Secondary Teachers: Best way to diffuse the escalation that leads to a fight?

Discussion in 'Behavior Management' started by Special-t, Jan 20, 2009.

  1. Special-t

    Special-t Enthusiast

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    Jan 20, 2009

    What's the best way to diffuse a building confrontation? Would your approach be different with 8th graders and 12th graders? I'm new to subbing secondary and today was my first encounter with this kind of behavior.

    Today I had 2 8th grade boys get in each other's face during a transition in the classroom. They didn't go farther than that, but it could have easily taken a turn for the worse. I tried my drill sergeant voice (ordering them to back off and go to their seats - that didn't work - so then I told them if they won't take their seats to take it outside). They seemed to totally ignore me - although they did back down from each other after a few more lingering hostile stares and some tough talk. I didn't feel like they backed down from anything I said - I think I just got lucky. I felt like there was a pride issue of their egos vs. a lady (me) telling them to back down.

    My husband told me - most importantly - not to get in between the opponents. That's definitely good advice. I'm just wondering how others would have handled this.
     
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  3. Mrs. K.

    Mrs. K. Enthusiast

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    Jan 21, 2009

    Definitely do NOT get in between boys who look like they could come to blows! And don't tell them to take it outside, either - they might take you up on it. Don't shout - that just adds to the excitement. Use a low, firm voice. Address them by name if you can; tell each of them in turn to go sit down. If you can get them to break eye contact with each other, you've got a better chance of regaining control.
     
  4. Special-t

    Special-t Enthusiast

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    Jan 21, 2009

    Thank you. Afterward, I had the sense that my vocal tactic just kept the escalation going. The idea of getting them to break eye contact makes good sense.
     
  5. TampaTeacher2Be

    TampaTeacher2Be Comrade

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    Jan 23, 2009

    I definitely agree not to tell them to take it outside - you could get in a lot of trouble for sending your students outside unsupervised when they are supposed to be in your class - especially if they do start fighting.

    I sub a lot in MS and HS and I also sub a lot in secondary exceptional EBD - I'm talking chair throwing, cussing, threatening to slash your tires, etc. So I have to deal with this stuff almost every day.

    Talking to them in a low, firm voice usually works very well, especially calling them by name. Also, especially with the EBD kids, I remind them of the steps they are supposed to take to control their anger (the school I sub at has a specific list, such as deep breath, count to ten, etc.)

    Another technique I use, depending on how I read the kids, is humor. If I see an argument break out or escalate, often an ever-so-slightly sarcastic "Gentlemen, come on now, let's have a seat." is very effective.

    Finally, I kill them with kindness - in fact, today, I had a student from another class barge into our room suddenly, trying to incite the students in my class - yelling, threatening, etc. I politely went up to him, shook his hand, asked him what his name was, thanked him for visiting my class, and escorted him to the door, reminding him it was time for him to return to his assigned classroom.

    Most importantly, I think the key is to remain calm, firm, and don't let the kids see you get phased by your behavior - in my experience a lot of the "fighting" in the classroom is done more to get a rise out of the sub and garner attention from the class more than actual malice.
     
  6. TamiJ

    TamiJ Virtuoso

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    Jan 23, 2009

    I say to go ahead and use your strong voice and demand that they sit down. If it becomes physical, call security, or office, and you do not intervene.
     
  7. Nomad

    Nomad New Member

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    Jan 24, 2009

    I'm going to try the low firm approach next. I just broke up a fight between two larger upper classmen on Thursday. I had no security in the area and there was already an audience. The audience of students is typically quiet and shields the fight from view so I had to "make a scene" so that security would be alerted in some manner. I calmly and swiftly moved between them after a drill seargent "HEY, BREAK IT UP".

    I basically took the tactic of guiding/moving one person straight back while making sure the other was staying away. I had more loud commands and security came and grabbed them after say 30 seconds of me controlling the situation.

    The issue I see is that fights can go one of two ways:
    1. They want to save face and not back down so a teacher is a welcome excuse for not getting into it and they listen to direction "reluctantly".
    or
    2. They want to destroy each other. Anything in their way is subject to damage. In this case only backup and "physical restraint" on both of them will stop it in which case I am not yet certified to "restrain" a child. There are a lot of rules to do it the right way but I'd say you have to act with your safety and each child's safety in mind.

    Either way, you have to be prepared for the consequences of being involved in a physical confrontation.

    As a sideline: I think many male confrontations fall into cat 1 with some in cat 2. BUT girl fights seem to all fall into cat 2.
    I'm not sure I'll step into a girl fight, that's a good way to get your shirt ripped off and scratched to shreds!
     
  8. Special-t

    Special-t Enthusiast

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    Jan 24, 2009

    Low and firm seems to be the way to go. "Drill Sergeant" commands did not work for me and I felt that it just made me look powerless in front of the other students. Once you go to your highest level of command and get no response there's nowhere else to go. If I go with low and firm then call security if there's trouble - the other students will see that I kept cool, yet acted on the situation. Not getting in between or too close to the aggressors is going to be my new policy. If low and firm doesn't work and a fight breaks out - I'll just call security.
     
