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Globally, schools today are faced with a myriad of challenges in educating students. Apart from effectively executing the formal curriculum, educators are faced with non-academic factors which hinder instruction, and by extension, affect optimal academic performance. One such example is student classroom behaviours. This can often impact the amount and quality of instruction in the classroom, especially if the behaviours are negative and disruptive in nature. (Flynt, 2008)
Today, secondary schools across Trinidad and Tobago are plagued by a growing problem of indiscipline. Recently, cases of violence and unruliness within our education system have become more apparent in the news as they have been occurring on a more regular basis as opposed to previous years. In some schools, this kind of behaviour has even resulted in death. Teachers have also been complaining more within recent times, about the high levels of insubordination and disruptive behaviour encountered on a daily basis in the classroom and how it affects stability, growth and educational accomplishment in our schools.
Disruptive student behaviour and its impact on student academic performance as well as teacher performance have become a growing concern for parents, teachers, principals and the Ministry of Education in Trinidad and Tobago. Within recent times, acts of violence and indiscipline at the schools have become more rampant and parade the news on a regular basis. However, based on research, Trinidad and Tobago is not the only country affected by disruptive behaviour. According to John (2009), Trinidad is just one of many countries in the Caribbean region that has been affected by the prevalence of violence in schools. It is a problem that many schools have been grappling with across the Caribbean region. Nevertheless, the elimination of corporal punishment from schools in 2001 in Trinidad and Tobago may have heightened the public's apprehension over the issue of indiscipline in our schools. Students nowadays seem fearless of the consequences of their actions. It is argued that teachers have simply become bulldogs without teeth; that their hands are practically tied. (Rambhajan, 2007)
This paper seeks to analyze and discuss the prevalence of disruptive classroom behaviours and how they can negatively impact academic performance as well as the teacher's performance in the classroom. It is hoped that this research paper will further stimulate discussions on the impact of disruptive classroom behaviour on the education system in Trinidad and Tobago and that the recommendations will be used to alleviate the problems faced by teachers and students alike, thereby improving academic performance in the classroom and in schools generally across the nation. As such, this paper will explore and support the view that negative student behaviour ultimately negatively impacts academic performance, learning in the classroom by other students as well as the teacher's ability to perform.
"Negative student behaviour", "academic performance" and "teacher performance" will be defined in this essay as:
Normal or "good" behaviour is usually determined by whether it is socially, culturally and developmentally appropriate. When students appear to be lazy, rude, troublesome and unmotivated, they are usually labelled as children with 'problem behaviour' by teachers. Some teachers were interviewed and asked to define disruptive behaviour. One teacher asserted that a child who deliberately makes a fuss in class which prevents learning is exhibiting negative student behaviour. (Charles, 2012) Another teacher describes disruptive behaviour as uncooperative student that prevents themselves and other children in class from working and performing. (Ali, 2012) As such, 'student behaviour' will be described as any negative or disruptive act exhibited by a student that interrupts normal classroom instruction and procedure.
According to an article from the Caribbean Educational Research Journal, B. P. Thompson (2010) states that behaviours are considered disruptive based on the fact that they interrupt the teaching-learning process by impeding student learning and adversely impacting on teacher morale. Corrie (2001) acknowledges some of the behaviours considered disruptive by teachers. The need for constant supervision, not heeding directions, often found amusing themselves with pens, pencils and other stationery items, slowly getting started to do any work, talking out of turn, being unmotivated, getting distracted from work easily, often seeking attention and preventing others from learning by speaking to them, touching them, or interfering with their books, materials and equipment are a few examples of the disruptive classroom behaviours that are of concern to teachers. Disruptive student behaviour therefore is student behaviour that interrupts the learning of students and their academic performance, and that distracts a teacher from doing his or her job effectively.
According to Wikipedia, "Academic achievement or (academic) performance is the outcome of education - the extent to which a student, teacher or institution has achieved their educational goals." Generally, student academic performance describes how well a student is accomplishing his or her tasks or studies, but there are numerous factors that determine the level and quality of students' academic performance. Academic performance will incorporate and refer to the ability to accomplish set goals, standards or objectives as it relates to studying.
