If you’re like most teachers, two or three difficult students take up most of your time. Making your class strenuous. On the days when they’re absent or pulled from your class, everything goes smoothly.
Teaching is more fun. You’re more relaxed. And you can cruise through your lessons without interruption. But when they’re sitting in class, which seems like all the time, they can make you want to pull your hair out.
Unfortunately, the frustrations you feel dealing with difficult students can cause you to make mistakes.
The following is some rules–all don’ts–that will help you avoid the most common pitfalls, and turn your most difficult students into valued members of your classroom.
Rule 1: Don’t question.
It’s normal for teachers to force explanations from difficult students as a form of accountability. But asking why and demanding a response from them almost always ends in resentment. And angry students who dislike their teacher never improve their classroom behaviour.
Rule 2: Don’t argue.
When you argue with difficult students, it puts them on equal footing with you, creating a “your word against theirs” situation. This negates the effects of accountability. It also opens the floodgates: everybody will be arguing with you.
Rule 3: Don’t lecture, scold, or yell.
Lecturing, scolding, and yelling will cause all students to dislike you, but when you direct your diatribe toward one particular student, it can be especially damaging. Creating friction between you and your most challenging students virtually guarantees that their behaviour will worsen.
Rule 4: Don’t give false praise.
Teachers often shower difficult students with praise for doing what is minimally expected. But because these students can look around at their classmates and know that it’s a sham, false praise doesn’t work. Instead, give only meaningful, heartfelt praise based on true accomplishment.
Rule 5: Don’t hold a grudge.
“Every day is a new day” should be your mantra with difficult students. They need to know that they have a clean slate to start each day–and so do you. To that end, say hello, smile, and let them know you’re happy to see them first thing every morning.
Rule 6: Don’t lose your cool.
When you let students get under your skin and you lose emotional control, even if it’s just a sigh and an eye roll, you become less effective. Your likeability drops. Classroom tension rises. And when difficult students discover they can push your buttons, they’ll try as often as they can.
Rule 7: Don’t ignore misbehaviour.
Given that there is an audience of other students, ignoring misbehaviour will not make it go away. It will only make it worse. Instead, follow your classroom management plan as it’s written. If a difficult student breaks a rule, no matter how trivial, enforce it immediately.