, create a more difficult component that stresses comprehension: short paragraph work. Weight this as 25% or whatever. When the students finish that , have a longer project they should be working on. Make the projects worth 25% of your grade, and make the projects creative.

That way, the lower level kids have a chance to succeed and get 50% for the course, the average students have a chance to get average marks, and the more motivated students can spend a lot of time working on a cool project that demonstrates their ability to synthesize and analyze information, and get creative.

You'll also be making sure there is always something for someone to do in class.

This might take a lot of work, but you can make more time for lesson prep by ditching detention sessions and just accepting that sometimes there's going to be a joker in your class, and the students are just not going to sit still.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:45 PM on June 4, 2009 [8 favorites]

Encourage (either by reward or punishment) the other kids to stop reacting to his behavior. It won't be easy, but it will help.
Don't get angry or seem upset when he misbehaves. Everyone needs to seem as bored with his behavior as possible. Hopefully if he is not getting the desired results from acting out, he will tone it down.
posted by ishotjr at 9:50 PM on June 4, 2009

My father - who taught high school at one point - tended to think that many of these type of boys (it seems to hit boys more often for some reason) in his class were "worth the time to have a talk with." I wish I could say there was only one reason behind the kids' actions - but it's never that simple, is it? Some had a bad family situation - divorce in more than one case - but some were undergoing issues with hormones, medical issues, etc. All of the boys in question were very bright, and all of them were not applying themselves to their schoolwork. I remember dad commenting that many of them hadn't yet found an area of study that they enjoyed yet, and were probably bored in some of their classes.

That you've noticed and want to help is excellent - that's exactly what someone needs to do, and get personally involved. My father always made a point of treating the kids he taught as adults - never harshly or condescendingly, but speaking to them as intelligent equals whom he expected more of. He made it clear that he believed they were smart enough to realize that the way they were acting wasn't what was expected - and that since they seemed to indicate by the way they acted in class that something might be wrong, he was there to discuss it with them. But just expressing interest and treating them with respect - and explaining that he expected their respect in return - did a lot to get the kids to act more maturely.

Also seconding/thirding the call to not embarrass the kid in front of his peers - talk to him first, one on one, door open - whatever policy your school has for student-teacher chat. Dad would often ask them to stay after class to talk but without the "oooo you're in trouble" threat by announcing it in front of the class -instead "hey could you hang around, I need to ask you a question." And then would bring up the "so, what's up with the behavior" talk after the peers were out of the way so the kid didn't have an audience.

And also agreeing that detention always felt like a huge waste of time. I think it was best served by using it to work on homework or write a book report - doing something that acknowledged I had a brain. (Having kids write sentences is something I still find silly, and I can remember it making me angry at the waste of time and energy.) Randomly I went on myself to teach for a while - dad was a great role model.

Hope things work out for the kid.
posted by batgrlHG at 9:59 PM on June 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

Talk to him. Maybe he has arrived at the age where people begin to grasp that they can't be forced into submission/authority/respect/discipline, whatever you call it. That's actually a good thing.

He now has to learn that, while he's absolutely free to do so, annoying other people will not be good for him in the long term. It'll take a while until he understands that.
But I think he might be past the phase where stuff like extra homework, detention (basically: a regime of negative stimuli) still work. He has to grasp that he's the one who decides what your relationship looks like (cooperation or competition). Put the ball in his court, tell him what you think. Drop the authority/discipline stuff - he's too old for that. As long as you play the competition game (by bringing up more and more punishments), he'll have a hard time understanding that he himself has a say in how he relates to his teacher.
He seems to be really good at pushing your buttons. Don't take it personally.
posted by The Toad at 3:33 AM on June 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

Suspend him.

I was the kid being described in the OP for most of junior high and high school. I was smart, but didn't care about class. I was charming, but that only helped me get off easy with most of my teachers. My behaviour only started to come around when the hammer started to get dropped on me hard, and I realized that there were consequences to my actions that I couldn't always charm my way out of.

