Understanding Impulsive Student Behavior

"Wasn't she a hustler?" belted the student.

"No, Mother Teresa was an extremely kind and caring person who devoted her life to helping others.  That comment was extremely inappropriate. Please step outside, I'll be out to speak to you momentarily " I, as calmly as possible, replied.

Character education in my Earth Science class is important.  Asking the students for an example of an altruistic individual resulted in "Mother Teresa" and as a follow-up I asked "who was mother Teresa" which elicited the above prostitute response.

After I got the activity underway, I cracked the door to address the comment.  I said nothing and received :

"Mr. R, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to say that.  Sometimes I just shout things- and when I think about what I'm saying, I don't know why I'm saying it.  I'm really sorry."

My response was simple: "take a breath next time, it may give you a chance to think" and since the student was on the brink of tears " and take a moment and collect yourself.  Join you group when you are ready."

Issue resolved and lesson learned.  But wow, the things they say...

Reflecting later about the disturbance, I was confused about what the student said.  Particularly, the part about shouting things before thinking.  We all say things sometimes without thinking and are all prone to impulsive behavior.  But teenagers seem more so.  They have their "act on impulse dial" turned up- any secondary teacher understands this and has grown to accept it.

But why?  Why are teenagers more impulsive?  Is there a psychological explanation?

Of course there is!

Teach Empathy Through Books

As the weather warms the students become restless and emotions run high at our school.  They fight each other... a lot.  Today we had three fairly violent altercations before the bell rung for the first class.  Fights are, unfortunately, a part of an educational setting.

Though Spring-time fights are often fueled by relationship issues and amplified by cabin fever, many of the conflicts arise from simple misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

Communicating through electronics, I feel, has robbed children of an important set of skills: theory of mind. In other words, kids, because they rarely interact face-to-face, don't understand how to interpret the actions of others.  They fail to understand how others think and feel.
Lacking the tools necessary to make social interpretations, the actions of others are often misinterpreted and misunderstood leading to an unnecessary conflict.  Being adolescents, their  emotion trumps cognition and consequence prediction which leads to physical conflicts.

How do we teach kids to think about what others are thinking and feeling?  How do we teach empathy- the skill of viewing a situation from another point of view to understand feelings?

Regaining Control Of A Rowdy Classroom: The Broken Window Theory Of Classroom Managment

The decline of crime in the 1990s throughout New York City is attributed to a variety of exogenous causes.  The most feasible theory is described by James Wilson and George Kelling and thoughtfully articulated by Steven Pinker in The Better Angels of Our Nature.  You can also find discussions in Freakonomics and The Tipping Point.
In short, NYC saw a drastic decrease in crime because they prevented windows from breaking and immediately fixed them when necessary.

I’m kidding of course, but fixing broken windows is symbolic of the major ideas discussed in Wilson and Kelling’s article called Broken WindowsFixing and controlling small and seemingly insignificant issues- petty crimes- has a trickle up effect.  Policing and enforcing littering, loitering, and graffiti crimes will eventually decrease crime overall.  Though painfully oversimplified for this discussion, there are many facets in this idea which have implications for managing your classroom.