Going Rogue! How Individual Teachers Can Improve their Students Behavior and Academics Without Any Support.


Many teachers enter the teaching profession believing that they will fill eager young minds with skills and knowledge that will allow them to be successful in school and life. Sure, they expect a certain degree of misbehavior and missing homework, but nothing too severe or beyond their ability to handle. Then, comes the first day of school and students are unprepared, not listening, talking back, refusing to follow even the simplest of rules, eating in class, throwing papers and sleeping. Despite your best effort they either ignore you, act aggressively toward you or try to placate you by making a half-hearted attempt to do what you ask; until you turn your back and walk away.

Removing a student? Good luck. Either that is not a viable option or you will be accused of having bad classroom management skills. Call home? It’s been tried by almost every teacher in the school and nothing has worked; at least not for very long. Detention? Do most schools even have detention anymore? If so, usually it is the teacher that has to provide it. So now the teacher is punished for trying to enforce some order in the class. Suspension? Only in the most egregious cases and when they return nothing changes. Counseling? Many school counselors and social workers are overwhelmed and barely have time for their mandated students let alone students that do not get counseling services. Even students who do get mandated services are usually seen once a week in a group with little time for individual support. As a result, you see very little behavioral changes over the years; except as might occur through normal maturity.

The classroom should be a place of sanctity. The learning environment should be protected from disruption. If ever there was a “safe space” it is a school classroom where learning is expected to happen. In many classes, students with learning and emotional disabilities are, rightfully, integrated into the classroom as are English Language Learners (ELL). An environment free from distraction and disruption is even more essential when students that already have difficulties and challenges are expected to learn alongside their peers. All it takes is one, two, maybe three students to completely destroy a functioning classroom. Administrative support may be lacking, or ineffective, and even fellow teachers might deny or minimize behavior and academic deficiencies due to a feeling of helplessness, apathy or simply the wearing of rose-colored glasses and the drinking of the Kool-Aid. After all, sometimes you “go along to get along.” So, what is a teacher to do? How can an individual teacher, or worse, a teacher who co-teaches with an unsupportive colleague, do anything effective? Simple. Go rogue!

Go Rogue

To go “rogue” does not mean to do anything illegal, unethical or unprofessional. It simply means that as a teacher, you are on your own and you have to take your students learning, behavior and future into your own hands.  It requires presenting certain concepts that can help students take ownership of their own learning and behaviors by teaching them how to think in a rational and realistic way, to make good decisions and to plan for both the near and long-term future. The following plan teaches these ideas by incorporating them into already existing lesson plans.

Step 1 – Formally Teaching Cognitive-Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Choice Theory (CT).

If possible, and this may be a problem if you co-teach a class and your colleague is not on board with this plan, teach the basic ideas of Cognitive-Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Choice Theory (CT).

CBT teaches that what a person feels is created, or exacerbated, by what they think. For example, if students tell themselves, “I’m a failure and a loser so I might as well not even try.” That belief causes strong negative emotions. If instead, the student said, “I failed this one test, in this one subject because I didn’t study enough or ask for help but it doesn’t mean I’m stupid or will never pass another test” the students strong negative emotions would be reduced and their behaviors more adaptive. The goal in CBT/REBT is to identify what negative and distorted thoughts, or cognitions, people engage in, challenge those cognitive distortions, and replace them with more rational and realistic thoughts, beliefs and cognitions.

CBT has a model called, appropriately for school, the A-B-C model. The A-B-C model says that a particular adversity (A) results in an emotional or behavioral response or consequence (C). For example, failing an exam caused a student to get depressed or angry and then cut school or throw a book. In reality, it is our thoughts or beliefs (B) that cause the emotional or behavioral consequence (C), not the adversity (A) itself (i.e. the failing the exam).

All you need to do is let students know that their emotions are caused or exacerbated by their thoughts. Simply explain to students that every emotion they have has a corresponding thought or thoughts. Identify what those thoughts are and see if they are rational and realistic. If they are, then there is nothing more to do. If they are not, then students must replace those irrational and unrealistic thoughts with more logical and rational ones. Examples of irrational and unrealistic thoughts include: catastrophizing (making things even worse than they are), discounting the positive (ignoring good things that a person has done or that has been done to them), mind-reading (believing that you know what someone is thinking), predicting the future (believing you know what is going to happen in the future), minimizing the good and maximizing the bad (belittling good things that have happened and overemphasizing bad things), blaming (either yourself or someone else and thereby “damning” yourself or someone else), labeling (using words such as stupid, loser, idiot, moron, failure, etc. about yourself or someone else) and emotional reasoning (believing that a feeling is more authentic than logic, reason and facts such as, “I feel incompetent so therefore I must be incompetent.”)

Replacement thoughts and questions can be: Where is the evidence for this belief? Is this belief realistic? How is having this thought helping me? Would I talk to a friend this way? Are my thoughts based on facts or feelings? I would wish or prefer the situation to be different but it doesn’t have to be just because I want it. Can I be misinterpreting or misunderstanding what is happening? What are some alternative reasons this situation is happening? Am I thinking this way out of habit or are there facts and evidence to back it up? Maybe I could ask for a second opinion? What would a wise person in this situation think and do (Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Socrates, etc.)?

