How to Handle A Student Who Yells At You

Smart Classroom Management: How To Handle A Student Who Yells At YouRecently, I received an email from a teacher who was yelled at by a student.

Her class had been in the middle of a learning game, and everything was going smoothly.

Or so she thought.

The students were playing by the rules. They were having fun and enjoying each other.

They were playing cooperatively.

In fact, she was thrilled with how well the activity was going.

But then, out of the blue, a student stood up and accused her of favoring one team over another.

When she tried to explain, he began arguing with her.

When she defended herself and her decisions and assured him that she would never do such a thing, he became furious.

He began yelling, pointing his finger at her, and calling her a cheater. It was an ugly scene, and the teacher was left shaken and unsure of how to handle it.

This isn’t the first email we’ve received on this topic. And it won’t be the last. Confrontations like this are happening more frequently.

In this day and age, students seem more aggressive when they feel slighted and less willing to listen to another point of view. Further, many have never had anyone show them, or model for them, what respect looks like.

This underscores the importance of first deescalating the situation—in order to ensure your safety and the safety of your students—before teaching a life-lesson the offending student won’t soon forget.

Here’s how:

1. Delay

The instant you recognize—or think you recognize—a student becoming angry, your singular goal is to calm them down and avoid confrontation.

In the case above, the moment the student stood up, the teacher should have gone into deescalation mode.

The best way to do this is to delay.

Do not respond directly to the student’s complaints. Doing so will only make things worse.

Instead, stay cool and relaxed, pretend it’s no big deal, and say “It’s okay. I understand what you’re saying. I can see how you might feel that way. I promise I’ll fix it, but let’s finish the game first.”

Then move on as quickly as you can. Go ahead and let the student complain a bit longer if they wish or get in a last word. Delay, delay, delay, and they’ll calm down.

2. Fix

You are under no obligation to explain yourself or your decisions to any student who speaks to you or approaches you disrespectfully—nor should you. It only encourages more disrespect.

However, after the student settles down, it’s smart to set the record straight by clarifying your rules, protocols, or procedures related to the game or activity to the entire class.

This allows you to defend your decisions as the teacher and leader of the classroom while at the same time fulfilling your promise to “fix it.”

Get to the point, be brief, and provide facts only.

3. Enforce

Your classroom management plan should include an addendum that allows you to skip the warning stage and jump directly to a more appropriate consequence.

Any incident of brazen or continued disrespect should be met with your strongest consequence—which may include an extended time-out for elementary students or detention for high school students—plus a notification of parents.

The behavior should also be documented and, if it was in any way threatening, aggressive, or potentially dangerous, then officially referred to an administrator.

(Note: Although we have strong opinions about how administrators should best handle severe misbehavior, and support and protect classroom teachers, we are a website dedicated to helping teachers. We do not provide advice for principals on this blog.)

Only after the student has forgotten about the incident, which may be much later in the day, or even the next, should you approach, deliver the news of your consequence, and then turn on your heel and walk away.

4. Review

Students tend to repeat the behavior they see from others.

This is one reason why a class can get out of control so quickly. Therefore, it’s important that you review your rules again a day or so after the incident.

Severe misbehavior can act as an agent to improve behavior and politeness class-wide. Whenever you have a dramatic incident or a particularly bad day, you should view it as an opportunity to teach a valuable lesson to the entire class.

Focus on your rule concerning disrespect.

Be sure and define once again what it looks like and reiterate that it won’t be tolerated, that you won’t allow anyone or anything to upset the experience of being a member of your class.

Finish your review by reminding your students that the goal of your classroom management plan is to safeguard their right to learn and enjoy school and your right to teach great lessons.

Limiting Contact

As counterintuitive as it may seem, the less contact you have with the offending student, the less likely a similar incident will happen in the future.

We’ll delve deeper into this topic in future articles, but just know that pulling them aside to counsel, patch things up, force an apology, or convince them of your point of view will only weaken your leverage and influence.

Let accountability do your talking for you.

By not taking their disrespect personally, but instead keeping your cool and following through on your promise to protect learning, your respect in the eyes of all your students will grow.

The offending student, especially, is often changed by the experience. So much so that they’ll begin treating you with reverence and even admiration.

When you then show them—through your simple kindness and no-hard-feelings acceptance—what grace, forgiveness, and true respect looks like . . .

You’ll forever change how they view the world.

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25 Responses to How to Handle A Student Who Yells At You

  1. Edna Sato April 16, 2016 at 8:55 am #

    Thank you very much for sharing. It enhanced my knowledge.

