How To Stop Misbehavior Before It Starts

Can you tell when you’re going to have a bad day?

Can you sense an unhealthy energy rising up in your students or a disquieting buzz you just can’t place?

Do you know it the minute your students walk into your classroom?

Maybe it’s in the chatter and clang of the morning routine or the slinging and unzipping of backpacks. Perhaps it’s the frenzied movement, the excitable voices, or the whirl of color and scraping of chairs along the floor.

Whether or not you’re able pinpoint the source of your uneasiness doesn’t matter. What matters is how you respond.

Far too many teachers chalk up these early warning signs and premonitions to the inclement weather outside, an upcoming holiday, or “just one of those days.”

They shrug their shoulders, resign themselves to their fate, and soldier through an endless day of inattentiveness, misbehavior, and stress. “Oh my gosh, the stress!”

But to be an effective teacher, to create the peaceful, well-behaved class you really want, you can ill afford to lose a single day settling for less than the best from your students.

Better to pay heed to your sixth sense . . . and do something about it before it’s too late.

Here’s how:

Stop them in their tracks.

The second your teacherly powers detect trouble on the horizon—regardless of where your students are in that moment or what they’re doing—signal for their attention. Freeze them where they stand. Pause and wait until every eye is upon you. Then wait a beat or two longer before opening your mouth.

Call for one minute of silence.

It doesn’t matter whether they’re sitting, standing, or in the middle of hanging up their backpacks, ask your students to place any and all materials either on the floor in front of them or on their desk. After pausing to wait for every student to be hands free and facing you, lead them through a series of slow, deep breaths and one minute of silence.

Use the phrase “in a moment.”

The phrase “in a moment,” best used just prior to giving directions, is an effective way to keep your students from moving on mentally or physically before you’ve finished talking. After the minute of silence is up and the nervous tension has lifted, these are the perfect words to segue into the next step.

Example: “In a moment you’re going to…”

Give your directions.

Tell your students that “in a moment” they’re going to put everything back inside their backpacks, slide the straps over their shoulders, and line up outside (or wherever you meet your students before the morning bell). In effect, you’re going to start the day—or the hour, period, or lesson—over again.

Start over.

Use your ‘go’ signal and observe closely as your students walk outside your classroom and into line. As soon as every student is standing quietly in line, ask, “Is there anyone who doesn’t know how to perform the start-of-the-day routine?” This question is an effective way to place a no-excuses form of responsibility on their shoulders.

Note: If you sense trouble at any other point in the day (other than first thing in the morning), you may have to go back to the beginning of the previous routine, period, or lesson.

Don’t explain.

What you do is infinitely more important than what you say. Thus, performing routines over again is a powerful classroom management strategy that communicates to students all they need to know to get themselves back on track. However, it only works if you’ve modeled and practiced your routines, procedures, and lesson steps thoroughly beforehand.


Once again use your ‘go’ signal and observe as your students perform the routine a second time. Say as little as possible. Remember, routines are an expectation they’ve already mastered. So if you offer too many reminders and suggestions you will, in effect, display a lack of trust in them—communicating that you don’t believe they’re capable of doing anything without your help.

Move on.

Once your students are back in the classroom, seated, and attentive, move on with your day as if nothing happened. There is no need for lectures, warnings, or scoldings and no reason to get your frustrations off your chest. Five minutes of action will reinforce your expectations more effectively and more profoundly than anything you can say.

Excuses, Excuses

Teachers are quick to offer a myriad of explanations for whole-class misbehavior.

“We just celebrated a birthday, and they’re still so amped up over it.”

“The wind is gusting outside, and you know how crazy that gets them.”

“It’s Friday…and, well, let’s just say their minds aren’t on school.”

“Vacation is coming up soon and my students can sense it.”

But these are nothing more than excuses.

Because students can behave how you want, they can be calm and attentive—regardless of what day of the week it is or what’s happening outside the four walls of your classroom.

Excitable, restless, talkative, fidgety, unfocused, prone to cause trouble. You don’t have to accept these precursors to misbehavior, or the stress they bring, as part and parcel to being a teacher.

It is not just part of the job.

