Classroom Tips: Managing Difficult Students

Teaching is already challenging without drama, but it can become even more challenging when some students in your classroom just won’t quit when it comes to grinding on your nerves. It’s one thing to be mischievous once in a while, but another when a student constantly disrupts the lesson and talks back to you when corrected. Here’s what you can do to handle this situation when it occurs.

Stay Calm Even If It’s Tough

When students act brazenly and disrespect you, it’s easy to lose your cool and say something snarky or even start shouting back at them to gain control. However, it’s extremely necessary to remind yourself that you are the adult in the room and stay calm. Many students from troubled backgrounds are used to getting a heated response from the adults in their life when they act up, and they will try to get the same from you. Do not give in.


Instead, without raising your voice, tell the student that the behaviour is unacceptable and is disrupting their classmates. Ask that they settle back in their seat (if they are not in it) and behave. If they persist with negative behaviour, give the other students a task to work on and bring the student to a corner/outside to have a conversation on why they are behaving the way they are. 

Since the student may still be in a rebellious state of mind, you may not get the best response; at the very least though, you have put a stop to the disruption while other students get some learning done.


Speak To The Student Privately


As mentioned before, it’s not conducive to speak to students outside the classroom as it is still a public area. Brazen, troublesome students usually have a different demeanour when approached privately, so arrange for the student to meet you in a private environment away from other students such as the canteen, counselling room, or AV room to speak to them (if you are meeting a student of the opposite sex, consider bringing along another teacher). Explain to the student that you care about them and would like to understand why they are being disruptive in class.

It’s always good to break the ice first with some normal small talk before turning the conversation serious. In the author’s previous experience, buying the student some food usually softens them up and makes them more willing to open up, especially if they are from a B40 background. 


Give Your Student A Chance

If a student has been particularly difficult, it can be hard to think about giving them another chance. But it’s good to have a sincere but firm conversation with the student about why their behaviour should change, and what the behaviour you are expecting is. Strike an agreement with the student that they will not be disruptive in class, and thank them for their co-operation, all while reinforcing that you truly believe they are capable of being good.

A side note: giving the student a “role” in class can sometimes be helpful in getting them to display behaviour that you want. For example, give the student the responsibility to hand out books or keep their classmates in line; you showing confidence that they qualify for such a role will help improve their self-esteem and keep their behaviour in check.

When All Else Fails, Rope In Other Parties


If you have attempted to get through to a student many times through compassion and empathy, but they continue to be disruptive, then it’s best to engage with your school’s counsellor to see if there are deeper-rooted issues that need to be dealt with. This can be as simple as minor depression or as major as autism/severe mental health issues, so it’s necessary to get the input of a professional if things don’t seem to improve.

The last option would be to engage the student’s parents and have a frank discussion of what’s been happening without the student being present. If you’re lucky, the parents will step in and make the situation better. If they don’t, you may have to formulate a plan with the counsellor or hand the student over to the disciplinary team for further action. That would be the worst-case scenario, but ultimately you will need to put the needs of all your other students first. 


Have Hope In Your Students And Things Could Turn Out Great

Handling students who are difficult and brazen is not what any teacher wants to encounter, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a hopeless scenario. Students are ultimately still learning and growing as people themselves, and being vulnerable and caring usually helps teachers get through to them. Remember that the behaviour of difficult students tends to come from a place of hurt or pain, so have some empathy and show them that you are not out to hurt them. For all you know, this student could turn out a different person thanks to your efforts!