Dealing with Rebellious Student Behavior

By Clements, Rhonda | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, April 2012 | Go to article overview

Dealing with Rebellious Student Behavior


Clements, Rhonda, JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


With so much talk nationwide about incompetent teachers and failing schools, it is easy to overlook the struggles that some teachers face when entering the work force. Most newly certified teachers are highly prepared, and they have the ability to describe and apply scientific and theoretical knowledge in their lessons (initial teacher standard one; National Association for Sport and Physical Education, 2009). They can also plan appropriate learning experiences (standard three) and have acquired the skills to physically demonstrate advanced motor activities (standard two). Their training included communication skills, instructional cues, and instructional feedback (standard four). Furthermore, they have the aspiration to be effective teachers, unless the unthinkable happens and they find themselves confronted with classes full of rebellious students. Sadly, many capable teachers struggle just to get through each day.

Almost immediately, many teachers' conversations with friends indicate feelings of excessive stress. Statements like "I'm in my third week and still nothing works" and "It took everything I had to hold back my tears" are common phrases that express teachers' frustration. Perplexed family members are not qualified to give more than verbal support. School colleagues emphasize that it takes time to win over students and gain their approval. Emails from former student-teaching supervisors suggest that the individual seek immediate advice from school administrators. The school's administrators have their hands full, and the teacher soon learns that physical education is not their highest priority. Finally, after repeated aggravation, the teacher's thinking shifts to just "sticking it out" or "hanging on" until the next holiday or midyear break. At this point the individual resigns to feeling disillusioned or even deeply depressed.

This scenario is particularly distressing when teachers desperately want to retain their position and apply their professional knowledge, skills, and dispositions. At the very least, today's teachers should have an awareness of the primary issues surrounding rebellious student behavior. They should also have been trained in management techniques that can be used when first encountering students who resist their instruction. Common rebellious behaviors include talking during class and continually using profanity, showing an unwillingness to move when asked, or overtly ignoring the teacher's request to perform a specific skill. In describing the actions of some students, Dennis Fermoyle (2005), an experienced teacher and coach wrote, "The most disruptive students are mean, sneaky, rebellious game players. The game of the disruptive student is to go as far as possible and get away with as much as possible without actually getting kicked out of the class" (p. 20).

So, what constitutes rebellious behavior? Although every student is unique, there are several characteristics that are typical among rebellious students, especially at the middle and secondary school levels. First, a rebellious student openly opposes authority figures and may even view the teacher as an enemy. This view of the teacher is expressed by continually interrupting the lesson until the teacher is no longer able to overlook or dismiss the student's actions. This behavior is different than that of earlier generations of middle and secondary students. For example, 20 years ago, most students could be counted on to respect the teacher's authority, at least until the teacher did something to change a student's perception. This does not mean that all students automatically liked or displayed a fondness for their teachers, but most students did recognize the need to obey directions or be subjected to certain disciplinary actions.

Today's adolescents are much more likely to believe that a teacher must earn their admiration and respect before they are willing to follow instructions. This is one reason why many new teachers initially struggle to get the students' attention. …

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