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Behaviour Issues with Adult Learners?

Discussion in 'Further Education' started by KeriLO, Feb 7, 2012.

  1. Hi,
    I am a tutor in Functional Skills, teaching literacy to small groups of learners; one of these days I spend with 16-18 year olds, which I was expecting to be more difficult in terms of behaviour management, but in actual fact it's turning out to be the group of 25-40 year old learners which is giving me most trouble! There is a lot on this forum about behaviour management in schools - does anyone have any advice on behaviour management with older learners? I'll be honest - I never expected it to be an issue, and I find myself rather baffled.
    This is a rather complex small group working at Level 1; accepting the fact that these women (as this is a women-only class, as it's turned out) evidently have quite turbulent personal lives, I'm finding the general attitude towards me declining as the weeks go on.
    For one thing, I am having to consistently ask the learners not to swear. I tried conveniently ignoring this at first, and I think this was probably the wrong thing to do, as it has set a precedent: now, I have to ask eight or ten times a session for people to tone down their language. This is met with great mirth, and not heeded. I should stress that the bad language is mostly just a part of everyday speech rather than aimed at anyone, although this has happened a few times (people seem to fall in and out of friendship at a dramatic rate) but I feel that, as the class is supposed to be preparing people to go into work, then the standard should be that no one swears. I have tried to explain my reasoning, but it has not been effective and it is very wearing to have to keep asking people to stop.
    The general attitude towards myself is not good, either. Bearing in mind that these learners may have a lot of baggage with regards to education, I still feel that they talk to me with a sort of casual contempt at times which makes me feel rattled. For instance, a learner arrived a couple of weeks ago and told me that a class member had dropped out of the class, announcing this in front of some of the learners who were already there by saying "[Learner] isn't coming anymore, because she says this class is a pile of old sh*t". Another example: I was writing something on the whiteboard when the cry came from probably the most dominant person in the group: "MOVE YOUR HEAD!" - to which the other learners all giggled amongst themselves.
    I am not sure how to proceed. This is my first assignment since qualifying in this sector, by the way, and it may or may not make a difference that I am the same age or younger than the people in the group. I don't know what sort of environment I can engender - having worked with younger learners, it feels as if that rule book is no good to me at all - but I do not want to be treated rudely by learners, whatever their age. Help!
     
  2. Hi,
    I am a tutor in Functional Skills, teaching literacy to small groups of learners; one of these days I spend with 16-18 year olds, which I was expecting to be more difficult in terms of behaviour management, but in actual fact it's turning out to be the group of 25-40 year old learners which is giving me most trouble! There is a lot on this forum about behaviour management in schools - does anyone have any advice on behaviour management with older learners? I'll be honest - I never expected it to be an issue, and I find myself rather baffled.
    This is a rather complex small group working at Level 1; accepting the fact that these women (as this is a women-only class, as it's turned out) evidently have quite turbulent personal lives, I'm finding the general attitude towards me declining as the weeks go on.
    For one thing, I am having to consistently ask the learners not to swear. I tried conveniently ignoring this at first, and I think this was probably the wrong thing to do, as it has set a precedent: now, I have to ask eight or ten times a session for people to tone down their language. This is met with great mirth, and not heeded. I should stress that the bad language is mostly just a part of everyday speech rather than aimed at anyone, although this has happened a few times (people seem to fall in and out of friendship at a dramatic rate) but I feel that, as the class is supposed to be preparing people to go into work, then the standard should be that no one swears. I have tried to explain my reasoning, but it has not been effective and it is very wearing to have to keep asking people to stop.
    The general attitude towards myself is not good, either. Bearing in mind that these learners may have a lot of baggage with regards to education, I still feel that they talk to me with a sort of casual contempt at times which makes me feel rattled. For instance, a learner arrived a couple of weeks ago and told me that a class member had dropped out of the class, announcing this in front of some of the learners who were already there by saying "[Learner] isn't coming anymore, because she says this class is a pile of old sh*t". Another example: I was writing something on the whiteboard when the cry came from probably the most dominant person in the group: "MOVE YOUR HEAD!" - to which the other learners all giggled amongst themselves.
    I am not sure how to proceed. This is my first assignment since qualifying in this sector, by the way, and it may or may not make a difference that I am the same age or younger than the people in the group. I don't know what sort of environment I can engender - having worked with younger learners, it feels as if that rule book is no good to me at all - but I do not want to be treated rudely by learners, whatever their age. Help!
     
