Teacher Nicholas McKay writing for Hello Teacher!

Updated November 16, 2018
By Nicholas McKay

Behavior management and student connections

Personally, I find behavioral management to be challenging.

It’s a classroom practice I’m not particularly confident in. Though mentor teachers of mine have praised my techniques, they likewise felt concerned.

Considering some of the nightmarish stories I’ve heard about unruly behavior, I’m not surprised. A friend of mine once worked as a year level coordinator. One day, he was called to a classroom because the teacher had lost total control.

Tables and chairs had been knocked over. Students were running around, screaming and throwing papers. Some of the boys were even playing a miniature game of football.

The unfortunate truth is, once the respect students have for their teacher is gone, it’s very difficult to get back.

When I began teaching, I was like a Dalek: “If you do not do the work,” I commanded robotically, “you will get a detention.” I shudder at the memory.

While undertaking my teaching qualifications, I was told not to smile until after Easter. In short, do not let students see you as a person, else they will lose respect for you.

I don’t believe this is the case. In being a robot, I built the same wall Donald Trump wants to construct, between my students and me. In being myself, I developed connections.


During my first ever English classroom, I was surrounded by a sea of Asian faces. I was quite possibly one of the whitest people they’d ever seen. Being a robot wasn’t going to cut the mustard.

We were studying essay writing. When the topic of stereotyping came up, I used my class as an example. “Who here’s heard the expression all Asians are bad drivers?” I called out.

The class heatedly responded “yes”. “I’ve had three girlfriends in my life,” I announced, only to have many class members whistle and cheer. “Yes, I’m a player!” I teased. “Out of my three girlfriends, two of them were Asian, and both were better drivers than I will ever be.”

During this transaction, not only did the class gain an understanding of a stereotype, they also learned that I had prior experience communicating with people from their ethnic background. They, in turn, trusted me more.

Some of my favorite students have in fact been those who misbehaved.

I interacted with them so frequently I came to know them, not as learners, but as people. In doing so, I understood them, and what was required to ensure they did the work.

On the first day of teaching at my second school, I was told: “There are four absolutely atrocious boys in Year 10 – and guess what? They’re all in your English class. Go get ‘em, tiger!”

My experiences with this classroom was a wakeup call on behavioral management. For starters, students must immediately recognise you as the teacher at the beginning of every lesson. The simplest way to do this – have students line up!

Secondly, seating plans; friendship groups frequently result in distractions. Indefinitely separating friends will often result in increased concentration.

Thirdly, don’t ever be afraid to raise your voice. The first time I yelled in my Media classroom, I scared some of the students. They weren’t used to me shouting.

An unruly class can test you when it comes to getting the balance right between behavior management and student connections.

You can raise your voice if necessary, according to teacher Nicholas McKay (pictured: an unruly class in China).

If ever I do yell, I remember to approach the student before the end of the lesson, to make it known that no hard feelings are held. You’d be surprised how easily students can grow to resent their teachers, because they’re convinced the teacher hates them.

I also never use the word ‘please’; it sounds like I’m begging. “Please child, could you do this for me?” No, not on! Instead, I say ‘thank you’. “Could you stop talking and do the work? Thank you.” This implies I trust students will do as instructed.

Students, however, don’t like being told off, even when they know they were misbehaving.

“But Sir, Tiffany was talking too!” This rebuttal could easily be one a student makes.

In that case, I make sure not to argue with them. “That may be so,” I begin, “but you were the one I saw talking.” By saying this, I am acknowledging their statement, while fairly disciplining behavior that I witnessed.

At all times, I try to remain calm. One student I taught almost always refused to participate in other classes because teachers frequently responded to his misbehavior with yelling. He would, in turn, yell back.

During my class, I didn’t yell at him, instead, opting to speak in a calm, non-argumentative manner, resulting in him doing the work. By knowing your students, a teacher will learn which behavioral tactics are most appropriate for each.

Fourthly, detentions are one of the most powerful devices in a teacher’s arsenal. Students often realise the importance of the work when this consequence is used.

Detentions should only be handed out unless absolutely necessary, for teachers are technically giving themselves a detention as well.

If, however, students refuse to attend, a detention with the coordinator is the next step.

Finally, and this is probably the most important part, don’t forget to have fun. Yes, you’re a teacher, but these are children you’re working with.

When asking students in the aforementioned English class what qualities they liked in teachers, many responded, “For teachers to be themselves”. They found this behavior to be weird, charming and cute.

Students dislike boring environments. So make sure you don’t inadvertently create one while being hung up on maintaining your distance. We’re all people after all.

Having recently completed a Master of Teaching in Secondary Education, Nicholas McKay is currently studying a Graduate Certificate of TESOL and considering his long-term teaching career options.

How do you manage students’ behavior while trying to maintain connections with them? Please comment below.

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