Difficult students can take the majority of your time and energy. Learn how to deal with difficult students patiently and effectively.
How to Deal with Difficult Students
Some students take all your resources to manage.
But they are your students, and you are their teacher. How do you deal with difficult students? These tips will help.
Try to Empathize
It’s easy to cast a difficult student as an adversary, especially if they are disrespectful to you.
But remember, they are people, too, and there are reasons for their behavior.
Try to consider their perspective.
What personal challenges are they facing? Do they have a rough home life? Are they eating and sleeping enough?
Think about what frustrates them or triggers them about school.
Ask yourself, “Why might that be the case?”
Many students act with bravado in order to cover up fear or insecurity.
Try to empathize with your difficult students so you can see them as people who need your help and care.
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Address Basic Needs
How well do you behave when you don’t sleep well or when you skip a meal?
Students have trouble managing their behavior when they are exhausted or hungry.
Keep some individually wrapped snacks on hand for students who didn’t get breakfast (like granola bars or Rice Krispie Treats).
You can incorporate movement breaks into your day to help tired students stay alert.
Show the Student You Are For Them
Difficult students likely have a list of people who dislike them.
If they sense that you are one of them, they will shut down for you (or even purposely antagonize you).
Let these students know you are on their side, rooting for them.
Have a conversation with them. Ask them about their situation. They may open up to you.
This can be the bridge you need to form a positive relationship.
Enlist Their Help
Difficult students are often those who need the most stimulation and activity.
You can give them positive outlets for their energy (or even their need for attention) by asking them to help you.
They can pass out papers, erase boards, or collect homework for you.
Respond Don’t React
You want to de-escalate behavior, not escalate it. This means that when you are provoked, you respond. You don’t react.
Chances are, a knee-jerk reaction from you will only make matters worse.
Take a few breaths. Count to 10. Do whatever you need in order to provide some time to think over what to do.
Never yell. Don’t get worked up. Try to stay calm and matter-of-fact.
Clearly Communicate Rules and Expectations
Having a set list of classroom rules can help you in two ways.
First, it shows your students where the line is. If they don’t know, they may accidentally aggravate you.
Or they may try to figure out the boundaries by testing you.
Second, you can clearly communicate your rules and expectations so that if an infraction does occur, you have a pre-established consequence.
This can help diffuse an emotional response (yours or the student’s) and make everything matter-of-fact.
Communicate with Parents
Parents are your allies. If you have a difficult student, you need to let their parents know what is going on. Tell them when you have an issue in class.
Let the parent know that you care about their child. Work together to brainstorm possible solutions or ways to handle the student.
The parent may be able to offer you insight into the cause of the student’s behavior or management techniques. Two heads are better than one!
Don’t Call Them Out
When you call out a student in public, you immediately force them into a defensive position.
You are much less likely to win the student over to your side, alter the behavior, and diffuse the situation.
Whenever possible, talk with the student privately.
This is also a chance to ask questions to discover what underlying issues might be influencing the student to be disruptive.
You can’t control other people (if only, right?), but you can control yourself.
You are much more likely to manage difficult students if you are rested, well-nourished, and mentally prepared.
Make sure you are practicing self-care. As a teacher, this is so important.
Tips for Handling Difficult Students
These tips for dealing with difficult students can be boiled down to communication, self-control, and empathy.
Your difficult students are actually the ones in whose lives you can have the greatest impact. You can be a positive force in their lives.