  3. Hi KeriLO,
    I have also experienced this with adult learners - I completely understand that many of these learners come back into education with "baggage" and years of dire educational experiences, but this some times makes them feel that they have the right to behave exactly as they wish and the idea that they may have to treat other people with respect (often while demanding it from others) is often alien to them.
    I wish I could offer sage advice but found I could only deal with it by being relentlessly upbeat and refusing to take such behaviour personally. I am sure some one will be along with some good ideas - in the meantime I can offer sympathy only!
     
  4. This is awful to hear - especially as I've just left teaching teenagers to teach adults! [​IMG]
    I think it would be scheduling some 1:1 appts with all the learners. Say it's a chance for you to give them indivisdualised feedback on their work / progress (set them a task to do and home that you can feedback on). Make them each arrange a time to see you. When the time comes, use it to give the feedback, but also as a chance to give the worst behaviour offenders your feedback on their behaviour as well as their work.
    You may make a little progress that way. Record your discussions and get each student to sign the record. Following all this, if still no progress, you've got to go to your manager for support.
    Good luck!
     
  5. Hi - I teach both
    adults and 16-18. Your adults probably
    have had bad educational experiences and are reverting to what they were like
    in their school days! I occasionally
    have had problems with adults learners but if you look at their behaviour as an
    individual they are probably lacking confidence and it being converted to you
    as bad behaviour.


    As they have
    failed in their education so far I would suggest you become the polar opposite
    to what (I assume) they experienced at school.
    Be upbeat, happy and smiley. Don’t
    let anything get you down in the classroom. When someone does something well
    give praise to say how well they are doing (preferably the ringleader), in the end they will all want ‘glory’. Ignore the bad behaviour and when someone
    swears give them ‘the look’ and a wry smile.
    They will know what you mean.





    Tell them
    they are probably the cleverest group of learners you have had so far (ok, lie
    a bit). Try and make coming into the class
    a pleasure for them. Finally I have an ‘excellent’
    stamp that I put on their work when they do something well. You might think this is patronising, but when
    I forget to use it they are a little upset – they want the stamp! (this goes
    for level 1, 2 and 3 learners – amazing but true!)


    I hope
    things get better for you, remember they are acting this way because of their
    previous experiences, not because of you.
    Go into the staff room afterwards and have a good moan about them, it
    will make you feel loads better.


    Good luck
     
  6. 1-2-1 will definitely change the dynamic when you want to challenge/request reflection of their behaviour.

    You are right in thinking nipping things in the bud earlier would be more effective - but a method of recovering them can be engaging them in leading their own learning more. Sometimes learners acting out can be due to them needing more opportunity to take part. By trying to hijack your teaching they find a way to take that part - just in the wrong way.

    Also - note that you are teaching language and they are misusing language by swearing.
    If they are there to learn to improve their language communication skills then you can make stopping swearing not just a classroom behaviour issue but an actual performance issue. To use appropriate language instead of swearing is to improve one's ability to communicate.

    Lastly - did they sign a behaviour contract with their learning agreement? I'd expect so - and it will have behaviour rules and expectations.
     
  7. I completely agree with everyone else's advice about staying upbeat and happy, and making good use of 1-to-1 chats!! I personally would avoid the insincere flattery, but instead tell each person what they are actually good at, get everyone to reflect on why they are coming to your class in the first place and remind them that it's their class too. Perhaps you could ask them what aspect of the course they want to work on most, and come up with some ideas together?
    I work with all men so it may be different, but if someone is being rude in my class I pull them outside and straight-up ask them why--something like, "How come you're such a nice guy but you *insert bad behaviour here*?" This avoids a disciplinary situation but gets them to take responsibility for their own behaviour.
    As far as the language goes, what about leading a class discussion about what kind of language to use in different contexts? I draw a line on the board with "formal" at one end and "informal" at the other and get them to mark the line for things like "in court," "your nan," "your partner," "job interview," "talking to a teacher when you were in school," "talking to a teacher now that you are an adult" etc etc. By talking it through like this, a lot of groups end up setting their own boundaries for communication in the classroom.
    Also, a lot of people swear because they don't have the vocabulary to express how they really feel. What about putting together a vocabulary lesson of some sort to help address this, perhaps using a thesaurus and getting them to find their favourite words?
    Last but not least, do you know the disciplinary procedures for your organisation? If not, find out, and mention these problems to your line manager. It is always preferable to solve behaviour issues in a nice way, but sometimes that is just not possible and you need to know what your options are.
    Hope this wasn't too ramble-y but I've been in your position and it made me feel awful! Hang in there!
     
