This week I began a 3-part series that began with major categories of difficult students followed by preventative steps for managing those kinds of students. On the rare occasion it is needed, I still have a few tricks up my sleeve.

Image via Flickr by stevendepolo

I consider these tricks for dealing with difficult students a last resort. Because I am generally effective managing the classroom through preventative measures, I rarely have a need for these tactics. But do not doubt it, I have used each one of these at least once.

My direct tricks for dealing with difficult students actually have no surprise elements; the only surprise is when you find yourself in a situation where you need to utilize them. However, by clearly thinking about the options for managing a particularly difficult student before a problem occurs, the task of doing it becomes significantly easier.

Photo by Lisa Mannes, courtesy XRX, Inc.
Photo by Lisa Mannes, courtesy XRX, Inc.

Address the problem to the entire class. In many cases a difficult student doesn’t realize they are causing a problem. By asking the class as a whole to cease a particular behavior, often the major offender will also stop displaying that behavior.  Even more effective is to identify the problem as a challenge for the instructor.

Example: A student is chatty with their neighbors; this causes disruption due to noise volume, distractions for their neighbors or both.
Good: Asking the whole class to refrain from chatting will often solve the problem.
Better: Requesting students to refrain from chatting because it prevents you (the teacher) from being able to fully concentrate on answering individual students’ questions explains not only the problem but also the rationale behind the solution.

Image via Flickr by dannysoar
Image via Flickr by dannysoar

Speak to the offender individually. This tactic has several options. Weighing the scenario, the student, and what I have already tried will determine which option(s) I will use.

Option 1: I will call out the student in front of the whole class.  This works best when the whole class has been “warned” and I can do it in a non-aggressive, usually “playful” manner.  However the embarrassment of “being caught” often is sufficient for the student to be conscious of their own behavior going forward. Usually this option is used on minor offenses.

Option 2: For students that don’t recognize that they are the problem, a 1-on-1 conversation is required. A quiet discussion with the student either during break (create an extra break if you have to) or at their seat will usually do the trick. Be clear about their specific problem behavior, why it is a problem for you (as the teacher) and – if you deem necessary –  what the consequences will be if they do not stop.

Option 3: This is the same as Option 1, but with this option I will be significantly more controlling, very serious and somewhat aggressive when I publicly call the student’s behavior to the attention of the class. This option is used for more serious issues, but particularly when I need to ensure that the rest of the class knows that I am prepared, willing and able to deal with the problem student.  This is where it gets tough, so be prepared to stay calm and hold your ground.

Image via Flickr by C.P.Storm
Image via Flickr by C.P.Storm

Remove them from the class. Needless to say, this is the absolute last resort. I have only had to do this one time and I hope I never have to do it again. But once the offending student was gone, the rest of the class applauded — it was absolutely the right thing to do. In this case I was at a convention, and the organizers were completely supportive of my action as well. This one is the toughest to prepare for, but the most critical that you ARE prepared.

What tactics have you tried in the past and what were the results? Do you have any other tricks for dealing with difficult students? tAre you able to be tough when the situation requires it? Share your experiences in the comments below so we can all learn from one another.