One student’s behavior in class makes other students want to leave

Emily Jennings said: Dec 8, 2014
Portland, OR
5 posts

I could really use some help with this one…I have a student whose behavior has always been, frankly, difficult to deal with, both in lesson and in group. I have suspected from the start that there may be some sort of underlying condition contributing to it (ADHD, autism spectrum, some other thing that affects a child’s ability to adapt their behavior appropriately). His parents have never said anything about a condition, though. I can usually deal with his behavior pretty well myself; I’ve gotten used to it over the few years that he’s been my student, though it does drive me to the brink of my own patience level.

So, I cannot say I was surprised when another family from this student’s group class wrote a formal level asking to be taken out of group class because of his behavior. They didn’t mention the student by name, but I know they mainly meant his behavior was making their own child uncomfortable enough to want to leave the class. (FYI, the complaining family did bring this up to me before a couple months ago, but with no other group class for their child available—I’m pulling from a limited pool of students here—I had to just sympathize with them and ask them to be patient.)

So. Now this student’s behavior is affecting the way my classes can be taught and grouped. How do I talk to his parents about his behavior, and tell them that it’s not appropriate for his age (he’s now 10-11, the oldest in the group, yet he acts sometimes like the youngest)? Would I bring up that other families have complained (obviously not mentioning specific names)? I don’t know what he’s like in his own school, if his other teachers have had similar issues…I’ve mostly been just trying to adapt to it, but in a classroom setting, even with just 3 or 4 other kids, his behavior affects everyone. Help!

Danielle Gomez Kravitz said: Dec 8, 2014
Danielle Gomez Kravitz
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
59 posts

Overly disruptive students will get two verbal warnings from me (gentle ones like, “You need to stop, that’s not ok.”) If this fails to correct the behavior, I ask him or her to go take a walk outside with mom or dad.

Your job as the teacher is to stay in control of the classroom and to provide a musical education. If a particular student is disrupting this process then it falls into the “parenting” category. It is the parent’s job to correct that behavior.

If most group classes result in the “walk outside” for this student it might be an easy way to segue into a conversation about his overall behavior. But either way, your group class problem is solved by removing him from the situation.

Katherine said: Dec 9, 2014
Suzuki Association Member
75 posts

As a parent (and teacher too), I completely agree w Danielle. We attended an institute this summer which was in all ways completely wonderful, EXCEPT, in one class there were several disruptive boys whose ill behavior fed off each other and prevented the class from accomplishing all that the teacher had planned. As a parent I was pretty frustrated, and I think when a child has been warned two times (and the parent of the child is sitting right there observing!) it is reasonable and fair to ask the child to leave for some time. For a lot of kids this reality check might be all it takes. But for children with significant challenges, like autism, that might not be effective for them. Since this has been going on for awhile, it sounds like the first step might be to talk to the parent about the on-going issue. It’s not OK for one child (or several children) to hold a group back from learning, IMO.

I had an student with austism for awhile. We tried one group lesson but it really was not going to work to have him in the group lessons. This situation may not be that extreme, but, maybe you and his parent can evaluate if the benefits outweigh the costs of him being in the group lesson?

Sera Jane Smolen said: Dec 9, 2014
Sera Jane Smolen
Suzuki Association Member
Ithaca, NY
24 posts

Yes, I agree that talking to the parent would be ideal. Often children in this situation have very similar issues that resonate in all the facets of their lives. Also, often their parent who cares enough about them to attend lessons and classes has also read about the issues. Often I learn about how to me more insightful in lessons and classes with parents like this. I read something they think would be useful for me to know. Some caring, informed parents sit there thinking “I wish she had read this one book!” I find that the parents are desperately trying to build up this child so they can, in the end, learn how to fit in. So I really stay in touch with that parent.

One thing that has worked well for me with one difficult boy has been to position his cello chair in a spot where he can stay in class “as long as he can” before slipping out. This way he feels like he had “a whole class”, and we also were able to have a whole class as a larger group.

Sometimes we have busy parents who do not do their research outside of lessons and classes. These relationships are much harder to have a deep, long lasting resourceful time with. The children are bumping up against different paradigms in school, home and lessons in that case and they are simply confused in addition to being challenged in the first place. Often a parent actually shares a learning challenge. Sometimes they know this, and sometimes they don’t.

When we learn to truly hear the music of children,
we learn to hear the music of the future.
—Michael Deeson Barrow

Heather Figi said: Dec 9, 2014
Heather FigiViolin
Eugene, OR
97 posts


With the disruptive child’s family:
I have noticed “X -Y -Z” etc….

then, clearly state your needs as the leader of the classes

With the family that asked to leave:
“I want to acknowledge the reasons you left… the very least, you deserve to be heard and acknowledged for the stress this created…..etc”

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