  8. TCSC47

    TCSC47 Lead commenter

    Hi KeriLo
    It should give you some comfort to know that even if nobody admits it to you face to face, most, if not all of us, have been in the situation you describe. As has already been said here, find things to praise your class with, and keep doing it.
    Also, as has been said here, don't take anything personally, or if that is difficult (and it certainly can be!) don't let it show. Every response to your student's behaviour should be as deadpan as possible, but still explaining what they are doing wrong. The only thing you should get excited about in class is your subject.
    I taught mostly lads, 18 and above, and of course swearing was a problem. As swearing is pretty much part of everyday language in many areas of work, I would consistently and simply ask for "appropriate language" and leave it at that, every time somebody swore. Students do understand this and it worked with my students, at least in my presence (which is all I could ask for).
    One silly thing which I've seen some of my colleagues do, is to allow the students to have a "U" setup of the desks allowing the students to face each other with the lecturer in the centre. I have no idea why they think this is sensible, because of course it allows students to play up for each other and see the results.
    I think the only disciplinary things I have stopped a class for, are racism and sexism. Both these things will allow exclusion from the college under your disciplinary code.
    I suppose the other thing I did was to constantly keep reminding my students that we were on the same side and working together to get them something they wanted, - some qualifications. My inference (but not actually coming out and saying it) was that I was not there to be shot at. They were simply shooting themselves.
    As with all areas of teaching, you are going to have to sort this out mainly by yourself, I'm afraid. Let your line manager know of the problems you are having, but also let them know what plan and measures you are taking to deal with them. The time you need to call them in is if somebody's behaviour is sufficient to have them excluded from the class. As has been said here, make sure you know your college's disciplinary procedures so you know when and how to do this.
    All the best and good luck.
     
  9. TCSC47

    TCSC47 Lead commenter

    Hi KeriLO. You first posted two months ago. How are you getting along?
    All the best.
     
  10. Hi KeriLO, I would agree with what has already been suggested as possibilities to try with your group and I really hope that things are settling down for you.

    The only thing I would add is having a discussion on 'ground rules' which everyone then agrees to keep to. That way, you have something to refer back to when someone oversteps the mark.

    I work with adults with severe mental health issues and some learners have learning differences as well. Swearing can be an issue.

    Hope our combined thoughts are of help to you :)
    Best wishes from Carol
     
  11. Hi There,

    some great advice already on this thread. I full support the "relentlessly upbeat, don't let them get to you". approach. My own "classroom persona" is best described as gameshow host.
    They are adults, so please don't treat them like kids. Possible bad experiences of school so feeling defensive and uncomfortable in a learning environment. Praise, feedback and catching them doing good must be your default setting.
    A sense of humour is very important. It's important serious work, but dont take yourself too seriously.
    Think of them as employees and you as team leader - co-operation, motivation, mutual respect, different roles but the same objective.
    One to one sessions would be useful for giving sincere and detailed feedback, building trust and pulling people into line.
    I suggest you agree some collective behaviour standards at the start of a session, and maybe ( if you are teaching english) discuss how bad language effects perceptions and judgements of a person.
    There is also a Steven Fry podcast/audiobook episode about the dfferences between male and female use of language. (BBC Radio 4 thing, maybe a bit high level for your learners but might be interesting to yourself).
    I deal mainly with 16-18 year olds, and I say "Please don't swear." (a la Davina on Big Brother) so often during the day (but always in the same flat even tone) that I'm like one of Pavlov's dogs when I hear the F word. C word... everything stops and we have a frank and thorough discussion vis a vis appropriate language and behaviour (and the disciplinary code).

     

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