Medley (1982) and Medley and Shannon (1994) portray teacher performance as the way in which a teacher behaves in the process of teaching. A teacher's overall performance is determined by the teacher's classroom-management techniques, the set-up of the classroom, and the quality of his or her lesson plan. Teacher performance generally refers to the teacher's reaction and behaviour to situations in the classroom while teaching.
As a neophyte teacher with approximately five years experience, I have encountered a number of challenges in the classroom as a result of negative student behaviour. I have heard numerous teachers on their return to the staff room from particular classes, complain about their lack of tolerance and patience in dealing with these so-called "disruptive" students. Many of these educators are ready to 'throw in the towel' when it comes to these students because they believe that they are not worth their time when they behave in such a disorderly and disruptive manner in the classroom. It appears that more time is spent trying to control and discipline the students, as opposed to actual teaching and completion of lessons prepared.
Aiger (2010) argues that children attend school to become educated members of society, capable of making informed decisions and increasing future career possibilities. However, some children have difficulty adjusting to the classroom environment and act out with negative disruptive behaviours. It is unfortunate that these children 'act out' on a daily basis since they begin to have a negative impact on themselves and their academic performance. Everything is affected like a domino effect due to negative student behaviour. According to Miller (2012), disruptive behaviour can have negative effects on not only the classroom environment, but also on the school experience as a whole.
Garner and Hill (1995) contend and support the view that as a consequence of a student's negative conduct, the disruptive student will be at a disadvantage. They maintain that such behaviour on the student's part, will prevent the student from being allowed to participate in educational activities, and that the disruptive student will become isolated from his peers. Other pupils will become affected since their learning and functioning will be affected and they will try to evade any contact with the disruptive student. Opportunities will be reduced for involvement in even ordinary community activities. The disorderly student will find it very difficult to obtain recommendations for jobs and future placement will become difficult as a result of his unruly behaviour and poor academic performance.
Several studies have found that students who demonstrated signs of being inattentive, withdrawn or aggressive behaviours had low academic performance in the elementary grades (Finn, Pannozzo, & Voelkl, 1995; Ladd & Burgess, 1997). Literature suggests that students who exhibit these maladaptive behaviours throughout the early years of school are more likely to gravitate to other students engaging in negative behaviours, face academic failure, and have trouble interacting with their peers (Akey, 2006; Barriga et al., 2002). Without intervention, these negative behaviours can persist and appear to be fairly stable over time.
Owing to this negative student behaviour, not only is the academic performance but the holistic development of the student is also inadvertently affected. The disruptive student will continue to fall behind educationally since he already has problems maintaining focus and paying attention in class. As such, the child will begin to develop low self-esteem since teachers, in addition to his peers have begun to label him using terms like "stupid" or "duncy". The disruptive student eventually will lose the motivation to try to study and will become lost in the class.
Disruptive classroom behaviours not only detract from the child's educational experience but also may lead to social isolation. The disruptive student will be unable to develop and maintain positive relationships with his classmates, and later on with the adults on the school compound. Ultimately people will begin to ignore and avoid the character. He will be viewed as a negative influence. The disruptive student will become isolated from his peers, and may eventually develop anti-social behaviour.
As a result, the disruptive student will generally become very pessimistic and unenthusiastic about school and will begin to lack good critical thinking and reasoning skills. He will develop negative attitudes towards everything. This will in turn affect the way in which the student responds to conflict. This negative attitude would impact the disruptive student's conflict resolution ability. This student's negative behaviour will soon affect his relationships with adults and figures of authority due to his lack of respect that is expected of a student. Children displaying disruptive classroom behaviours often face disciplinary consequences. When disruptive behaviours become a chronic issue, these consequences escalate and sometimes result in the child's removal from school through suspensions and possibly expulsion. (Aiger, 2010)
Like a domino effect, the disorderly behaviour of the disruptive student will in turn begin to affect his classmates. It is said that a single disruptive student can influence and impact negatively on the academic progress of an entire classroom of students. According the Carrell (2009), research has proven that "one bad apple" impedes the learning of all other students. Miller (2012) also supports the view that the learning process for other students is affected when one or more students behave in a disruptive manner. Constant interruptions can interfere with focus.
