My 6th pd. freshmen are rude and disrespectful

Today’s post is a question I received via email this week. This teacher gave me permission to share our exchange here; I edited the letter to isolate the question, removed the state where she teaches, and changed her name to protect her privacy.

Hello Laura,
…I teach high school ELA and I’m having a hard time with my freshmen in 6th period. They’re rude and disrespectful and I feel I can’t handle them. What do you suggest?
I’d appreciate your advice,

Oh, Pamela, I’ve been there and know that pain. So frustrating. Last period of the day freshmen bring their own special type of madness. On years when the master schedule was released and I spotted 6th period freshmen in my assignment, I knew it was going to be an intense roller-coaster end to each day. By sixth period, 14-year-olds are unraveling and their spongy brains are full; it’s hard for them to hold in all that chaos.

What to do? Six ideas that might help you conquer sixth period.

1. Know you’re not alone. All high school teachers tussle with last-period freshmen. It’s not that the kids are terrible people. It’s that their brains aren’t fully formed and high school is a lot for most of them to manage. Heck, it’s a lot for most adults to manage, too. Bottom line, you’re getting students at their worst – not to mention they’re probably hungry and in the depths of internet/social media withdrawal. It’s a lot.

2. Believe that those freshmen can actually become your #1 favorite class, if you find a way to harness all of that intense energy. They’ll play games and be enthusiastic about goofy stuff. You’ll need to be the conduit of that energy.

3. Identify the ringleader/s and turn them to your side. Here’s a video to model the technique I used for these situations. Warning: This is one of my very first on YouTube and I’m awkw-a-r-d, but the classroom management technique still holds up:

4. Here’s how to deal with other kids who have trouble containing their bouncy ball energy:

5. Don’t go to war. You’re on their side. It’s still early in the year and there’s plenty of time to build in some positive structures. Are you using Quarter Trios? This is a way to build your classroom community and have students enjoy your room and your vibe:

6. If none of these things work within in a week or two, call home. Parents/guardians are (usually) an asset and can help with consequences at home for lousy behavior at school.

Finally, as I mentioned in one of those videos, there is no single solution, no magic wand to solve an issue like what you’re facing. It’ll take a whole bunch of different strategies and, even then, things shift unexpectedly. The wacky thing about teaching is that even when you solve this particular problem and everything’s finally rolling along smoothly, one student will move away or one new student will arrive and the whole dynamic can shift. If you treat this like a game and surrender to the interesting challenge of it, you’ll be happier and the kids will feel that energy, too. 

I hope this helps. Definitely reach out again and let me know how it’s going. I’m pulling for you!

Okay, teacher friend, what else would you add to this advice? What moves are within Pamela’s control to help improve the situation? Leave a reply below.

2 thoughts on “My 6th pd. freshmen are rude and disrespectful

  1. I completely agree with Laura – you are not alone. Far from it!

    In addition to Laura’s advice, I would also make sure that you keep your boundaries strong. In my experience, kids are looking to see if the boundaries will hold. Even though they may (probably) complain, having boundaries in place makes everyone more comfortable.

    As far as rudeness is concerned, when a student addresses me in a rude or inappropriate manner, I simply ask them to rephrase what they have said. If a student asks why, I tell them that I don’t speak to them in that way; since I do not do that, I would appreciate it if they did not speak to me in such a way. When I do this, I stay very calm and do not raise my voice. It tends to work well.

    Finally, I, too, teach freshmen. They are wonderful, but they can be quite the group. If someone is struggling to comply with a request or stay on task, I ask them to regroup and stay on task – in a calm manner – two or three times. If they cannot seem to do this, I pull them aside and make it clear that I expect more from them because they are now high school students. Their middle school/junior high days are over. I do not say this in a mean way – I simply iterate that they are old enough to behave like high school students. I do not do this in front of other kids. Oftentimes, this little “reminder” works well.

    Do not punish or reprimand an entire group unless the entire group is the problem. Isolate the kids who are struggling to comply and go from there. No one likes to be reprimanded when they are doing their best to follow your expectations. Hope this helps!

  2. Yes, yes, yes to all of this! Megan’s advice = Solid

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