Children can often be fire balls of energy that are seemingly impossible to contain. They can also be the exact opposite. Managing behavior is quite possibly the most difficult task that a teacher faces. Add the element of only interacting with the child through a screen, with virtually zero back-up and support, and the idea of managing any type of behavior becomes pretty daunting. It’s true that managing behavior in the online classroom can be extremely challenging. Disruptive students are a challenge in any teaching and learning environment, but it becomes particularly evident in an online classroom, especially when teaching one-on-one.
How to Combat Brattiness and/or Disinterest
Most educators would agree that the first step to behavior management is setting the guidelines and expectations from the beginning. In the case of online schools, it is typically safe to assume that the company has gone over a basic code of conduct with the parents beforehand, but, since the student is typically sitting alone with you and their computer, that code often means nothing.
You are the one in charge of your classroom, so it’s also a good idea to let the students know what will and will not fly, to put it bluntly. This certainly does not need to be harsh or aggressive, and it should always be age-appropriate. For example, I start my lessons by introducing a reward system and giving the students examples of things that will earn them ‘a point’ and things that will cause them to lose a point. This is a quick and easily understandable way to make the expectations known from the outset.
Once the student has acknowledged that they understand what’s expected of them, you can proceed with your lesson. When a behavior issue does arise, it’s important to take the student’s age into account. For example, with preteens to adults, it’s appropriate to assume a tone of formality when dealing with an issue. By contrast, a foreigner changing their affect to this is likely to frighten a small child. With elementary-aged children and younger, try to maintain your cheery disposition, but make it known that something is not up to par. One can remind the student of the reward system and say things like, “Oh no! I want you to get five stars for this lesson, but you are not listening now!” while covering your ears and shaking your head. It’s important not to scare the student, but to show that you are to be respected and taken seriously, even though to them you are just a face on the screen.
Communicating the expectations clearly and often is a great strategy to reinforce good behavior and class management. No matter the age of the student, it should go without saying that teachers cannot allow themselves to be overcome by frustration and lose their cool, dropping to the level of the student and arguing or showing a loss of composure. A loss of composure shows a loss of control, and that is the last thing that you want your students to think of you.
Another useful thing about working for an online company is that most will have a ‘help’ or support button that you can click if you truly can’t get control of a restless or poorly behaved child. In these cases, especially if a child is being particularly abusive, it’s important to contact the administrative authority immediately so that it can be documented. The support staff will typically contact the parents or speak to the student directly in their native tongue. This is incredibly useful, as telling a child, in a language that their parents cannot speak, that you will call his her mom or dad isn’t very effective. Thus, allowing someone to have your back and use the mother tongue, sparingly of course, is often the best option, even if it makes you feel bad that you couldn’t bring the class back on track on your own. Sometimes this is all that is needed to get the class back on track, so know your options and use your lifelines.
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