I get the impression that you want to give this kid a chance because you like him and you think he has potential. You'll be doing him the favor of his life if you give him a wake-up call.
posted by CRM114 at 5:14 AM on June 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

if you think he is testing the boundaries, then he probably is. that is so common at that age.

if he is testing the boundaries, and tip-toe around really slamming him - then you have failed him by not teaching him that there are real serious boundaries in life.

sometimes the greatest life lesson comes from getting slammed down.
posted by Flood at 5:46 AM on June 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

I so appreciate and respect your approach to thinking about this student--I think that you've already felt that escalating your punishment options would escalate the situation, so I think you can trust that you have an intuitive ability to reestablish a working relationship with your student. In some ways, continuing to do what you're doing--respecting the student, thinking well of him, and exploring options would be enough even without a new methodology for this particular development. If my kid is the one dealing with this kind of thing, I'd want him in your class.

This student has obviously apprehended the system he has found himself a part of and decided for himself how important it is to him. We all do this as people--in the workplace, in a family, in an organization. The opinions he's formed about this system are unlikely to change and likely an important part of his development as a young person--sure they are the typical radical and superficial opinions of a teenage student, but they are incredibly important to him and I think it's important to respect them.

What the lesson really is, it seems to me, what the teachable moment is--empathy. It's fine if he disagrees with the system, with your school's brand of authority, with the work at hand. What is not OK is creating an environment that makes it difficult or impossible for his peers to learn and to come to their own conclusions. When he disrupts class, he, at this point, feels that he is only communicating to YOU how he feels about class, what he may not realize is that he is also communicating to his peers that he disrespects them and their opportunity to learn and think and figure out their own situation. It's a lack of empathy. His lack of empathy for your situation isn't really worth dealing with here, I think, because you're an adult and have worked through a full adult's values yourself and can take the force of this boy's feelings. But his peers can't--they're just suffering or confused or not doing as well as they might--and this is what has become your student's responsibility to work through with your guidance.

As far as what this looks like, I think it looks as much like the transparent, healthy process we all wish would come into play in all of our lives when there is interpersonal conflict. It's a nice chance to model this for the student so that when he's in the workplace someday and dealing with a less-than-ideal co-worker he has a template for what to do. I'm not in this situation, but what about making it clear to the student you honor (even if you don't agree with) his opinions about the system. You honor his dissatisfaction and need to rebel, his understanding of the failings of the system. That you are fine, and can accept, his opinions of you. However, that you believe he has a lack of empathy for his peers and what they may be going through. Ask him what he thinks the ideal solution is to creating a good learning environment for his classmates, and then negotiate from there what is possible. You could talk about the relatively little time there is left in the school year, in his time at school, and about what he might gain from using his energy to make all of this a better place for everyone--go through the school policies together, not just to talk through the system he has a problem with, but to find appropriate ways he is allowed to protest. Share yourself, too. Talk neutrally and positively about a time where you struggled with a similar battle and had to step outside of yourself and think about everyone else first. This could be the moment this student becomes a union organizer, a pastor, a volunteer, a politician, the leader of a political action group.

A lot of high school structure is about keeping a lot of things around students dark in the hopes that in the light they have left they will focus on their work and be successful and undistracted. But for some kinds of people, this backfires--they're the kind of people who open doors and peer into the dark and then start yelling about what they've found there. In the world outside of school, this is an important and vanishing quality. I'm certain you're the kind of gifted instructor that can encourage asking questions while focusing this student on the empathy he needs to develop in order to be actually *heard.*

I've been on both sides of this equation--the student and the teacher. It's not easy either way. An author I really like who goes into a lot of detail about the kinds of methodologies I'm talking about is Alfie Kohn.

Thank for working so hard for this kid. I'm sure, actually, you're one of his favorite teachers.
posted by rumposinc at 6:08 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Good things about getting at the root of the kid's behavior, and I have nothing to add there, except that it is probably better in the long run for the students and teachers to relieve the problem rather than punish it.

However, for practical detention -- my father was disciplinarian at a high school for a long time, and his technique for keeping kids from goofing off in detention was to assign work, not time. He was the chemistry teacher, and he always has benches, drawers, etc that had gotten stained and needed to be sanded clean. Kids would be assigned a certain amount of sanding to do, and they had to keep coming back until it was done. Since my father worked most evenings getting the lab ready for the next day, staying late was rarely an issue for him, so a student could stay in detention until the work got done. It seemed to make the point....
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:43 AM on June 5, 2009

Also: if you're giving him extra work, make sure it's useful work. Don't just pile on the homework or give him extra problem sets to do. If he's acting up, it's probably because he's already bored out of his mind. In that general vein: in terms of "giving him tasks to do" --- I didn't mean boring, stupid tasks. I meant stuff that'll help you out. Washing boards is probably a bad example -- but helping you file or collate papers, or make copies for class, or helping to set up teaching stations, might make him feel more like an "assistant," and give him some fun, more productive responsibilities.