The focal point of learning and educational instruction occurs within the classroom walls. As such, it should be an environment conducive to quality teaching and learning. Unfortunately, disruptive behaviour obstructs the teaching-learning process. B. P. Thompson (2010) notes that these behaviours are considered disruptive based on the fact that they interrupt the teaching-learning process by impeding student learning. Miller (2012) argues that while the disruptive student behaviour is being addressed, other students are compelled to wait on their teacher or they are sidetracked by the disruptive student's attempts to be noticed. This can result in lower grades and behavioural issues with other students as well as with the student who is causing the interruption. It is important to note that peers are liable to have a significant influence over other students in the class, and if one student is disruptive, it may encourage similar behaviour in other classmates who might not have given trouble otherwise.
The role of the teacher is to maintain a healthy classroom environment. However, it becomes difficult to have good classroom management and to complete the lesson planned when the teacher is forced to focus on the negative student behaviour in the classroom. As I reflect on my teaching experience, I can recall certain occurrences that I stumbled upon just recently which sometimes make that role seem impossible. In a Form three class, only four out of a total of twenty one students presently pay attention or attempt to learn anything in class. The majority of students have been influenced negatively by the two or three disruptive students who refuse to participate in any classes within the past academic year. As a teacher it has become quite a task to go to the class and accomplish any planned work. Even some of the more senior teachers have given up hope of getting through to any of these students. When reports are made by the teachers to the principal, we are constantly told "Don't worry ...Soon these children will be out of the system." I am reminded of students just riding a wave to shore whenever I hear that comment. I cannot understand why these children refuse to behave in such a negative manner every day. There are high levels of absenteeism and when they are present, they are noisy, raucous and disruptive. Their unmannerly presence disturbs almost every other class that surrounds their classroom. Most members of staff refer to this particular group of students as a nuisance and a complete 'waste of time'.
An extensive literature review cites a relationship between classroom behaviour and teacher perceptions and expectations (Egan & Archer, 1985; Jussim, 1989; Jussim & Eccles, 1995; Palardy, 1969; Safran & Safran, 1985). Some studies suggest that teachers prefer students who exhibit more positive behaviour patterns, such as cooperation and responsibility, rather than students who are argumentative or disruptive (Alvidrez & Weinstein, 1999). Negative behaviours are viewed as highly disadvantageous to classroom order and can be detrimental to student/teacher interactions (Alvidrez & Weinstein, 1999; Safran & Safran, 1985).
The time taken to deal with the indiscipline inhibits the completion of objectives. The teacher will not be allowed to effectively utilize his or her teaching strategies targeted towards differentiated learning skills and abilities as a consequence of the constant commotion. The teacher's performance is obviously negatively impacted upon. As such, the teacher's attitude towards the disruptive student will begin to change and the child without a doubt will be viewed negatively. Not only will the teacher become frustrated, but de-motivated and discouraged when he or she is forced to face the challenge of controlling these disruptive students on an almost daily basis. The teacher becomes physically and mentally drained after dealing with the indiscipline and it will begin to affect his or her performance in the classroom. As a result of the high levels of stress, the teacher may even begin to consider changing his or her profession. Too much energy is exerted towards dealing with this negative behaviour. The teachers will perhaps begin to discuss this student within the confines of the staffroom and the student may become labelled and will develop a bad reputation. This can result in poor teacher-student relationships. The disruptive student will be ignored and avoided by the teachers.
Disruptive students interfere with the teacher's ability to teach effectively. The behaviours require large amounts of the teacher's time and attention. The teacher must stop the lesson or discussion to address the behaviour and this takes away from the valuable time needed to instruct the rest of the class. If the disruptive behaviour is threatening, it may be challenge the teacher's authority and can create tension in the classroom, which pushes learning to the background. Disruptive behaviour by one student also encourages other students to do the same, which compromises the teacher's authority and ability to control the group. (Miller, 2012)
According to an article in the Los Angeles Times by Sujata Bhatt (2012), a great teacher can have a huge effect on a child's life. Similarly, it can be argued that students can also have a huge impact on a teacher and his or her performance in the classroom. A teacher is expected to create and maintain an environment that is conducive to learning in the classroom. However, as Flynt (2008) notes, negative behaviours, especially when exhibited within the classroom, can have a direct impact on the quality and amount of instruction delivered by the teacher. Teachers who spend an excessive amount of time addressing negative student behaviours perpetually spend less time focused on classroom instruction. As a result of the lack of interest in learning demonstrated by the students, the teacher's attitude changes towards them thereby affecting the teacher's performance in the classroom.
