Taming Classroom Turkeys – Strategies for Working with Challenging Students


Taming Turkeys Strategies for Challenging Students.pngevery-child-deserves-a-champion-rita-pierson-quote

We all face classroom challenges. And with the holidays coming up, of course  I could not resist the adorable Thanksgiving Turkey reference. Classroom Turkeys are a common staple in each and every class. You are going to have them, but how you handle them will set the tone for their success, your sanity, and the overall atmosphere of the classroom.

I have a few strategies that help me regain patience when I struggle with frustration. Hopefully you can find something to help your sanity, too!

#1 Love that Child

Love is the single most important part of a teacher’s job. Love learning, love what you do, love who you teach, love yourself, love your job. Get down to their level and make a connection with them. Show them that you care. Make sure they can tell that you genuinely want to see them succeed. Make it about the child, not the battle. Sometimes, this looks like a step back from the battle. Take a minute to reset the situation. Allow for a moment to love that child, then guide them back into the classroom activity.

I know we have all heard this verse before, especially in wedding movies! But, it really speaks to how love acts…

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That kind of love can change a classroom.

#2 Keep Check of Your Attitude

My mom might tell you this was always a tough one for me. Sometimes my facial expressions respond before I have a chance to think the situation through. I am working on that. 🙂 Attitude will change the course of any conversation. A child can read your attitude through tone of voice, facial expressions, body language, and your words. If any of those cues read “I’m over it.” or “There’s no use trying.”, kids can read that frustration and shut down. This is where we will lose them. It is important for us to have good coping strategies for frustration in the classroom. Even the most patient of us has moments of frustration. If you can calm your emotions and look at the situation through more loving and understanding eyes, the outcome will be better for you and your students. Thinking about my main goal and asking myself “what’s the point of being frustrated here?” usually calms me down. Ask yourself how you would feel walking in on a frustrated teacher in your own kid’s class. Simple thought redirections can help you reset your attitude in these situations.

Its all in your head. If you can change your perspective, you will change your attitude. Here are some simple Mindset Redirections that help me regain a positive and loving perspective.


#3 Search for a Source of Their Difficulty

There are many unseen causes of students acting out in the classroom. Whether it be shutting down and not following directions or disruptive attention-seeking behaviors, there is a root that needs to be pulled up. Unfortunately, you may never know what is going on with that child that is causing them to not follow the flow of the classroom.

This one pulls at my heart deeply. Many years ago, I had a student who never had homework completed, never had a parent signature in their planner, and struggled to keep up with the achievement level of our class. When asked about anything, the attitude was “I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. I’m too cool for this.” You can imagine my frustration with this attitude. I spent hours looking over data and graded assignments trying to figure out how to help them be successful in the classroom. Nothing seemed to motivate them. Through further investigation, we discovered this child had no support or attention at home. Parents worked multiple jobs and left before the kids even got up in the morning. The kiddos got themselves up, ready, and walked to school on their own. Parents rarely made it home before bedtime. No one was there to sign planners. No one was there to help make sure homework got home. No one was there to make sure they got fed. This is elementary school, and sadly way too young for these responsibilities to be expected of them. It was amazing that they accomplished what they had. We decided as a teaching team to take turns spending time in our class after school doing what we could to get homework done, planners signed by us, reading with them, and studying for tests. It did not even take a week before we saw a happy kid, catching up, and actually getting good grades. When I think about that year of teaching, it breaks my heart again. How many students have an unsupportive home life, or a condition, or a learning difference that stays under the radar, masked by a bad attitude and bad behavior?

It makes me think of that quote I constantly see floating around social media:


#4 Set up to Survive Ambiguity

A classroom is a smorgasbord of ability levels, personalities, attention levels, cultural backgrounds, and home life situations. As teachers, we must be able to deal with this ambiguity to provide each individual in our classrooms with the learning environment that will allow them to be successful. Ambiguity in the classroom can lead to confusion and frustration for kids trying to figure out how to act and react in classroom situations. How they handle emotions and challenges at home, may not be the best way to handle these situations at school. This will inevitably cause disruptions, distractions, and misbehavior. Classroom Turkeys usually can’t handle this very well. 🙂

This is where your classroom structure can help. If you have consistent, clear, concise classroom expectations, students will always know what you expect from them. Classroom procedures that are modeled and practiced and used consistently will create a classroom environment that flows smoothly regardless of the daily challenges. Do students know what to do when they walk in the room, when they are confused, when they are struggling, when they are finished with their work, when they have a question, when they need help, when they have energy bursts to burn off? If you provide structure in how these things are handled regularly, you will be training your students how to follow the classroom flow and eliminate some of the ambiguity of the classroom.

#5 Redirection Strategies

Redirection is simple and silent. Using redirection can help students stay on task and get back on task easily without major distractions. Try these before behavior warnings and consequences to keep a positive atmosphere for that student.


#6 Give Students Coping Strategies for Dealing with Their Own Emotions

Kids act out because they are not equipped with good coping strategies and they are not mature enough to handle emotions like a grown up. I know its easy for me to forget that kids are kids and they don’t always know a better way to respond to their own feelings. When a student makes a choice that could have been a better decision, have a heart to heart with them. Discuss what they did and what they could have done differently. Ask for their input when coming up with better choices for next time. School counselors are a great resource when you have a student struggling to cope with their emotions in an appropriate way for the classroom. Here is a list of options for kids struggling with an emotion during class. These strategies can cross over into their lives at home and after school, too!

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I hope that you were able to find something helpful so you don’t feel like you’re going to lose your cool with Classroom Turkeys. Our own stress levels go up and down depending on the smallest things going on in our lives. Take care of yourself first, so you can take care of your classroom.

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