With over 350,000 page views, How To Handle Disrespectful Students is one of the most popular articles on this website—and for good reason.
A disrespectful student can get under a teacher’s skin like almost nothing else.
When confronted with disrespect, it’s easy to take it personally. This is a normal reaction from a passionate teacher.
But it’s a colossal mistake.
Because when you take behavior personally, you’re likely to react in ways that make managing that student’s behavior much more difficult.
Your leverage and influence will then plummet right along with his or her behavior.
But if you can refrain from doing what comes naturally, then you can hold the disrespectful student accountable and still retain your ability to influence future behavior.
Lose the battle.
When a student is disrespectful to you, you have to be willing to lose the battle. In other words, you must resist the urge to admonish, scold, lecture, get even, or otherwise attempt to put the student in their place.
Don’t take it personally.
Disrespect comes from a place inside the student that has nothing to do with you. So don’t take it personally. Your job is to help the student see the error of his or her ways so that it doesn’t happen again.
Take a deep breath to quell any angry feelings rising up inside you. Remind yourself that you’ll be much more effective, and the situation will go much smoother, if you maintain emotional control.
In the immediate moments following the incident, don’t say a word. Simply maintain eye contact with the student and wait. Let their words hang in the air for several seconds, leaving no doubt about what was said, how it was said, and who is responsible for saying it.
It’s important not to escalate the situation, but to end it as quickly as possible. Your pause and unwillingness to react is unnerving and will leave the student devoid of anything to say. As soon as you break eye contact and walk away, the incident is over.
Refrain from enforcing a consequence—for now. Just continue on with whatever you were doing. Leave the student standing there, unsure of what to do. It’s always best to get back to normalcy as quickly as possible for the sake of the rest of your students.
Proceed with your day as if nothing happened. Don’t approach the student. Don’t try to talk to him or her about what happened. Don’t do anything until you’re confident that the student has mentally moved on from the situation.
As soon as the student is calm and the incident is forgotten, approach and deliver your consequence. I recommend bypassing the warning step of your classroom management plan and sending the student directly to time-out. Say simply, “You broke rule number four. Grab your work and go to time-out.”
For overt disrespect, the parents should be notified. A letter home is most effective. It also adds a layer of accountability that lasts beyond the day of the incident. Near the end of the school day, hand the student your letter and walk away–without adding a lecture. Let accountability speak for you.
Note: For more information on this topic, including a sample letter home, see the article, Why A Letter Home Is An Effective Consequence.
Let remorse set in.
When you handle disrespect this way, without lecturing or scolding or taking it personally, even the most obstinate student will be affected by his or her mistake. So much so that you’re likely to get a sincere and unforced apology.
A Lesson Learned
By following these steps, you can turn a student’s disrespect into a memorable lesson. The steps work because they heap the entire burden of responsibility on the student’s shoulders, with none of it clinging to you.
He or she can’t blame you or be resentful of you—thus undermining the lesson—because you didn’t try to get even. You didn’t have to win the battle. You didn’t yell, threaten, scold, or lower yourself to the same level of disrespect.
You kept your cool and allowed accountability to work, which is the right thing to do for both you and the student.
Thanks for reading.
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