No matter how hard a teacher tries, there will always be those kids who act out in class. You know the ones: they don’t pay attention, shout disruptive things, and take part in other miscellaneous buffoonery. Calmly reasoning with them only goes so far—and the same goes for your nerves. It can be tempting to put your foot down, but according to a 2016 study, you shouldn’t. Kids behave best when they feel a sense of control.
The study, which was published in the journal Learning and Instruction, specifically looked at students’ reactions to psychological control by teachers. What do they mean by psychological control? According to the study press release, it refers to threats or controlling language, such as commanding “do this because I say so,” without so much as an explanation. There’s no surer way to get a frustrated and disengaged teen.
Stephen Earl from the University of Kent, the lead author of the study, found that pupils under 14 years of age reported feeling disengaged when they felt forced to do activities or were made to feel incapable of being successful. That led them to have less energy, daydream more, and act out by talking and making noise in class. The researchers found that this was even true when the teachers were well meaning—after all, they only urge kids to do what they say because they want them to get more out of their education.
Although this may sound obvious on its face—nobody likes being forced to do things—it has some important implications for the classroom. It could be that “class clowns” and other misbehaved students are fooling around not because they’re bad kids, but because they’re feeling powerless. Instead of meeting disruption with stern hostility, it’s best to really understand what’s going on with your student. They’ll likely zone out less, learn more, and cut back on their clownery.