Conflict Resolution

by Jeff Swanson

How should a teacher respond when a student challenges their authority in front of the class? What should a teacher do when they realized they’ve handled a situation poorly? Drawing on stories from his career, Jeff demonstrates how to respond to classroom conflict with confidence, tact, and humility.

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Classroom confrontations. So, I have a few things to say about that to help you when it happens—if it ever happens.

Two Anecdotes

So, a long time ago I had a teacher that replaced a very popular teacher, and the parents didn’t like him, and students didn’t like him. And I thought he was pretty good, and I kind of felt bad for the whole thing.

One day we were in class and one student, who was pretty naughty, he said something really rude to the said teacher that they didn’t like. And so the teacher said in front of his class, said, “Oh, really, you’re going to say that to me in front of class? Why don’t you tell the students what you did to me last night?”

And I think he thought they would say what they did and gain all the students’ sympathy. And, don’t laugh at this, but he said, “Okay, I went up to our teacher’s front door and I put paper bags full of manure on his front doorstep and lit them, and he came out and stepped on them.”

It does sound funny.

That man walked out of that room and I never saw him again. I wonder if he went out and cried. I never saw him again. I looked him up. I tried to find him on the internet once. I still feel so bad.

So, shouldn’t have happened. Funny prank? Yeah, sort of. I mean, that’s horrible. But just think, he shouldn’t have said, “Why don’t you tell them what they did?”

Students thought it was funny. I think he thought they’d see what a rude person this was.

I have another friend and he was in class one day (he’s a teacher) and a student stood up, I think it was during a test, and he made a gesture to the teacher, and then he said a rude saying that went along with the gesture. And my teacher friend said, “Okay, sit back down and finish your test.”

What do you think the guy did? He sat back down and finished the test. Situation is done. It probably got readdressed.

Do you see the difference?

Honestly, I mean, the guy thought he was going to completely mentally disturb the teacher because he said that with this gesture and the teacher just said, “Sit down and do your work.”

So the guy was like, “Okay.”

Just think how to defuse, and just always remember: “You’re in trouble. Try not to think about it. We’ll talk about it after school, okay?”

Don’t Accuse. Ask.

I want you to think so hard about this. This affects people’s lives, and God did it first, so it must work for us, all right? God made this technique up.

So, Cain’s naughty. All right? And so God needs to confront him like a teacher. Okay?

So, here’s what’s said: “But unto Cain and to his offering he (God) had not respect. And Cain was very wroth and his countenance fell. And the Lord said unto Cain [question marks], ‘Why art thou wroth and why is thy countenance fallen?'”

He asked him a question.

“If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted, and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door, and unto this shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.”

Which we understand that means sin wants you. You got to rule over him. What did God do?

He did not say, “You are bad and you’re doing something wrong.” He said, “Why is your countenance fallen?”

I beg you all. When you think something’s going on, if somebody says something in front of the whole class, you can address that directly. If you think a student has a bad attitude, if you’ve heard bad things the students are doing, if somebody else has told you things that that student is doing, if you’ve seen a student look at you weird and give you body language, you need to go up to that student and say, “This is what I think I see. It looks like you have a bad attitude.”

Do not say, “You have a bad attitude and you need to stop it. This is what you’re doing.”

That really affects people when you do that. And that’s a hard one to learn, because you see and that gives the students three choices.

  1. They can lie and say, “I’m not doing that,” when they are.
  2. They can say, “I am doing that, and I’m so sorry.”
  3. Or they can say, “I’m not doing it. It’s the truth. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t even know what I was doing.”

I had a student, a girl student, this last year, and she would sit there and choir, and I know that she likes to sing, I thought, and she gave me this really odd look, and she’s a good singer. So I finally said, “You look in choir like you hate singing and don’t want to participate.”

And she said, “Am I scowling?”

And in my countenance I was like [sigh of relief], “You are scowling.”

And she said, “I’m so sorry; I scowl. I really enjoy singing.”

But see, it looked so much—all the proof was there against her. It looked like she had a horrible attitude. And so I beg you, it really affects people when you tell them what they think. The Lord knows what they think. Ask them a question. If they lie, it’s between them and God at that point.

Ask people, say, “This is what I’m seeing. Am I seeing it right? Or is there something else?”

If God wants to do that with Cain and says, “Why is this happening? Why is your countenance fallen?” That’s awesome. Great teaching from our Lord.

Learn to Apologize

Learn how to apologize to children.

Once I had a student, he’s older now, I’m gonna say his name. I saw him. He’s a big man—big man with a cowboy hat. He’s [unclear] a Mennonite school. And his name is Winston. And we started seeing in our textbooks “Winston” was written. You’re not allowed to write in textbooks. Winston. It was spelled wrong. We figured out, obviously, it’s him, he’s writing his book. It’s his name kind of misspelled. He’d do that. And he had some things to deal with. He was a first grader.

And so, we finally told his dad, and his dad said, “I will take care of that.” And so, I’m pretty sure Winston got spanked pretty good. And Winston never said anything to me.

I think it was Deana that found out, I don’t know how she did it, but another little girl named Natalie, she found out that Natalie had been writing Winston’s name in these textbooks, and Winston got all the rap. And I’m pretty sure, again, Winston got spanked.

And so, I was 40 years old, and Winston’s six or seven in the first grade, and I go up and I said, “Winston, you remember the whole thing with you writing and you got in trouble?”

And he said, “Yeah.”

And I said, “I found out that we were wrong.”

And I said, “I’m so sorry.”

I said, “You got in trouble.”

And Winston, he looked up at me, and he had this smile frown, and he said, he said, “It’s over. It’s good. We’re done.”

There’s so many ways a teacher could have gone around that without just saying to this kid, “I screwed up, and I’m wrong.”

When you offend a child—I would, I don’t mean—I know we’re supposed to forgive somebody and it’s over. I’d tell them you’re sorry and go back another time and just say, “I just want you to know I’m really sorry.”

Sometimes we do the, “I’m sorry, I’ll try to do better, and that means, “I’m sorry. We’re done. We’re not going to touch it again.”

I’m not sorry. I’ll try to do better.

I’m so sorry I hurt your feelings, and I am so sorry, and I don’t want that to affect you.

I would go back and check and make sure that they realize that teacher messed up.

So, children forgive.

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CONTRIBUTOR: Jeff Swanson

Series

Teachers Week 2021
Publication Date: August 12, 2022
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