Understanding the Acting Out Student in the Classroom

The hardest thing for a teacher to deal with in the classroom is a student acting out.  She has 20+ other students to teach and disruptions don’t allow for learning.  Unfortunately, many if not most teachers were not given training on effective classroom management.  Those who did were introduced to assertive discipline. This relies on letting the student know immediately when he has violated a rule.  The teacher was taught less about setting up positive supports for behavior.


Two areas of great importance, however, are rarely taught to teachers.  These areas would provide teachers with the tools needed to assist all students in managing their own behavior while increasing their learning.

The first area deals with child development, most importantly in terms of temperament. Temperament is the hows of behavior.  We are born with nine traits of temperament, such as activity level, basic mood, and intensity of response. These traits interact with any developmental, learning, and mental health issues we have, and our environment to help mold our personalities.  The more that a teacher understands how to respond to a student through his/her temperament profile, the more successful the child will be in managing his behavior in the classroom.

Looking at the first trait mentioned, activity level, some students need to use energy to be comfortable in their environment. If a teacher understands that her student needs to expend energy in order to be engaged, she can have him doing things during the lesson. He also requires recess in order to use up his energy. Taking away his recess due to misbehaviors will only make matters worse.  He can’t keep his energy level down and also concentrate on the lesson.

The second trait, basic mood, refers to his first impression to whatever is suggested, presented, etc. A student, who is more negative in basic mood, will start out noting the problems with what was presented.  It may be stating that he can’t do it, that it is dumb, or some similar response. The teacher will never win by trying to convince him otherwise or telling him that he is wrong. She has to connect with his feelings. She can then problem solve with him on how to get it done despite how unappealing it appears, or how hard it seems to be.

Intensity of response is a hard one for most teachers to tolerate, when it’s the high intensity level. The student will always be at 100% of whatever emotion he is experiencing.  The school counselor or social worker can help the student learn about degrees of expression and practice them based on a hierarchy of situations. The teacher than can positively reinforce variations in level of intensity during the class day.

The other area where regular education teachers are taught little if anything at all deals with recognizing and providing interventions for learning struggles.  One child in seven has one or more issue in learning that is developmental in nature. This may be problems with vocabulary or language knowledge. It may be in visual or auditory processing, which can affect reading, learning to write letters, spelling, and connecting the sounds with the letters of the alphabet.  When a child is acting out, this has to be looked at.  Academic supports are needed to close the gap before it becomes too much for the child to handle.  If this same child is also having the temperament trait problems mentioned above, it is even more important, so that peace can return to the classroom.

Colleges and school districts need to provide more training and support to teachers in these areas.  By doing so, they will also be helping many more of the struggling students. In the end, everyone will win.

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