Thursday, July 28, 2011

How to Reach and Teach Difficult Students

some of my favorite rowdy students from long ago!

A few weeks ago, I made mention of "That Kid." If you are a teacher, you have no doubt, encountered That Kid. You know him (although it can be a she as well), he's the one who gets your nerves all grated just by walking by him in the hallway.

We all have personalities to which we are more drawn and ones which we avoid. I highly suspect that we are programmed to avoid those we dislike just as we are programmed to avoid stress. Often, That Kid, is someone who is disruptive in some form or another, avoids classwork, and spends a lot of time in the Principal's office. My experience has shown That Kid frequently has an IEP, and/or some form of an emotional disability. Frequently, That Kid suffers from instability in some for or another, be it insecurity, social status, family life and/or financial reason. Yet, it is hard to factor all of that into account when That Kid is raising hell in your classroom. But, as teachers, we have a sacred, ethical responsibility to ALL of the students we teach.

So, what do you do when you have a student whom you wish you could avoid altogether?

1. Involve the student in classroom activities.

One of the easiest ways to "win" a student over is to get him involved in the classroom community. By being a "helper" he can serve a powerful role in the classroom. These tasks can range from handing out materials to being a "classroom mentor" to another student. And, when he is helping in the classroom you have an opportunity to praise him and observe him in a positive manner. This aids you as you are able reassure yourself that there is good in him somewhere. ;)

2. Find Positive Incentives

Whenever you "punish" someone that is negative. I don't like being punished and neither does That Kid. Instead, find ways in which you can encourage positive behavior through incentives. These can range from something simple (earning a special treat) to something more complex. I've called home and arranged for parents to give students an extra hour of video game time after consecutive classes of positive behavior.

3. Find time to talk to That Kid

It is important That Kid knows that you have his best interest at heart. Frequently, That Kid, feels victimized by teachers and adults alike. Letting him know that you truly care goes a long way to forming a positive teacher-student relationship. Find time to sit down with That Kid and discuss his behavior in a manner that is constructive. Explain how you are trying to help him and ask if he has any ideas on how to the two of you can work better together. During this conversation it is important to speak to That Kid in a very conversational and adult tone; talking to him as if he is inferior won't work.

4. Discover That Kid's interests and dreams

That Kid frequently avoids working in class. This could be for any number of reasons. The important part is to narrow down that list. Find ways to discreetly identify if That Kid has any learning disabilities that might cause him to avoid work. You can do this through speaking with other teachers and carefully observing him in class. If he has learning disabilities differentiate assignments to accommodate That Kid more fully (I've had students range from color blind to totally illiterate who were That Kids).

Discover what bands, artists, interests etc. That Kid has and find a way to differentiate projects to accommodate his interests. I had a student years ago who wouldn't participate in any work who had genius level intelligence. I discovered that he really loved the Beatles. So, together, we found ways to incorporate the Beatles into his assignments. I'm not going to say that all of his projects were "amazing" or befitting his intelligence, but at least he was doing work!

5. Be Consistent

Whatever your behavior management plan, stick with it. It is important That Kid know that you will follow through on your plan. At the same time, you don't have to fulfill the plan on angry terms. Try to be as calm as possible.

6. Think Fondly of That Kid

When all else fails and That Kid is really trying your patience, start thinking of all of his redeeming qualities. Everybody has a few, and it helps to calm your nerves when you can identify the "good" points of a person even when they are behaving rudely.

You'll notice that I didn't include "talking to other teachers" in this list (other than to identify learning disabilities). My reason for this is that we all have bias, and if you have That Kid, then you don't need to know anything more "bad" about him or her. And, in all likelihood, That Kid probably acts up in all his classes. Try to observe him with fresh eyes!

I hope this helps you to teach and reach That Kid!


  1. sorry for the crazy formatting guys; blogger is being super-uncooperative!

  2. Yes! Love it!! Easier said then done sometimes... Especially when we have every classroom teacher's that kid in the school. .. For five years in a row. Point being... You HAVE to work it out or be miserable. I avoid confronting kids in front of the class and that always helps too. If they are being really disruptive they sit out at the drawing table until I finish the lesson an have time to really ttalk. There is also the issue of time. We have to address a lot in one hour 6x a day. It's important in October after the kids get settles to plan a few extra late days to adress that kids issue with family as well if necessary.

  3. APG- You are so right! It is easier to say than do so much of the time dealing with difficulty students. I've had several nights where I've gone home ruminating on what happened in class only to realize that the major issue with the behavior was HOW I HANDLED IT. lol!

    I like the "time out" idea; I do that sometimes as well!