I think disciplining people to "wake them up" doesn't work so well -- in part because it relies on you having a lot of authority, rather than communicating well. Treating it as an extension of teaching - rather than a punitive moment -- will probably go a lot further in getting him to care. On view, seconding what Proust says about empathy -- this is probably also a good conversation to have with him.
posted by puckish at 7:06 AM on June 5, 2009

The student has had a behavior change. Ask him what's up. "You used to be more courteous in class, but now you do a lot of horsing around, and it's disruptive. Why do you think your behavior changed?" and "I try to show my respect for students, and I expect that respect to be returned. Your disrespectful behavior is causing problems in class. What can we do about that?"

There may be family issues, as well as the onset of testosterone, which can be overwhelming. My son was that student, and the term testosterone poisoning was only a mild exaggeration. He got suspended a lot, and enjoyed the opportunity to miss school. At least in detention he got homework done.
posted by theora55 at 7:16 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Why do you put up with him "distracting the whole class?" I never understood teachers who tolerated a bunch of crap from some clown. By putting up with it, you lose the respect of the other students. Of course, your job isn't to win the respect of the students, it's to teach. Sounds like right now you are accomplishing neither.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 7:24 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Even within detention he is defiant by getting up and walking around, etc.

Then you suspend him.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:27 AM on June 5, 2009

You seem to be asking "How can I threaten this student with consequences but not actually impose those consequences?"

Either this behavior is unacceptable, and carries certain consequences, or this behavior is fine. Sending mixed messages about the behavior (by not imposing the consequences) just exacerbates the situation.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:41 AM on June 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

Your question - and Effigy2000 's link about restorative justice programs reminded me of The Breakfast Club - and the character John Bender in particular. I won't be so naive as to suggest you draw lessons from a movie plot - but I thought it was worth commenting on.
posted by rongorongo at 7:58 AM on June 5, 2009

Have you talked to someone with a psychology background, like the school psychologist? There's something going on here that's below the surface and I don't think escalating the punishment is going to work with this particular student.

The problem with school consequences is that they are fairly ridiculous, formalized, and don't really have a lot of bite in the 'suck factor'. Woo. You stay after school for a little while. So what. That's not a consequence unless you care that it makes you look bad or hurts your chance of getting something in the future. Yes, it's short-sighted, which is why adults (who have longer sight-lines don't seem to get it), but if he doesn't care, twisting the thumb screws tighter isn't going to make him care because it doesn't affect anything he's going to care about!

From your description, there's a couple of behaviors that I can identify. One is avoidance behavior. That's the getting up and walking out. Another one is the giggling. That's basically self-stimulating behavior.

I'd say that hurting him probably isn't going to work. It'll just strengthen the drive to self-stimulate and avoid, both of which he probably finds more rewarding (adrenaline and endorphins, whee!) than anything you could give him or take away from them. You might have to try positive reinforcement -- in other words, hunting around or having someone interview him until they figure out what DOES motivate him, and then using that as a lever to pry open the wonderful psychological suit of armor that he's built for himself. This may be equivalent to developing some gifted-and-talented type resources for this student and/or special projects that will focus his talents and skills. It's a rougher road, but in the end a positive or challenging experience might best serve to get this student back on track.

I realize that the most common mentality is to 'punish when he does it' rather than 'provide incentives for not doing it' -- but you've already punished him and it didn't work. It's not going to. Suspending him, holding him back a grade, or even expelling him will likely have no effect on him 'cept to send him down a very negative life path that'll end with him being a useless drag on society. On the other hand, keeping him in school and finding a way to motivate him positively to override the self-stimulating behaviors will probably have a long-lasting positive effect on his life and chances of success in school and college.

