Guidelines on managing challenging students by Edite Abrantes

We all know that encouragement and good rapport do much more for a positive classroom environment than reprimands and scolding. After all, the aim is to help students enjoy the lessons, feel good about being there and consequently adopt less disruptive behaviour in the classroom.

Unavoidably, though, students misbehave, are mischievous and even troublesome at times. When they do, don’t rush into rebuking and giving extra homework as punishment, count to ten and bear the following pieces of advice in mind:

  • Take a deep breath and do your best to remain calm.

It’s natural to become frustrated, stressed and angry over irreverent students who simply “ignore” your requests to behave and do their work. However, such feelings affect your rational and inevitably your agitation shows and becomes contagious. So, take a deep breath, or several if you must, try to remain calm and collected and think before responding. Remember, students look up to you, so try to adopt an assertive posture, model an appropriate, exemplary response which clearly indicates that you care about them and their problems. However, where warnings are necessary, state them clearly and quietly so as to avoid disrupting the class.

  • Treat allstudents respectfully and amicably. 

Be consistent in what you let students say and do and be careful not to favor certain students. Avoid labeling students as “good” or “bad.” Instead describe their behavior as “positive,” “acceptable,” “disruptive,” or “unacceptable.” Moreover, give the unruly student a chance to respond politely by explaining not only what he or she is doing wrong, but also what he or she can do to correct it. In addition, seat the student near to you so a glance or a hand on his or her shoulder will let the student know he or she is stepping the line.

Don’t forget to promote the students’ self-worth by praising them often but sincerely. When it’s necessary to speak to a student about his or her behavior, try to do so in private; especially when teaching teenagers who must “show off” to their peers. Publicly lecturing them may trigger exaggerated, face-saving performances which can snow ball into unmanageable situations.

  • Set the example.

Are you as respectful of your students’ feelings as you want them to be of yours and their peers? Are you as organized and on-task as you tell them to be? Are your classroom rules and consequences clear and easy for students to follow?  Be firm and consistent about your rules, and express displeasure with the students’ behavior without criticizing them. Model the behaviour you expect from your students so they can have a reference and an example to follow.

  • Be an active listener and observer.

Try to understand where the “odd” behavior is coming from. Is the student distressed by a personal situation such as the parents’ divorce, new baby in the family, learning difficulties in other subjects or in a particular area of the syllabus, or some other daunting experience? Speaking to the student’s parents may shed light on the crux of the problem and help you develop a closer rapport with the student through understanding and sympathy. Whenever possible, make the time to speak to challenging students privately and show your concern for them.

  • Be realistic.

Sometimes, despite our best intentions and efforts, we find ourselves unable to get across to one of the students in our class. The student may be rude, disruptive, or plain annoying. Remember, it’s human nature and some personalities clash. But instead of feeling guilty about being unable to manage the situation better,  take positive steps to minimize disruptions and handle them as best as you can for …

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