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4 Powerful Tips for Dealing with Difficult Students


Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge that some people may not like the title of this article due to the language I used to describe students who disrupt learning. However, I will encourage everyone to keep an open mind and read the entire article before making any judgments.

The Nitty Gritty

At some point in their career, every teacher has them. Whether you are working in a private school in an upscale district or a public school in the inner city, and everything in between. You will come across difficult students. In fact, throughout my teaching career, I've always had at least one.

How difficult a student is and how many difficult students you have can vary. Why the student is difficult can fall under a multitude of reasons. But one thing for certain is that if you don't learn techniques to handle these students.....they will eat you alive, or at least, you may find yourself unable to do much teaching and dreading going to work.

These are just the facts. The students are the best part of your work but without tactful classroom management, support from your fellow teachers, and administrators, they can also drive you out of the classroom.

However, you got into this profession, or are seeking to get into it because you feel good when you help people, you want to do your part in making the world a better place, you want to apply the knowledge and share the wisdom that you have. Therefore, you are reading this article because you aren't a quitter, no matter how difficult your student(s) are, you know that it is not always this way, and so you are looking for solid techniques to help you get to your difficult students in a meaningful way.

Classroom Management Tips

Tip #1: Develop a relationship with your students

  • Take a few minutes here and there to get to know your students individually

  • Take the time to listen to their stories

  • Don't be afraid to give them hugs if they need one

As corny and perhaps intuitive as it may sound, this tip cannot be given enough. Developing a relationship with your students won't instantaneously solve the behavior problems of your difficult students, but it will make them more likely to forgive you when you lose your patience, which you're likely to do being human and all. This is important because you need them to like you if you hope to influence any sort of behavioral changes. When you don't have a relationship with your difficult student(s), you will lack a crucial component for influencing behavior, respect.

Tip #2: Be gentle, but firm.

  • Establish clearly defined consequences for disruptive behavior

  • Be consistent with the consequences

  • Link behavior with consequences

  • Give positive reinforcement to good behaviors

Leverage your relationship with your student to have them help you determine the consequences of their disruptive behavior. Guide them to determine an appropriate consequence by helping them to see how their behavior affects others, and themselves. Tap into their empathy by asking questions that you allow them to answer in order for them to see their behavior from another's perspective. Using these techniques will not make disruptive behavior disappear overnight, instead to experience success, you will need to be consistent with the consequences. Slow and steady wins this race. Make sure to notice and give them praise in instances that they overcome the disruptive behavior that you are trying to change.

Tip #3: Get to the root of what is causing the behavior

  • Keep track of the behavior

  • What time does it happen?

  • What are the triggering events?

  • Once the student has calmed down from the episode, listen to their thoughts about the events leading up to their disruptive behavior

As I said before, there can be any number of reasons that may be causing disruptive behavior, but once you learn the root cause, you will be better able to prevent the disruptive behavior, and quickly de-escalate it when it does happen. It may take time to get to the root of the problem. Tracking the disruptive behavior will allow you to see the big picture, and notice patterns, to minimize the number of classroom disruptions.

Tip #4: Don't take it personally

  • Help students develop social skills

  • Recognize their growth

One of my favorite lines is "chill out, it's not even about you". Reminding yourself to not take disruptive behavior personally may be easier said than done, but practice makes master. Instead of taking their disruptive behavior personally, look at it from this point of view, just as you have to practice not taking their behavior personally, they very well may need training and practice on effective ways to handle whatever lies at the root of their disruptive behavior. Work with them to find the tools they need for successful self-regulation. Don't just look at their disruptions, also see their growth.

Using a growth mindset, I changed my way of thinking when it came to working with my difficult students. Instead of dreading the days when they came to class, I began to see the valuable skill-set I would acquire by learning how to successfully work with them. Still, I am not perfect, and somedays, I don't get it right.

But as I teach my students that have difficult days, you can always turn it around. You are who you chose to be, and if you have read this far, I know that you are determined to continue to grow and become the best teacher that you can be for your students because bringing your best every day is equitable teaching.


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