Um. At least, that's the way it worked with me. I'm just glad I had teachers that were willing to figure out what turned me on like a light and teach to it.
posted by SpecialK at 8:00 AM on June 5, 2009

Consistent consequences like detention work for about 97% of kids. It doesn't seem to me like you have been very consistent in your consequence-giving, so try that first. However, he may well be one of those for whom consequences have little effect. Here is what I would do with a kid like that:

Before anything happens, praise good behavior. Not in a trite way, but in a real way - "good thinking on that math problem," "that's a very interesting question," "I'm glad you are being so responsible about your homework."

But if something does arise:
a) Ignore the behavior if possible. If it's not causing a problem for anyone else, or if its design is to get your attention, ignore it.
b) If ignoring is not possible, have a conversation with him that is very direct and as private as possible:
You: "I notice that you are doing X and it is a problem because Y. Can you do Z instead?"
Him: "But I can't do Z because of reason W." (bored, can't sit still, etc.)
You: "I need you to do Z even though W. Can you do that? Yes or no?"

At this point he will probably be evasive or laugh at you. Take anything other than a 'yes' to mean 'no.' If he can't/won't try to do what you ask, then you need to separate him from the rest of the class as much as possible, so
c) Remove him from the situation. He is getting attention from his classmates which is motivating this behavior. Have him sit at a desk in the back or leave the room if possible. While he is separated, ask him to write about what he did and why. The first or second time this happens, he will probably try to give you some crap excuses, don't let him rejoin your class until he's given a reasonable effort at thoughtfulness and you have had a chance to discuss it with him one-on-one.
d) At some later time, have a one-on-one conversation about what happened and what you can both do to help the situation. Don't yell or lecture, just be very matter-of-fact about the problem and say you want him to succeed in your class. You may need to be flexible with him - giving individual projects or special incentives.

Rinse and repeat. This method is not a quick-fix but it does work over time.
posted by mai at 8:35 AM on June 5, 2009

I'm having a particularly hard time with classroom management right now because the kids are bonkers and ready for summer, as am I. Do you have any carrots to dangle in front of his pimply face to entice him to behave? Field trips, special activities? Use those as leverage. I once read that behavior problems decrease something like 30% if a teacher just speaks to a child for ten minutes about non-school-related stuff. See any good movies? How's your mom doing? I like skateboarding, too... Try making some kind of secret agreement between the two of you, e.g., f you behave today I'll bring you a frappuccino.

P.S. I'm writing this from the back of my classroom right now, while the art teacher is dealing with a ton of bullshit from my kids as we speak. One just put a booger in another kid's hair and another one has been howling like a wolf for 40 minutes straight.

Must go intervene. Good luck.
posted by HotPatatta at 9:35 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Would sending him out of the classroom be an option? He obviously does not want to be there. I know someone who was quite disruptive when he was in school and the school allowed him to just work in the computer lab, fixing their computers.

The student is probably incredibly bored and does not value his education. With that attitude, I don't see how a teacher can discipline him. Some of the most successful people I know didn't even come close to finishing high school. They were bored, so they left and started businesses of their own. In their minds, school was a complete waste of time. They simply did not care about punishments and refused to even go to the detentions. The kid you are describing probably doesn't care about the punishments and a serious discussion with him will be seen as a joke to him.

If you can't send him out of the classroom, maybe you can give him completely different assignments from the rest of the class. Have him work on projects on his own that require him to use the library or computer lab. Other kids might be jealous, but maybe you can make it clear that he is getting poor grades and therefore the kids who care if they get into schools won't want to behave in the same was as him.

Another option would be to reward students who keep a peaceful environment in the classroom - For example everyone who acts politely gets to participate in a game. Those who don't cooperate don't get to play the game.

In the end, this kid isn't being swayed by the repercussions of not doing well in school such as not being accepted into a good high school or college. He doesn't care about detentions. I don't think punishments will work. If you can manage to ignore him or send him out of the classroom when he becomes disruptive, then it will be easier. You value education and he does not. You can't force your ideals on him. You can't force him to respect you. I think the best thing to do would be to force yourself not to care if he respects you. It's not a competition. In the end, does it really matter if a 14 year old kid doesn't respect you?
posted by parakeetdog at 10:05 AM on June 5, 2009