But you do have to teach them. You do have to show your students in a highly detailed way exactly what you want.

And then back it with action.

So the next time your intuition tells you that trouble is on the way . . . push the stop button immediately.

Rewind to the beginning.

And start anew.

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11 Responses to How To Stop Misbehavior Before It Starts

  1. Deborah May 5, 2012 at 10:54 am #

    I only see my students in the library once a week and I see over 575 students per week. On top of that, our school is very transient. I often rely on the classroom teacher for advice about students, but even then, there are so many students that it is difficult to remember from week to week sho can’t sit with who, etc. I also get classes that walk in and the teacher says – We’re having a bad day…We just celebrated a birthday, so they’re a little crazy…There was a fight on the playground and they are wound up…How should I handle these classes? Do you know if there is anyone writing about classroom management for teachers like myself? I have embraced your rules and as much of the rest of what you write that I can, but I have very few consequences in my class because I must administer all consequences myself and not rely on the classroom teacher. any suggestions?

    • Michael Linsin May 5, 2012 at 6:46 pm #

      Hi Deborah,

      As soon as the classroom teacher drops the students off at the library they become your students. I know this seems obvious but it’s important, critical even, that you take full responsibility for them when they’re on your watch. I suggest using a classroom management plan just like a classroom teacher would–consequences included. Also, because it’s more difficult to build rapport seeing them only once a week, I recommend using another way of creating leverage. You can read about it here.


  2. Denise May 5, 2012 at 5:48 pm #

    These are great ideas…but they still don’t work in my urban music classroom. You suggested that I read the “leverage” info, which I did, and none of the suggestions worked. I’m a middle-aged, white female teaching in a predominantly African-American school, and the middle school students have told me *to my face* that they don’t have to respect white people. I have overheard their homeroom teachers (also African-American) tell them to “just play the game” to get along in my class. What do you suggest would work in this situation? And btw, I don’t have the luxury of looking for another job because every other district in my area has cut the arts and at this point, there aren’t any open positions forecast.

    • Michael Linsin May 5, 2012 at 7:02 pm #

      Hi Denise,

      I’m so sorry you’re struggling, but short of observing you there isn’t anything more or anything different that I would add to what is already written regarding influence, rapport, and leverage on this website. I’m convinced that if you genuinely like teaching–no matter who your students are or where they come from–and you earnestly apply the strategies, you will find success.


  3. Peter Anderson May 6, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

    This is a great strategy that works well. I’ve used it several times over the past few years. Another version is to have 2 or 3 students who blow into the class really rowdy try reentering the classroom. I quietly stop them, explain that this in not how we get started, and invite them to come back into the classroom from about 20 feet outside the door in a calm manner and begin to do their morning jobs. Another thing that works to to put a big + on the board and start listing names of kids doing the right thing. At the same time, I might put 5 or 6 blank lines next to where I have afternoon recess listed on the daily schedule and write 2 min. early: Kids catch on quick that some people are going to get this. It gets so quiet in the room that everyone else starts quieting down. As as sub I would work really hard to catch the kids I was pretty sure were going to be problems right away and put them on the plus list – even if it is because he or she took off a jacket. They’d say what’s that for? and I’d reply “Well, you are doing your morning jobs just like I need you too!”

  4. Sapita May 18, 2012 at 5:03 pm #

    Dear Denise whomever you are> I am in the same boat as you are. My situation is a little different. My students are all white and I am Hispanic. They do not respect me no matter what I do. Sometimes theory works and sometimes it doesn’t. You just have to find the theory that works for your particular classroom and that particular year also. What works for one classroom doesn’t work for all. The fact that you are from another culture yes I said it, make the students feel you don’t understand them and don’t really care for them. I struggle with this in my classroom. I always come out as the strict mean teacher just because I want the same respect they give my white counterparts. Every attempt I have made to show that I care has been equally rejected by my students and instead they take advantage of it to break rules. Now, I hope that my coleagues do not tell them to play the game, but I suspect that it is probly the same on my side especially since I have so many of my coleagues’s sons and daughters. I really want them to know that I care for them and their grades and well being but I will not let them run over me and I will not be permissive and soft.
    I know that Michael really believes in his theory, so do I but nothing is effective 100 percent of time. I also believe that sometimes students misbehavior, no matter which culture, should be addressed immediately and strongly and clearly.