    • Michael Linsin April 16, 2016 at 11:01 am #

      You’re welcome, Edna.


    • Fola O October 18, 2016 at 3:58 am #

      Sane here. I echo what Edna Sato said. This really helped me as a Teacher.

  2. M.J.J April 16, 2016 at 10:17 am #

    The article was well written and should be shared nationally. For many teachers, disrespectful students,in the classrooms, are becoming infectious. I’ve learned as a classroom teacher that most students who are disrespectful are that way because they haven’t been taught how to appropriately show respect to others. It is our job as teachers to model appropriate ways to show respect in the schools to our students and towards each other, which will permeate throughout society. “It starts with us!”

  3. Jane Wesley April 16, 2016 at 12:41 pm #

    Great answer! I’ve been teaching since 76 and have always noticed that when a student confronts and threatens me if I get mad, hurt and it’s hard to not take it personally, engaging or ever raising my voice will feet into the anger and the simulation escalates. Anytime I ever raise my voice, I’ve lost control. The kids are scared and watching. A calm reasoned acknowledgement that you heard them and you will consisted their opinion while moving the activity along is a great idea. Rather than add fuel to that spark, or attention to the disrespectful behavior moving on is perfect. It’s easy to be baited. Kids are watching you. They want you to take control and diffuse the situation! A one one one quiet response later is far more effective. The anger and striking out is a learned response. As teachers, we have a wonderful opportunity to model and teach more appropriate responses.

    • Michael Linsin April 16, 2016 at 3:26 pm #

      Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Jane.


    • Shira May 5, 2016 at 4:15 pm #

      Good points I hope to learn and use. Thank you Jane and Michael.

  4. The (In)Sane Math Teacher April 16, 2016 at 2:59 pm #

    One thing I’d like to add, since as a substitute teacher (getting my credential and hopefully my own classroom soon!) I get disrespectful behavior quite often, is to not take anything personally. I figure that if a student is having a bad day and is going to lash out, whoever the teacher is that day is gonna get it and I happened to be the teacher that day.

  5. Michelle April 17, 2016 at 7:17 am #

    On top of not being taught what respect looks like, I also think these students are not taught how to deal with their emotions. They don’t know how to handle anger. One of the things I teach these kids is that they are allowed to have their emotions. They are allowed to be angry, mad, or sad, but what they are not allowed to be is disrespectful. Then I ask them how they think they could handle the situation if it happens again. Discuss with them that we all have emotions but we need to learn how to deal with them.

  6. Happy Teacher April 17, 2016 at 9:27 am #

    For me, the great point this article makes is that you can say, “It’s okay” to a student who is out of control, something I would never have thought of on my own. By doing this I can react as an ally, and feel okay about comforting them for the moment, in the knowledge that I will deliver a consequence when they’ve calmed down.

  7. Jody April 17, 2016 at 12:20 pm #

    “It’s okay. I understand what you’re saying. I can see how you might feel that way. I promise I’ll fix it, but let’s finish the game first.” I would never say this. I feel that this would be seen as a confession to the rest of the class. Talk about losing the confidence of not just one student, but all of them.”

  8. Julie Parker April 17, 2016 at 4:27 pm #

    I teach kindergarten and each day we not only review our classroom rules, but also our Goals for Life, which is one of the BIST (Behavior Intervention Support Team) concepts. ‘I can be okay, even if I’m mad’ is probably the most difficult goal for students to follow. When teaching strategies to help students understand how to adhere to this goal, I teach them it’s okay to be mad, but it’s not okay to hit, yell, or scream. Then I give strategies for what to do if a student gets angry; we practice, and if I see a certain student needs more support, I work with that student one on one. This, along with closely adhering to our classroom management plan, it what makes our classroom run like a well-oiled machine. Thanks for the reminder, Michael, to tell our students – it’s okay to be mad, but it’s not okay to be disrespectful.

    • Michael Linsin April 18, 2016 at 6:54 am #

      You’re welcome, Julie.


  9. Catherine Murphy April 19, 2016 at 7:42 pm #

    Thank you for all of your support. I have a situation that exists in the Ancillary classrooms with a certain student who has been counseled many times in the past year. He has been sent to “time out” and has had other consequences but to no avail. What should I do with this fifth grade student who repeatedly ignores classroom rules and exhibits behaviors such as slithering around on the floor under tables and biting/hitting students on the feet, throwing supplies across the room, touching students and taking off their shoes, using profanity and at other times showing his private parts in class? He clearly wants attention, but he is a danger to all students and possibly to the teacher. We cannot touch him to remove him from class for fear of being reprimanded. The administration doesn’t want to deal with it and he may be taken out of class for two or three minutes when we call for assistance but he is quickly sent back to class. He is building a reputation for himself and some of the children shun him, but others are amused by this behavior. Any suggestions? Thank you, cm

    • Michael Linsin April 20, 2016 at 6:59 am #

      Hi Catherine,

      I have suggestions, but don’t have the time or space to address your situation here. It’s a big question. I would also need more information from you. If you’re interested, we offer personal coaching. See the link along the menu bar for more information.