Choice Theory (CT) says that all human beings make choices every day, all the time. These choices are driven by our 5 Basic Needs – Survival, Power/Competence, Belonging/Love, Freedom/Autonomy and Fun/Learning. Although all people have these needs, they have them to different degrees. It is not a hierarchy as in Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Some people may have a low need for power or freedom but everyone has a need for power and freedom.

Although we only have 5 Basic Needs we all have an endless amount of Wants. Wants are endless, but every want is designed to meet a need. Money might be related to Power or Freedom or Fun. Marriage might be related to Belonging or Fun or even Power. Fame and popularity might be related to Power or Belonging or Fun. Our Wants, and the choices we make as to how to achieve them, are designed to help people make the Real World consistent with their Quality World. The Real World is, of course, the world as it is. A person’s Quality World is the way they want it to be. It is the “ideal” and consists of images we have that would make our life “perfect.” We have images of financial success, relationship success, parenting success, feelings of confidence, being admired and feeling happy, particularly with the important people in our lives, all in this Quality World.

We consciously, and unconsciously, compare our Real World with our Quality World and when there is a discrepancy we choice behaviors designed to make the Real World more consistent with our Quality World. The behaviors we choose are referred to as Total Behaviors because they include actions, thoughts, feelings and physiological reactions. Every time we behave all 4 parts are involved. The problem is that, very often, the choices we make in an attempt to make the Real World closer to our Quality World is not always effective. For example, if a student has the image of being a good and successful student in his or her Quality World but in the Real World they are struggling in school, their behaviors might be to skip school, cut classes, give up, refuse to do homework and not study. This, of course, is likely to lead to a greater gap in the student’s image between their Quality World and Real World. That in turn, may lead to even worse choices and behaviors including choosing to depress, cut school and/or isolate themselves from other people. Additionally, many students use the 7 Deadly Habits which tend to drive people away and cause them to remove people from their Quality Worlds. The 7 Deadly Habits are Criticizing, Blaming, Complaining, Nagging, Threatening, Punishing and Bribing or Rewarding to Control. People don’t like experience these habits and tend to remove people who use them from their Quality World. That includes teachers. Many teachers and schools are not in student’s Quality World because they view them as threatening, punishing and rewarding to control. Students in turn use these habits to avoid doing things and cause teachers to remove students from their own Quality World. Use instead the 7 Connecting Habits, Supporting, Encouraging, Listening, Accepting, Trusting, Respecting and Negotiating Differences. You might notice a significant change in how you relate to your students, how they relate to you and how they relate to each other.

Simply teach students that they need to make better choice in order to meet their Basic Needs and maximize the chances of having the Real World and Quality World be in-sync. Explain how their behaviors are influenced by their Needs and that the choices they make either bring them closer or push them farther apart from meeting those Needs and actualizing the images in their Quality World. By choosing what they think and how they act, students can control how close they get to their Quality World. Since people are they most important things in their Quality World, using the Connecting Habits is essential.

Anticipated problems

What if you co-teach and cannot plan a lesson around CBT and CT?

  1. Individual work with a student, especially the most disruptive or most academically challenged, either in the class or a pull-out. Teach the ideas one-on-one.
  2. Small group pull-outs in which you teach the concepts to students in small groups, individually.

Step 2 – Post on chart paper the ideas of CBT and CT and refer to them often.

5 Basic Needs

Power/Competence                                                                            Love/Belonging

Freedom/Autonomy                                                                           Fun/Learning


Total Behaviors

Thinking          (direct control over)                                        Feeling (indirect control over)

Acting              (direct control over)                                        Physiology (indirect control over)

7 Connecting Habits and 7 Deadly Habits

Supporting, Encouraging, Listening, Accepting, Trusting, Respecting and Negotiating Differences

Criticizing, Blaming, Complaining, Nagging, Threatening, Punishing and Bribing or Rewarding to Control

Cognitive Distortions

  1. Catastrophizing – expecting the worst to happen. It’s not just bad (100%) it’s even worse (110% bad)
  2. Discounting the positive – filtering out any good things that you do and acting as if they don’t count
  3. Minimizing the good and maximizing the bad – de-emphasizing the positive things you do and overemphasizing the negative
  4. Mind-reading – believing that you know what someone is thinking (and it is usually bad)
  5. Predicting the future – thinking that you know what is going to happen (and it is usually bad)
  6. Emotional Reasoning – believing that feelings are more authentic and real than logic or reason. If you feel you are a loser or stupid, it must really mean you are a loser and stupid (regardless of what the truth is or what the facts show)
  7. Overgeneralizing – Assuming that since something happened once, or even a few times, that it is destined to repeat over and over again
  8. Polarized Thinking – believing something, or someone, is either good or bad. No shades of grey, nothing in the middle
  9. Blaming – holding other people responsible for our feelings and for what happens to us
  10. Labeling – using factually incorrect words to describe ourselves or others such as “fat pig” or “stupid idiot”
  11. Dogmatic Demands – demanding that circumstances and people “should” or “must” be the way we want it to be

