How to Deal with Difficult Students

Strategies that help you plan a behavior management system for difficult students.

As an educator, you’ve probably had to interact with several students, and by now, you’re aware of all types of temper tantrums students throw. Having difficult students in a class can dominate the reasons for feeling stressed during class time. Continual exposure to such students who will not behave or cause disruptions might erode your confidence and well being. 

However, the goal here is to spend less time reprimanding the students for their behavior and motivating them to attend class or pay attention to different strategies. For this to work, you will have to devise a plan for setting expectations and following through.

Create a behavior management system for dealing with difficult students, so you’re less stressed, and the student, too, understands what you’re saying. You will not be able to do this if you go the traditional route where you just talk to them. Often disruptive students don’t actively listen or have short attention spans

We have listed ways you can improve your classroom management for difficult students. However, before you start employing those, here are some tips that should help you set up a classroom culture that everyone is aware of and abides by. 

Defining Expectations

If you’re expecting your students to show good behavior within a class, then try defining what you mean by it. Be firm about what you want, but also understand that conduct all of your lessons in kindness. Tell them the consequences of their behaviors and give them the power to feel accountable for their actions.

Maybe even start an activity where all the students help you write the rules for behavior and suggest some.

Explain Your Expectations

Treat students like they are adults who understand their responsibility for behaving in class. Tell them why you’re expecting good behavior. Just resaying “because I am your teacher” will not lead to any reasoning. Your job as a teacher is to help students understand why rules exist both in and out of the classroom.

Enforce What You Expect

After you’ve explained to your students what you want, its time to model the behavior you are looking for. Give some examples to students, so they understand how to act in different scenarios and are clear on what is expected.  

Especially when you’re dealing with students who challenge expectations, it is important to tell them why their behavior is harmful to others and themselves.

Strategies to help you handle difficult students

Patience is Your Virtue, Keep Your Cool

When you see your students disrupting decorum mid-class, try to curb your first reaction. It is only natural to feel overwhelmed and frustrated. Instead, try to focus on something else, play it cool, and remember why you aren’t screaming at the student and how that can be harmful to their well-being and even yours!

Try to be a positive influence and model your behavior in the way you expect in return. Some ways you can keep calm are,

  • Smile and move on with the lesson, deal with the issue after class.
  • Count to ten slowly and turn towards the board or go through your classroom notes, so the pause doesn’t seem too deliberate. Paying attention to negative behaviors can also reinforce them.
  • If the situation gets worse, then try to remove the student from class instead of causing a commotion and being at the risk of embarrassing the student.

Be empathetic 

No one ever does something without reason. Understand why the student is acting out or are being disruptive. Always approach the subject with kindness and a positive attitude. There might be underlying issues for this behavior. Rough home life, parents are not attentive or health problems, etc.

Students respond better when they know their teachers care. So be both a teacher and an empath when you listen to your students as they talk about what is bothering them or try understanding what might be. 

You will get a much clearer picture of why students are acting the way they are if you do. This can be beneficial for the future as they’ll start trusting you and maybe other teachers in the future. You have no only earned their trust but also helped them trust the institution. 

Don’t Embarrass them, Discuss Privately.

Perhaps one of the worst things you can do is call a student out publicly in front of his/her peers. This will likely fuel the fire and cause them to act out even more. The situation will only become worse because, on top of their hurt, they are now embarrassed.  

If something is bothering you, wait it out. See if it is a pattern first and then discuss the behavior in private. This may be the perfect time to ask them how they are doing in other classes. Whether they have something else on their mind that maybe you can help with. 

Teach Them New Ways to Have Fun

Happiness and excitement are contagious. The more animated you are about a lesson, the more students will be too. Have fun with what you are teaching, make lesson plans that have activities that require students to engage with each other and you.

The idea of learning being fun might be new to them as the general narrative that follows learning is the opposite. Help them grow in this area, jog their brains, get them involved. Announce how boring a lesson is going to be right before you start on an admittedly dull lesson.

The element of relatability will make them feel like you understand them more. Reward good behaviors, make it a game to count who will groan about the lesson more, and the one who does it the least wins a sticker and extra points.

The Takeaway

You will encounter different kinds of students throughout your career. Dealing with difficult students will never get old, but you can always find ways to make your class welcoming, relevant, and safe for all kinds of students.