  10. Brenda Ramey April 20, 2016 at 8:13 am #

    Thank you so much for this article. These are things I have learned, but need to be reminded from time to time. I am currently a substitute teacher, and working with students I do not know every day is hard for me. Their outbursts are often unexpected and I do not have a plan for that student. If I can handle situations of disrespect more appropriately, our day goes much better.

    • Michael Linsin April 20, 2016 at 11:48 am #

      You’re welcome, Brenda.


  11. Chez April 22, 2016 at 4:25 pm #

    I agree with using these strategies to deescalate students. Once they realize I am not going to yell or hold a grudge, then are more respectful to me in class. In fact, these outbursts, and my response, can actually lead to a better relationship with those students.

  12. Terry Champagne May 3, 2016 at 1:15 pm #

    Hello. I had the worst class in my 15 year teaching career. There were only 2 girls in the class and 12 boys. Seven of the boys were designated with behaviour challenges, and man were they wild! (This class was a 5 6 7 class.) The boys came into the classroom screaming, kicking one another, hard slapping faces. I don’t think I got through one sentence without one of the boys cutting me off and of course that led to the others disrupting as well.

    We went on a field trip. The boys acted like animals on the bus, one boy threw a golf ball out the bus window. One boy was crawling on his tummy underneath the seats. They started passing around a basketball before I got to it. All that and we hadn’t reached our destination. The younger kids were well behaved through the exhibitions, the older (animals) were not. There were 2 groups and we each did our own tour. I was speaking to one of the 7, he didn’t like what I said, so he said I’m going home. He did come back after 15 minutes. We ate lunch at a beautiful park by the river. Two of the boys decided to go in the water, shoes wet, pants up to the calf. Two older boys were bugging a younger boy who became quite upset. All this… and I hear the “worst” boy wasn’t even at school that day.

    What r your thoughts? One of the boys was only in the school for 2 weeks; he apparently was kicked out of a “challenge program”, was flagged for a social development class but as there was no room for him, he was in the class as a regular student.

    Please don’t refer me to OCD or ADHD sites. I’m talking about 7 of the worst imaginable students u could have, all together, bouncing off one another at the same time. Me – I volunteered in a social development class for one year; I luv these kids up to 4 on one – no other students…

  13. Janis Dean July 1, 2016 at 9:16 am #

    I am a believer in all your suggested steps. There is one major issue I have had with keeping the delivery of consequences private and out of the other student’s hearing. The class that witnessed the outburst can mistakenly believe that the offending student “got away with it”.I had the most offensive young man who could not deal with re-direct or any reproach without accusing me of singling him out, “picking on him”. He never saw the redirect I gave many other times in class (he usually did not pay attention to anything I said in my instructional time) and stayed off task as much as he could. I did not feel I should have to defend myself and my management of the classroom but he accused me of some gross negligence as a teacher almost daily. Thoughts?

    • Michael Linsin July 1, 2016 at 10:10 am #

      Hi Janis,

      You don’t have to keep your consequences private. This isn’t part of the article or any recommendation you’ll find on this site.


  14. Chaundra Oden July 28, 2016 at 6:45 pm #

    I have a question about the consequences for this type of behavior. Quite often, I have students who are not in any way affected by learning that the final consequence is “a note home.” They know that their parent or care giver will not address the issue. Therefore, they do not seem motivated to alter their behavior. Their general response is a shrug of the shoulders and “I don’t care.” I don’t have the option of contacting administration because they are reluctant to address behavior issues. Is there a way to respond with a consequence when students know nothing will happen at home?

    • Michael Linsin July 29, 2016 at 8:05 am #

      Hi Chaundra,

      The effectiveness of the consequence—the way we teach it—isn’t dependent on parental response whatsoever. When you get a chance, please spend some time in our archive, beginning in the Rules & Consequences and Rapport & Influence categories and going from there.


  15. Jessica August 26, 2016 at 7:18 pm #

    Do you always suggest to deliver the cosequence at a later time when the student is calm?

    • Michael Linsin August 26, 2016 at 7:22 pm #

      Hi Jessica,

      Only if they’ve lost emotional control.


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