Effective Classroom Management: Dealing with Difficult Students

Image source: pixgood.com
Image source: pixgood.com

There’s one (or several) in every class: Difficult students who refuse to play by classroom rules, are argumentative, noisy and disruptive, or just too preoccupied with their smartphones to pay attention in class.

Dealing with difficult students can be frustrating, and teachers are always tempted to revert to old-fashioned and ineffective ways to manage the class, such as ignoring their behavior, making them leave the room, or scolding them in front of their peers.

However, there are more positive and effective ways to instill discipline in a difficult student. The following are some of these techniques:

Set clear expectations
Teachers should set aside a period of time to work with their students on establishing guidelines for appropriate classroom behavior. Students tend to follow the rules more if the latter are based not just on what their teachers want, but on what their classmates expect from them.

Avoid arguments
Even though a student is being purposely argumentative, teachers should not take the bait as this leads to resentment. In addition, it weakens a teacher’s relationship with his or her student and encourages other students to challenge his or her authority. Instead, reference the classroom rules (which should contain a guideline about arguments and respectful communication) and give the student a warning. If the student attempts to argue further, repeat the warning as a reminder of the consequences of his or her actions.

Do not yell or publicly humiliate the student
Some teachers yell or otherwise humiliate difficult students in front of their peers as a form of punishment and to strong-arm the student to behave. However, this tactic could actually do a lot more harm than good. It leads to resentment and anger on the student’s end, and reduced likability on the part of the teacher. More importantly, shaming students can have powerful repercussions later in life: Studies suggest that this type of punishment leads to lasting psychological damage.

Image source: seattlefoundation.org
Image source: seattlefoundation.org

Instead, teachers should follow their classroom management plan in choosing an appropriate consequence for the student’s misbehavior and speak to the student privately instead of in front of the class.

To be truly effective at managing a classroom, difficult students and all, teachers must be respectful of their charges, should communicate strongly yet fairly, and have the ability to foster an open, trusting, and respectful classroom atmosphere.

For more discussions on classroom management, follow this David Ostrer Twitter account.