How to Handle Disruptive Students


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Lesson number one on how to handle your classroom:     Show the kids some respect, connect with them, be a human.  This will earn you some degree of respect which is the only real authority that you will ever have.

Lesson number two:  Understand that you can never make a person do what you want him to do.   Accept the fact that your classroom is not your kingdom. You are not the supreme ruler.  Until you understand that the classroom is a community of people with a shared goal, you will never have control.

Lesson number three: You will be defied.  You will be questioned.  Weren’t you ever an angry adolescent, even for a minute?  The hallmark of adolescence (and in fact of childhood itself) is to test the limits, to question the rules, to challenge authority.  Work with all that passion, for God’s sake. You are a teacher because (theoretically) you want to have a hand in shaping the future. If you wanted to be a tyrant, you probably should have picked another career.

Lesson number four: Keep you eye on your goal.  You are here to teach this material to ALL of those students in front of you. ALL of them.  So if one student is disrupting the lesson, your goal is to return to the teaching. It is not to assert your superiority, your strength, your power over that student.

Final Lesson: If the situation deteriorates, and you simply cannot teach your lesson to ALL of those kids in the room, then remember that your goal is to calm things down.  Your job is to deescalate the confrontation.  If you need help, call for help from an educational expert.  Maybe your principal.  Maybe the school psychologist or counselor.

For the love of god, do NOT call the police just because some little girl defied you in front of the group.

It is not a crime to say ‘no’ to an adult. It is not a crime to be angry. It is not a crime to be an unhappy teenager.  You don’t call the cops to move a girl out of a public school classroom.

And if you do, and if that big, strong, uniformed officer STILL doesn’t have enough authority to control that child, then the school had better take a good long look at itself, and its culture and how well it is reaching its goal of educating all students.

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I was a public school teacher for a LONG time. I have taught kids with Oppositional/Defiant Disorder, ADD, Schizophrenia, Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, Autism, Asperger Syndrome, Bipolar Disorder, Learning Disabilities and unnamed behavioral challenges. I have had kids swear at me, threaten me, throw chairs at me, refuse to write or do math or look at me or leave the room.    Never once, not ever, did it even occur to me that it would the right thing to do to use my superior physical size and strength to overpower that child. Never once have a laid hands on a child in anger.

The video from S. Carolina is absolutely disgusting and truly appalling.  I fault the teacher who has been completely unable to create a respectful environment in his class. I fault the school for its lack of planning for how to respond to a defiant teen. I blame the administrator for calling in a police officer, a person trained in crime control, not in developmental psychology or best educational practice.  And I fault that bully of an officer who let his ego and his biceps bring violence into a classroom.  As a “School Resource Officer”, it was his job to do the absolute opposite, and to prevent just that kind of violence from happening.

And don’t bother telling me that the girl hit him first.  Just don’t even go there.

6 thoughts on “How to Handle Disruptive Students

  1. I am so glad your wrote this. I have been chewing over this news story as a former teacher and as a former troubled foster child who actually tried to attack one of my teachers (a hardcore racist) for calling me the “N” word when I was 16 in front of the class. My entire destiny would have been destroyed if a classroom policeman had been called into the classroom. I was an abused kid and a confused child. (My friends pulled me out of the classroom before I harmed the teacher and destroyed my life. They took me to the principal whose office staff had enough sense to intervene with the teacher and teach me how to handle my own emotions and deal with the situation without violence.) As a teacher, I have experienced some of what you have, and you are correct–there has to be a better answer than the one that went down in SC. Well said, my friend.

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    • I’m so glad that you read this, Eleanor! I just keep thinking, as I look at this horrific video, “Who came in to ask this child what was troubling her?” Why do we so often think that superior physical strength is the answer to problem solving?

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    • Thank you for reading it! I get so incredibly angry when we fail to protect and cherish our children! Who tried to help that angry girl? Who tried to find out what was making her so defiant? Who even bothered to think, ‘Well, good for you! You can stand up for yourself in the face of pressure!” Grrrrrrrrrrrrr.

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