Investigating negative or disruptive behaviours among students is important because these behaviours can act as barriers to classroom instruction and subsequently affect academic outcomes (Akey, 2006; Barriga et al. Good & Brophy, 1987; Wexler, 1992). When these behaviours occur within the classroom setting, it is often difficult for the teacher to simultaneously redirect or discipline the student and provide quality instruction (Wexler, 1992; Williams & McGee, 1994). It is quite clear that indiscipline has reached as far as affecting the teaching process. Fields (2002) argues that disruptive behaviour can result in a teacher feeling disenchanted. It will also influence how the teacher approaches the class mentally. In addition to this, such behaviour will directly and indirectly affect the way in which a lesson is executed, thus affecting the teacher's performance in the classroom.
Numerous studies have documented a relationship between negative behaviours and academic achievement (Akey, 2006; Feshbach, Adelman & Fuller, 1977; Kane, 2004; Kohn, & Rosman, 1972; Kravetz, Faust, Lipshitz & Shalhav; 1998; Perry & Weinstein, 1998; Svanum & Bringle, 1982). In the last few decades, research studies have focused on identifying the factors that influence academic achievement (Akey, 2006; Hamre & Pianta, 2001; Kane, 2004; McKinney & Feagans, 1984; Wentzel, 1993). Traditionally, positive behaviours such as compliance with classroom rules and expectations, interest and engagement in class activities, and mastery of subject matter have been associated with positive academic outcomes (Birch & Ladd, 1997; Feshbach & Feshbach, 1987; Wentzel, 1993), while negative behaviors such as inattention, distractibility, and withdrawn behaviors have been associated with negative academic outcomes (Akey, 2006; Kane, 2004). Therefore, it is of utmost importance that something is done to alleviate this situation.
It is common knowledge that most of these 'disruptive students' come from troubled homes where domestic and verbal abuse is the norm. They are accustomed to adults reproaching them all the time. Unfortunately they do not understand kind gestures and words. Another major factor that plays a role in determining their behaviour is that of poverty. Violence, drugs and crime surround them from birth. These students have become familiar with a particular lifestyle and it is difficult for them to understand that positive change is possible. However, while teachers are usually quick to blame the students' disruptive behaviour and truancy on the unconstructive influence of their family and peers, the students sometimes feel that the individual teachers and their teaching styles are also culpable. Therein lies another problem that must be examined since neither teachers nor student are willing to acknowledge their own role in the problem.
Teachers have a great responsibility and to meet this responsibility, teachers need support and help. Parents and school administration should communicate properly with teachers for the enhancement of students and class discipline. If teachers want to solve this problem, they should engage the parents and encourage them to become involved in their child's educational issues. When parents become more involved, they will teach their children to respect their teachers. The administrators must establish positive and effective communication between the school and the home.
A more learner centred environment can be created in the classroom where the students may feel more inclined to talk with the teacher. If the student is comfortable with the teacher, they may begin to develop a relationship that the teacher can use to enhance the child's holistic development. The teacher will become more familiar with and get to know their students better. Modelling a student-friendly atmosphere in the classroom can help a teacher understand what their students are interested in, and he or she can facilitate the student in overcoming any problems that the student may have. Teachers can then help their students achieving their goals by encouraging them. The most favoured strategy that can be used by teachers to improve behaviour is to pay positive attention to pupils when they are behaving well, that is "catching them being good." (Daniels, 1999) By focusing on their good behaviour instead of the negative-as they are accustomed to at home, students will be encouraged to please their teachers by seeking positive attention.
Just as teachers require motivation to go to certain classes, students also need some kind of incentive to perform academically. Teachers can use rewards and incentives as a means of improving this negative behaviour. Regarding Skinner's ideas to behaviour modification, with an emphasis on reinforcement, it has been found that the rewards need to be negotiated with the students so that they are observed as truly rewarding. They must earn their rewards which may come in form of something appreciated by the students (such as food). The rewards will be seen as desirable. Students will begin to see their teachers in a new light and will observe the fairness in the system.
A careful consideration of these suggestions should aid in restraining the level of disruptive classroom behaviours exhibited in our secondary schools, thereby facilitating the delivery of quality education.