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Teaching Case Study: Alphonse's Behavior Problems

Teaching Case Study: Alphonse's Behavior Problems

It's important to be prepared for the toughest behavioral problems.

At the end of the school year, I often meet with my fellow teachers across grade levels to discuss difficult situations we encountered in our classrooms. Analyzing a teaching case study can help prospective teachers know what to expect and be better prepared, and it can help current teachers anticipate problems and implement viable solutions in their own classrooms.

Here's one teaching case study a colleague of mine shared. Read the scenario and think about what your solution would be. Then read the strategies this teacher used to deal with the situation.

Case Study: Alphonse's Behavioral Problems

Alphonse is often a behavioral problem in Ms. Stewart's tenth-grade classroom. Throughout the school year, she has tried to ignore his behavior in an effort to not reinforce it and avoid giving him an audience for his acting out.

She has given him swift and immediate consequences for his inappropriate behavior, progressing from school detentions to in-school suspensions. Alphonse's grades in Ms. Stewart's class are almost failing, and he seems to have given up hope.

Alphonse is oppositional and moody, and Ms. Stewart doesn't look forward to seeing him each day. Most of the comments she has given Alphonse have not been positive. She has called his mother several times, but has been unable to reach her.

Further reading: Seek Help for Struggling Students

One day in May, Alphonse comes into the classroom with his hood up and headphones on, and he immediately puts his head down on his desk. Ms. Stewart goes over and taps him gently on the shoulder, firmly telling him to remove his hood and sit up. Alphonse becomes upset, cursing and throwing his books onto the floor, creating a huge disruption in the classroom. He then storms out of the room.

Strategies to Help the Situation

After the incident, the vice principal gave Alphonse a one-day suspension. Ms. Stewart felt she had failed Alphonse because neither his academics nor his behavior had improved during the year—in fact, they had gotten worse. After this incident, Ms. Stewart decided that trying to deescalate Alphonse's behavior by ignoring him had been a mistake. She also realized it hadn't been wise to enter Alphonse's personal space when he wasn't expecting it.

When Alphonse returned, Ms. Stewart asked him to stop by for a visit after school. She made sure she had snacks available to create a comfortable environment in which to talk. Calmly and professionally, Ms. Stewart asked Alphonse what was going on. It wasn't long before the floodgates opened: Alphonse was the oldest of five siblings. His single mother worked at night, and it was Alphonse's responsibility to feed, bathe, and take care of his other four siblings. He often did not get much sleep.

Further reading: Your Power is in Your Attitude

As a result of his at-home responsibilities, Alphonse was not able to play basketball for the school's team this year—a fact that he resented strongly. He was angry that he was not able to enjoy his teenage life like his friends could, and that anger manifested itself in class.

Ms. Stewart immediately notified the school social worker so that Alphonse could discuss his problems with a professional on a regular basis. She then told Alphonse about a weekend basketball league. She contacted the coach and explained Alphonse's situation.

Very quickly, Alphonse began to see his teacher as an ally. Ms. Stewart lamented the fact she waited so long to build a relationship with Alphonse. She saw a marked improvement in both Alphonse's behavior and his academics. Although he sometimes still lost his temper, the incidents were more infrequent, and Ms. Stewart was almost always able to calm and redirect him.

When school starts in September, Ms. Stewart plans to follow up with Alphonse, his social worker, and his new teachers so that he can continue on the road to success.