    I guess, I would like to make the point that when a teacher from a totally different culture is taking control of a classroom with the majority from another, well there is more than just the battle of the classic classroom management teacher. This battle is different and we know it. I am just here to offer you support b/c I realized by the third week that I had a lot better classroom management than must of the teachers’ there and realized they were being rebelious solely because of who I am. I am not holding that against them, but it really hurts me at times. Let me tell you how frustrating this can get is when you have the staff priviledged daugthers and son’s in your class and their mommies and daddies hate you for not giving them an A. They give you bad looks and such, they really make your life difficult. What about when you have the sons and daughter’s of the superintendant in your class also and they make a point of informing you about it. To top it off all together you have a louse viceprincipal that is either really ignorant of the school policies or really hates your guts for disciplining students bc/ of the popularity contest these people have among themselves. Dear Denise, I think I just exploded on your face with all of these comments.

    I really hope other teachers realized that you have twice the battle as any of the other African American teachers there, and I hope that someone realizes in that school that you actually care and help you and guide you on how to effectively treat their own youth and culture into the right path. Every school has its own culture as well and what we see as natural and common sense is the total opposite in another and it may actually be an insult. Sometimes I want to cry because I really care for my students but I am not willing to sacrifice the respect to become popular. You and I may just accepted right now. We will never be the most like teacher in our school even if we are the most effective. Isn’t that sad! I think this is what is coming to for me.

    You are not alone

    Best wishes from another teacher

  5. Jacqueline Miller-Perry July 21, 2012 at 11:29 am #

    Hello Michael,
    I am hoping that you will reply since this post is so old. Every year it is a tremendous struggle to line my students up in a timely manner. What should take no more than a minute, sometimes take upwards of 10 minutes. I hate going to the restroom because I know I have to fight with them to line up. Please help.
    Thanks in advance

    • Michael Linsin July 21, 2012 at 3:51 pm #

      Hi Jacqueline,

      I written about this extensively, and the good news is that it’s something that you should be able to fix in a single lesson. Read the four articles in the Teacher Modeling category of the archive. Also read the article A Classroom Management Strategy Every Teacher Should Use. You might also spend time reading through the Procedures & Routines category.


  6. E.Quijada May 6, 2013 at 11:57 pm #

    Hello to all, I just want to say that I found this website almost two years ago when I felton a strong desire to grow in my classroom management skills. I will tell you that I have a very strong desire to continually grow as a teacher in all areas, both professionally and personally. I am a Spanish teacher, with 20 different classes a week and fifteen of those classes I see twice a week, so my classes rotate very often all throughout the day. I have 555 studwnts as well and 6 grade levels. In my moments of frustration I have read through and printed almost every single article Michael has written. I have done my best to apply his techniques and the one artivle I remember that helped me start my journey on this smart classroommanagent plan was choosing rules that covered every possible situation in your classroom and consequences that you are comfortable handing out. Not every teacher is the same, but if youre not comfortable handing out the consequences on your management plan than whats the point of your rules and consequences? Your plan is your promise to your students that you will do what you say and this builds their trust in you. holds every child to the plan. Also, like myself, why would you try to treat each of your classes differently based on the homeroom teachers methods. I cant imagine the chaos of trying to figure each class out. I say this because ive tried. If your confident in your plan and you stick to it each amd everytime no matter how minutes, the kids will trust you and wont mess around and test you continually. You have to trust yourplan and then the students will get the point if youre consistent. I am a witness to the wonders of these strategies, but I know many teachers who think this is a fairy tale website, but hey who has great days 98% of the days in the school years? Answer ME. Michael thank you for believing in what you do!

    • Michael Linsin May 7, 2013 at 6:38 am #

      You’re welcome, E. Quijada! Thanks for sharing your success.


  7. Emily Morris May 30, 2014 at 10:42 am #

    Today was the last day of school.

    I still had them repeat a poorly performed routine.