Decoding behavior

While many feel the pressure to label the energetic, restless, actively-exploring child as hyperactive, there are others who feel that these are characteristics of a “normal” child. The terms “normal” and “abnormal” have been loosely used by many specialists in the field of psychology and/or education. The use of these words invariably reflects subjective judgment (of someone or a group of people) about different aspects and quality of human experiences, often through limited, narrow perspective.

Because of its subjective nature, it is difficult to accurately identify, categorize, and label behaviors in the classroom. The best we could do is cautiously place behavioral habits and patterns on a continuum of norm and out-of-norm conduct.

Defining normal/abnormal

In the context of classroom teaching/learning, normal behavior could be characterized by responses that are facilitative of successful teaching/learning. Normalcy in this light encompasses both student and teacher behavior. While it is important to have normal kids in the classroom (to ensure learning), it is equally important to have normal teachers who deliberately plan and design positive learning environments. Literature in behavior modification has always and almost completely focused on student behavior that little attention is given to the fact that a lot of “abnormalcy” in the classroom springs from out-of-norm practices of educators.

As a teacher trainer, I end most of my teacher training courses by encouraging student-teachers to take time to examine themselves, identify personal conflicts and complexes, and resolve the same. In other words, before one becomes a teacher, he or she must straighten out emotional insecurities, come to terms with his or her true self, and accept and constructively work with strengths and weaknesses. A teacher who has had an opportunity to healthily resolve his or her own internal battles treats students respectfully, possesses a broad mindset (believes that every student can and does learn), and does not resort to harsh punishment to manage student behavior. Hence a teaching practice that stems from emotional insecurities of a teacher could be considered as abnormal.

In the same manner, most out-of-norm student behaviors stem from their feeling of dissatisfaction toward unmet basic and growth needs. Significant lack in the experiences of belonging, achievement, and meaning propel students into behaving counter-productively at home and in the classroom. Hence students engage in many internalizing (withdrawn, passive, and extremely shy) as well as externalizing (vandalizing, abusive, and unruly) behaviors that are considered unacceptable.

Additional criteria

Inconsistencies in behavior are expected because humans posses dynamic personality patterns. Not all out-of-norm behaviors are unacceptable.

A behavior is considered truly out-of-norm and in need of special attention when it differs significantly from that of student-peers (e.g. drawing vulgar graffiti, hitting other students, not listening to lectures, etc.) and teacher-peers (e.g. screaming to get student attention, administering harsh punishment that are degrading, etc.). This recurrent behavior also lessens the possibility of successful teaching/learning. When a teacher screams at his students to get their attention, he looses their respect and trust. The class becomes more chaotic and quality of teaching suffers. Conversely, a student who does not listen to lectures performs poorly in exams.

An out-of-norm behavior represents a serious, persistent, chronic safety threats to individuals in the classroom. For example, a student who hits other children may end up seriously injuring his or her classmate. A teacher who administers harsh punishment to his or her students may injure them physically and emotionally. This affects overall desire to teach/learn.

Furthermore, to accurately identify out-of-norm behaviors, it is important to differentiate between behaviors that stem from cultural differences and the ones that don’t. For example, it is not abnormal for a Japanese student to avoid eye-contact while talking to a teacher compared to his/her American counterpart. In fact, in many Asian cultures, it is abnormal for a student to look at a teacher straight into his/her eyes. In this case, avoiding eye-contact is not considered out-of-norm behavior.

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