  9. dtrim

    dtrim Rookie

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    Jan 26, 2009

    Try to keep 'em talking. What's going on? What's your side? Engage one or both in conversation. It's tough to take a swing at someone when you're talking.
     
  10. Securis

    Securis Cohort

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    Jan 26, 2009

    I'm a 6' male teacher weighing in at about 235lbs and the advice for staying from in between any fighting students is very prudent. Very prudent, especially junior high and up.

    I had this situation once where I knew both young men. I had some influence with one and not so much with the other. I focused solely on the one I knew would listen. They were about to throw down and not following the "stay from in between" advice, I stepped in and told the young man who would listen how disappointed I would be if he did this. I explained he had a choice and that if he chose to fight he would loose a lot; #1 my respect, #2 his privilege to play football, #3 his grades would suffer, etc.; the anti-riot act essentially. The other young man walked away still taunting while I was able to counsel the young man I had the most influence with. "I" and "We" language outlining choices and consequences worked wonders that day. As far as I knew, they didn't fight at any point. I later found out that neither had done anything to the other to provoke but instead some third parties had begun rumors to get them to fight. That day ended good and it was after school that this all took place.

    One of my very first experiences as a teacher was taking up my morning duty post about five minutes early on the second week of school. This is at 7:25 a.m. I wanted to be doing what I was supposed to. Well, after being in position for about 3 minutes, a fight started right next to me. I yelled for them to stop. They didn't. I noticed then that two more young men were fighting beside me and then two more, and another pair, and another. I was awestruck, after having yelled for the third time at different sets of combatants, that I was standing amid a full out bare-knuckle brawl. Which, I must add turned into a small mob riot. All told, 16 young men went to juvenile justice, one to adult, and I think 5 or 6 went home for three days.

    Yelling did absolutely nothing to break it up. I spent the rest of my day waiting to testify in a juvenile courtroom. I guess the point I'm trying to make is that once you've acted as any reasonable person would, you are there as a witness only. The two young men that you had probably didn't want to fight each other. Fear of being hurt, fear of the consequences or whatever. They backed off because somewhere in all of it, they found a way to save face. Likely, it was your presence. and calls for them to back down. Understanding that dynamic will help but if one has decided then there is nothing that will stop them from acting.

    In another situation to which I was witness, a parent entered the building about 10 minutes after school had let out and attacked a student. Breaking that one up was kinda of sticky and while I helped, there were more students around that helped keep them separated while police were called. You can't imagine how things can look alright but go completely insane in a split second without warning. She had entered, signed in, and received a guest pass. That mother had to be dragged away by two coaches before police arrived.

    I could relate more stories about being there when fights happened but I'd feel like I was bragging and that is not what I'm getting at. I guess my point is that, ultimately, you are there to witness if something does occur. And you can not be held liable if you do what any reasonable person would do. That's awfully vague and it cuts two ways. I mentioned my height and size. Is it reasonable that I should use that asset to physically intervene? I have used force at times and I have not at times. I have used counseling and I have used simple intimidation to prevent trouble. I went with what I intuitively thought would work with each situation.

    I hate that feeling after its all done. Adrenaline overdose and nothing expend it on. Whatever you take from my ramble, please be safe.
     
  11. ifightaliens

    ifightaliens Rookie

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    Jan 27, 2009

    In the past five months, I've had several fights. The first was between a boy and a girl. I had foolishly let them both out at the same time (albeit within 20 minutes of each other). The boy had taken some pills and called her a slut or something. With that, the NTA brought them into my class, where they broke out in a fight. Why the NTA brought them into my class, I'll never know. Thankfully the NTA was already in my class and broke it up.

    The next day, a larger boy wanted to fight the boy from the previous fight for fighting with a girl. I called them both outside, and told them to knock it off. I told them whatever they were going to do, they should settle it outside of school. I then called school police and let them know what was going on. They took care of it.

    A few weeks later, the same boy that fought the girl (are you noticing a pattern?) bumped into another girl (whom the counselor described as "crazy, just ignore her") from another class and they went out into the hallway and had at it. This time the vice principal had to break it up.

    A couple of months went by. In my freshmen class, two boys (black and white) got into a fight over a glove of all things. The white kid had stolen the other kid's glove. The black kid jumped on the white kid. Two other kids pulled them apart, and I told them to both get outside to talk and they obeyed. I sent the white kid to the discipline office, and school police suspended the other one. Apparently, he had hit him enough to cause him to bleed. He was suspended.

    Finally, I usually make an end of the day round since I have a 10th period prep to get kids out of the hallway. I came across something like eight kids surrounding two others who were about to go at it. Not seeing any other teachers, NTAs or police, I got in between the two kids and told them to clear the hallway before anything happened. At that point, several male teachers came out of their classes as well, and the crowd dispersed. (Note that the security guard was on the other side of the building joking around with two girls and the NTA was on her cell phone.)

    Fact is, each situation is going to call for a different solution. I would suggest that you just do your best to keep the kids as calm as possible until you can get security.
     

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