Why You Should Never Get Between Two Aggressive Students Smart Classroom Management

There was a viral video a few months ago of a teacher standing between two students who were arguing back and forth.

The students were about a dozen feet apart.

The teacher was facing one of the students when the other picked up a chair and threw it. As the chair arced toward the target, it clipped the teacher in the head and upper body.

The teacher dropped to the floor immediately and the video cuts out.

Aggressive and angry students are becoming more commonplace. Also commonplace is their willingness to attack and injure anyone within striking distance.

There is a carelessness—a better word may be callousness—for the well-being of others that I don’t recall seeing in my previous three decades of teaching. If someone gets hurt, they don’t care.

No remorse, even if it’s you, someone who has dedicated their career to helping them.

It’s always been important to protect yourself in the classroom, but now it’s taken on another level of urgency. You’re not a martyr. Risking life and limb isn’t part of your job. You’re under no obligation to put yourself in harm’s way to break up a fight.

This doesn’t mean that you’ll walk away and let it happen. But the idea that it’s your responsibility, with zero training, to stand between two or more emotionally out of control and determined students is preposterous.

So then, what should you do?

Call the cavalry.

Don’t hesitate. You must call for back up the moment you notice rising aggression. If you don’t know who and how to call, then you’re unprepared.

You must have a protocol to follow without thinking and be assured that help is on the way. Maybe it’s a group text or internal phone call. Maybe you partner-up with neighboring teachers.

If there is security on campus, you have to have a way to contact them.

But calling for help is your first step, even if no punches have been thrown. Good teachers anticipate and read body language. You must be Magnus Carlsen thinking five moves ahead.

Form a triangle.

The only time you ever get between students is if you have another adult in the room (very cautiously and before punches have been thrown). Short of that, the best place to be is to the side and perpendicular to the line between the two students.

From this position, the students can hear you, you’re out of harm’s way, and, most importantly, you’re better able to keep the rest of your class safe and away from the two potential combatants.

Keep at least ten feet away and be a good witness. Watch, listen, and take note of what is said and done. This is critical because one student may be bullying another.

Lower the temperature.

This is your primary job. Move smoothly, speak softly though loud enough to hear, and use palms-down hand gestures that universally signal ease and calmness.

Move the rest of your class back and away and keep them from getting involved. Talk the aggressive students down and tell them that you’ll work it out and that it isn’t worth getting hurt. Instruct them to sit down or walk away.

The idea is to pause long enough for them to reconsider and to allow help to arrive. Stall them as long as you can while keeping your observational powers and senses attuned to the entire environment.

Be Proactive

Violence happens almost exclusively in classrooms with poor classroom management, where temperatures are high and tension palatable nearly all of the time.

I can feel the level of energy, whether good or bad, the moment I enter any classroom.

If your students don’t listen to you about the simple things, like pushing in their chair or lining up quietly or working without talking and disruption, then they’re not going to listen to you when things get heated.

You must be a stickler for constant classroom management.

—Not just for the obvious benefits, which are many and profound, but also for confidence in knowing that if things go south, your students are going to listen and follow your directions.

PS – The worst case scenario is if a student is being attacked and helpless to fight back. Always call for back up first. Ensure that the rest of your students are in control and supportive of you. Then make the decision, if you’re physically able, to step in to try your best to protect the victim.

This, I believe, is a moral rather than professional obligation.

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Also, the audio version of Inspire is now finally available. The narrator is fantastic and I’m thrilled with how it turned out.

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