How to deal with 'Tough' students

Dr. Prashant Vasudev

Principal, DPSG Faridabad

Effective educators discipline with encouragement and kind words much more often than rebukes or reprimands. The goal is to help students feel good about themselves and their behaviour in the classroom. We all come across students who habitually get into trouble.

Teaching a lesson to your class can become quite a challenge when you have to deal with the constant disruption of a difficult student. It may seem like you have tried every behaviour management tip known to man, along with trying to provide an organized routine to help the student manage their responsibilities. Inevitably, when everything you've tried fails, keep your head up and try again.

Effective educators choose discipline techniques that will encourage positive behaviour and motivate students to feel good about themselves and the decisions that they make. You may use the following guidelines to combat classroom disruptions and deal with ‘difficult’ students:

1. DEFINE EXPECTATIONS.

Specifically, define your expectations and help students understand there are consequences for unwanted behaviour. When students break the rules they need to be ready for the consequences. Clearly write out and define each expectation you have, and post them in a visible spot in the classroom.

Common Student Expectations for the Classroom:

  • Stay seated during classroom activities and events
  • Raise your hand before speaking
  • Show respect for school property and students
  • Wait to be dismissed
  • Be prepared for class
  • Be considerate and respectful

2. STAY IN TOUCH WITH PARENTS.

Make sure that the parents know what is going on; how often he/she is in trouble, and what trouble it was. Create this bond and you won’t regret it. A lot of the time the students that are being disruptive, may not be getting the attention that they need from home. By communicating your concerns with the parents, you may find that there may be something going on in the household that is out of your control. Find a way to keep parents informed of their child's behaviour at school.

3. EMPATHIZE WITH THE STUDENT.

It might be hard, because the student is ‘tough’ to handle, but try to find out what is really going on. Can you get someone to talk to the student? The student might need to take a safe seat to re-group. Never resort to blame or ridicule. Give the misbehaving student a chance to respond positively by explaining not only what he or she is doing wrong, but also what he or she can do to correct it.

4. STAY COOL AND MAINTAIN YOUR COMPOSURE.

It's natural to be overcome with frustration, resentment, and anger. But when you are, you become less rational, and your agitation becomes contagious. When you stay calm in a difficult situation, it will model for the student that this is the proper way to react. Sometimes overt behaviour can be contagious and that only leads to a classroom of unwanted chaos.

5. AVOID WIN-LOSE CONFLICTS.

Emphasize problem solving instead of contemplating punishment. Keeping the ‘difficult’ child in a trauma-free space is of quintessential importance. Showing students that you care about them and their problems will help you earn their respect and establish rapport.

6. TRY THE PEER TUTOR TECHNIQUE.

Ask yourself, is the difficult student good in one subject? Can he tutor a fellow student? Can he help someone else succeed? It works both ways.

7. MAKE SURE THE STUDENTS FEEL INTELLECTUALLY, CREATIVELY, EMOTIONALLY AND PHYSICALLY SAFE.

Be very clear about the details you expect your students to follow for a safe and smooth functioning classroom. Among other things that may be specific to your subject, these should include how to enter the classroom, where to find the assignment, what to do if a pencil breaks, how to get permission for a drink or the bathroom, how to walk through the halls, line up and take turns.

It is important that these procedures be both explained and practiced. When you notice a procedure being followed well, point this out. Reinforcement always helps.

8. TREAT ALL STUDENTS RESPECTFULLY AND POLITELY.

Be consistent in what you let them say and do. Be careful not to favour certain students. Also, figure out the following aspects:

  • Are you as considerate of your students' feelings as you want them to be of others?
  • Are you as organized and on-task as you tell them to be?
  • Are your classroom rules clear and easy for students to follow?

9. AVOID LABELLING STUDENTS AS ‘GOOD’ OR ‘BAD’.

Instead describe their behaviour as "positive," "acceptable," "disruptive," or "unacceptable." Focus on recognizing and rewarding acceptable behaviour more than punishing misbehaviour.

10. SET A CLEAR GOAL.

If the situation between you and the child has not improved after two or three months of your best effort, it may be time to recommend professional/psychological/educational testing. Some problems are very complex and beyond your control. In such situations, don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help.

No matter the behaviour, don’t give up on trying to reach out to ‘tough’ students…The negativity may be a defense for something deeper! Never give up!

Dr. Prashant Vasudev

Principal, DPSG Faridabad