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How to Deal With Power Struggles in the Classroom

How to Deal With Power Struggles in the Classroom

"Unlike some discipline problems, often power struggles build slowly and require long-term solutions."

Julia G. Thompson |

What does a power struggle look like in your teaching practice?

Do you recognize any of these students and their behaviors? Although students who want to engage in power struggles with the adults in their lives can appear in many different guises, there are some ways that teachers can unfortunately find easier to recognize than others.

• The class clown who disrupts the flow of instruction with attention-grabbing comments

• The defiant student who is openly confrontational, oppositional, and rude

• The passively aggressive student who consistently does not have materials or completed work

• The disrespectful student who somehow manages to be just rude enough not to be referred to the office

• The student who complies with your directions -but at a deliberately and maddeningly slow pace

• The student who can do well in school, but who chooses not to

• The student who has perfected the fine art of eye rolling when you give directions

Is Intervention Worth the Hassle?

Sometimes the frustration, stress, misery caused by a student who wants to engage you in a power struggle may make intervention appear not worth the trouble.

After all, unlike some discipline problems, often power struggles build slowly and require long-term solutions. Many teachers find it easy to adopt defensive attitudes such as “As long as he’s sleeping, he’s not bothering anyone” and perhaps these:

• I can’t change her anyway. Why even try?

• Only five more minutes of class left…

• It’s May. Soon this will be another teacher’s problem.

• If the parents can’t do anything, why should I even try?

The long-term, heavy toll of a power struggle on students and their teachers makes action imperative. If teachers don’t choose to act to resolve a power struggle, the results can be disastrous:

• Loss of instructional time

• Distracted students

• Escalation of misbehavior

• Unhappy and unproductive students

Continue reading on the next page.

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