Talk with his parents; see if they have any advice. Many kids will be more cooperative if they know Mom or Dad is going to hear about what they're up to. And, understandably, a lot of parents get pissed when they finally hear that that a teacher has been "having trouble" with their child-- "Why am I hearing about this now, if it's been going on for two months!?" I never looked forward to contacting parents in this kind of situation, but there were only a few cases where things got worse after the conversation. Maybe the parents would like to have a weekly 'behavior report' so they can (we hope) reward their kid's good efforts.
posted by wryly at 10:26 AM on June 5, 2009

I don't have it in front of me, but the book "Survival Games Personalities Play" by Eve Delunas has some great advice on working with people like this.
posted by Danila at 12:43 PM on June 5, 2009

Do you have the authority to issue any other kinds of punishment besides detention? When I was in junior high, we were mixing up a flour + water + something else mixture that was part solid and liquid, and one kid threw it at me and it ended up in my hair. His punishment was to clean the urinals and toilets in one of the bathrooms.
posted by IndigoRain at 2:13 PM on June 5, 2009

Talk with his parents; see if they have any advice. Many kids will be more cooperative if they know Mom or Dad is going to hear about what they're up to.

I can't recommend talking to the parents about it. What happens at school, stays at school. I know from experience.

I had a little shit in my class. His parents asked me what he was like in class. I said that he talked a lot, was a little disruptive, and didn't spend enough time doing work. The parents used this information to keep him from going on a ski trip, and I had a sworn enemy for the rest of the year.

Thinking back, it wasn't really fair of me to discuss the kid's behaviour like that, especially behind his back. As another teacher said to me, just focus on the marks and the actual scholastic performance. Test results and marks from assignments are quantifiable - everyone accepts that it's fair game for discussion, as it's why the students come to school anyway.

But behaviour in class is highly subjective, and kids will be kids will be kids - they are going to do annoying things, especially if you're cooped up with them in a room for half a year.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:57 PM on June 5, 2009

You discuss this with him. You say I know you can work hard, but that does not mean you get to goof off any more than anyone else does. The next time you treat me with disrespect, you are going to the Principal's office.

And then make sure you follow through, in order to demonstrate clearly the student-teacher distinction. He'll get it.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:19 PM on June 5, 2009

Uuummm... my inexperienced two cents.

I have kids like that in all of my groups. I have 3 months experience, at a private jr high in Mexico City.

I've been frantically reading up on discipline and class control. What has really impressed me so far is the need to be TOTALLY COMPLETELY CONSISTENT, FIRM and CLEAR.

And giving student options, and the information necessary to make those decisions. For example, "You have two choices. Stop talking, and work, or work outside by yourself. If I have to warn you a second time, you will go outside for 20 minutes."

Of course, the student will talk a second time, and you send him outside. After 20 minutes, you bring him back in, unless he hasn´t worked, in which case (you would have already given him this information) he has to stay outside for another 20 minutes.

If he has completed his work, he can come back inside. Continue with class, the next interruption by him, give him the same options. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

I suspect detention works better than it seems - but I would do it in 20 or 30 minute increments, doing the same thing. "You need to sit quietly. If you don't stop laughing, you can stay here another 20 minutes. " If he keeps laughing, keep him. Repeat.

The book I am reading, Setting Limits in the Classroom describes your student as an "aggressive learner" - he is aggressively investigating where your limits are, he requires a lot of proof, a few times is not enough.

Plus, it sounds like he's just getting a rise out of you. He enjoys getting you to react emotionally, you don't say this, but ... I suspect it, otherwise he wouldn't be having so much fun with all of this. I mean, he can see how annoyed everyone is detention seems to be funny to him. He's loving the show!

I have a good rapport with many of my most difficult students. The part I'm working on is getting them to respect me, which requires a whole different set of skills.

Good luck! You can find a way to manage this to the benefit of all involved!!!
posted by Locochona at 8:08 PM on June 5, 2009

Try to build a personal connection. Detentions are meaningless, and if he's anything like I was, they just validate his behavior.

If I had ever felt that a teacher actually liked me and was disappointed in me, I don't think I'd have been able to misbehave.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:01 PM on June 5, 2009

the advice and suggestions above are far more informed than any idea i could pull from my own experience, but i will say emphatically that i think allowing him to meander through class and then harassing the kids who ARE doing their work is a terrible idea.

posted by wild like kudzu at 10:30 PM on June 5, 2009

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