Replacement Thoughts

  1. Where is the evidence for this belief?
  2. Is this belief realistic?
  3. How is having this thought helping me?
  4. Would I talk to a friend this way?
  5. Are my thoughts based on facts or feelings?
  6. I would wish or prefer the situation to be different but it doesn’t have to be just because I want it
  7. Can I be misinterpreting or misunderstanding what is happening?
  8. What are some alternative reasons this situation is happening?
  9. Am I thinking this way out of habit or are there facts and evidence to back it up?
  10. Maybe I could ask for a second opinion
  11. What would a wise person in this situation think and do (Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Socrates, etc.)

Anticipated problems

What if you co-teach and get push-back from posting the charts?

  1. Post the concepts on chart paper around the room and inform the co-teacher that their Individual Education Plan (IEP) requires certain behavior and academic management techniques and you have interpreted that to mean a socio-emotional component that requires “cues” that need to be posted for the students to see.
  2. If possible, get the school counselor or social worker to support you in using CBT to help manage behavior.

Step 3 – Getting Quality World images and Interests from students and posting them.

  1. Ask your students to put on an index card, things that interest them. You can give them examples such as movies, sports, videogames. Try to be specific such as what sports team or player or what movie. Then, with selective students (those that have the most behavioral problems or are the least academically motivated) learn something about those interests a few times a week. This will have a good chance of putting you in their Quality World.
  2. Have students cut out of magazines or print off a laptop images that are in their Quality World (ex. A nice house, a fancy car, sports teams, animals, college, etc.) Have each student make a small 8” x11” collage and post them around the room. You will refer to this often when you remind students of their Quality World and what they need to do to make it real. If possible, put one example from each student on a large “class Quality World” poster.

Asking CBT and CT questions in each lesson. You can ask two types of questions: One that askes for their feelings about a particular topic (not the subject, but the topic for the day) and one about something in the lesson itself. Then, ask what they are thinking about to cause them to feel that way. For example,

  1. For English you might ask – how do you feel about Shakespeare? If they say, “bored” or “happy” ask, what are you thinking to feel that way. Then, in the lesson itself you can ask, “how is Romeo feeling about Rosaline at the beginning of the play?” “What is he thinking to cause him to feel that way?”
  2. For social studies you might ask – “how do you feel learning about the French Revolution?” “What are you thinking about that causes that feeling?” Then you can ask, “how do you think Napoleon feels in this picture (there is a picture of him on a white horse)?” “What is he thinking to feel that way?” Then, show a picture of him after the Russian defeat. “What is he feeling now?” “What might he be thinking?”
  3. It might be more difficult for subject such as math and science but with some creativity you can figure out ways to work it in.
  4. Finally, at the end of each lesson, have students as an Exit Ticket, or for homework answer reflection questions. What was difficult about this lesson and why? What was easy about this lesson and why? What could you have done to do better? What grade would you give yourself and why?

All of these examples are designed to get students to be more aware of their actions and thoughts. The goal is to have students realize that they are responsible for what they do. By constantly reinforcing the notions that thoughts cause feelings and that their actions can help them achieve their Quality World pictures, they will start to realize they have the power to make a change.

Also, by showing an interest in the students and what they enjoy, as well as using the Connecting Habits and avoiding the Deadly Habits, you will put yourself and school into their Quality World.

You will be surprised at how well and quickly students start to take responsibility for their own behavior and learning success. Some students will “get it” almost immediately; others might take a few weeks. Some might never learn. But, eventually, the majority of students will behave more responsibly and take their studies more seriously.

You cannot control what happens outside of your classroom, and sometimes what happens inside of it, but you can have quite a lot of influence among your students. Don’t worry if while you are teaching these ideas, and referring back to them during lessons, if students seem to not pay attention or care. Keep doing it anyway. Slowly (maybe quickly) but surely the ideas will creep in. You will teach them to regulate their emotions and manage their behavior, as well as take responsibility for their education. In a short time, you will find you class better managed and students with better grades. You might even have the most popular class in the school! Give it a try. The choice, just like your students, is yours!

References and Resources

Beck, A. T. (1979). Cognitive therapy of depression. New York: Guilford Press.

Ellis, A. (1962). Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy. New York: Lyle Stuart.

Glasser, W. (1999). Choice theory: a new psychology of personal freedom. 1st Harper Perennial ed. New York: Harper Perennial.

Michael Zone received his Masters in Mental Health Counseling (M.S.) from Long Island University/CW Post College, Masters in Social Work (M.S.W.) from Adelphi University, Juris Doctorate (J.D.) from Hofstra University and Masters in Education (M.Ed) from Mercy College. Mr. Zone has taught in Secondary Education since 2005 with certification in Students with Disabilities and Social Studies. He also maintains a private practice in individual counseling and psychotherapy. He previously worked as a divorce attorney/mediator. He is also an author and educational consultant.