Why Intimidation Is A Terrible Classroom Management Strategy

Glaring, threatening, yelling, scolding, browbeating, pressuring, overbearing . . . few teachers would admit to using intimidation as a classroom management method, even to themselves.

But many do.

Perhaps not all the time, mind you. Perhaps only in weak moments or in short bursts of frustration.

Maybe it’s only once in an azure moon.

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s only reserved for certain students. But regardless of who, why, or how often, any amount of intimidation is too much.

Any amount crosses the line.

Here’s why:

It’s hurtful.

Whenever fear enters the equation, to any degree, it’s hurtful to students. Yes, you can argue that students are resilient. You can argue that they deserve your fire-breathing lectures. But that doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t change the fact that when you use intimidation, the goal is to scare students into behaving.

It’s unnecessary.

Most teachers don’t choose hurtful methods. They fall into them because they don’t know a better way. Without the right skills, it’s natural to feel cornered with no other recourse. The good news is that you never have to feel this way. With a bit of reading and some practice, calm and effective classroom management isn’t difficult to learn.

It’s stressful.

Using intimidation is remarkably stressful—filling you with apprehension, weighing you down with often-unrecognized guilt, and causing you to be in a state of perpetual conflict with your students. It also pollutes your mind with negativity and distracts you from presenting great lessons, building joyful relationships with students, and really loving your job.

It creates classroom tension.

Yelling, scolding, and the like will fill your classroom with knife-cutting tension and disharmony. As a visitor, you can feel it the moment you walk through the door. The students are battle weary, excitable, and unsettled. The teacher is a ball of nerves, at his or her wits’ end, reacting to every act of disobedience with inward stress and outward frustration.

It ruins trust and rapport.

Most teachers who resort to hurtful methods like intimidation do so in lieu of following their classroom management plan—which amounts to going back on their word. This is particularly galling to students, causing resentment and distrust and making the teacher’s ability to build rapport and influence virtually impossible.

It sabotages healthy accountability.

The use of intimidation doesn’t allow students to reflect on their misbehavior because they’re too busy boiling with anger at their teacher. Effective accountability is a private affair between the misbehaving student and him or herself. Intimidation and the student’s subsequent hurt and resentment interfere with this healthy process.

It leads to parent complaints.

Intimidation is not only ineffective, but it’s the surest path to parent complaints. Using it will give you a poor reputation at your school and put your principal in the awkward position of having to defend you. The truth is, parents play a critical role in your success, and you need them on your side.

It crushes intrinsic motivation.

Creating a classroom your students look forward to coming to every day is one of the keys to igniting their intrinsic motivation. Chastising, badgering, and other forms of intimidation make this goal unattainable. It’s a simple truth that unhappy students who don’t like their teacher have far less motivation than those who love being in school.

By Any Other Name

Although in the long run using intimidation makes classroom management much more difficult, in the short term it can provide relief from chaos and misbehavior. It can result in immediate—though temporary—compliance.

It takes no special skill and it’s always at your disposal—ready to frighten, cut down to size, or humiliate.

But there is a name for those who purposely use their position of power or authority to force others to do what they want:

Bully.

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11 Responses to Why Intimidation Is A Terrible Classroom Management Strategy

  1. addington August 23, 2012 at 6:31 pm #

    I am finding your articles very interesting. I’ve been trying to implement your classroom management system since the beginning of school. The only problem I’m having is that the ones in time-out stay in time-out a long time. Like today, Ione of the girls stayed there probably over an hour because she never would raise her hand to say she wanted to come back. Even when it was lunchtime. I put her by herself during lunch. Finally, when she saw she was going to miss P.E., she raised her hand and wanted to come back. I’m just not sure if time-out is a strong enough consequence and before you refer me, I’ve already read that particular article. I teach first grade in an inner city school. I haven’t had many discipline problems since my first 2 years anyway, but I thought this way would be calmer and more consistent. My previous classes just talked too much and I was constantly telling them to be quiet. I am going to stick with it and see how it goes. Any advice?

    • Michael Linsin August 24, 2012 at 7:27 am #

      Hi Addington,

      It’s revealing that the student wanted to leave time-out only when it was time for PE. Remember, time-out only works if students feel like they’re missing something. As you create an environment you’re students like (love) being a part of, they’ll be chomping at the bit to get back with their classmates. So, yes, stick to it, but make sure you’re handling your end of the bargain.

      :)Michael

  2. Karen Christensen September 13, 2015 at 9:33 am #

    Michael,

    I have a question about Classroom Management. So there are 4 rules. # 1 is Listen and Follow directions, #2 is Raise your hand before speaking or leaving your seat, #3 is Keep your hands and feet to yourself, and #4 is Respect your classmates and your teacher. Let’s say a student breaks rule # 1 and gets a warning, then breaks rule #2 later on in the day. At that point are there two warnings since they are different rules broken, or is the second rule broken a time out? Then if, after the time-out the same student breaks rule #3 at recess, is it a letter home or a warning since it’s a different rule being broken?

    • Michael Linsin September 13, 2015 at 10:13 am #

      Hi Karen,

      It does not matter what rule is broken, you always move on to the next consequence.

      Michael

  3. Marie October 3, 2016 at 3:19 pm #

    How does a student handle a teacher who brings intimidation into the classroom and the student is a target for this treatment. This is a student that has been on the honor role for all six years she has attended school.

    • Michael Linsin October 3, 2016 at 4:28 pm #

      Hi Marie,

      Oh gosh, I’m so sorry that is happening. I would bring it up to an administrator or trusted school counselor.

      Michael

  4. Jean October 9, 2016 at 4:53 pm #

    Hello! I’m so excited about this year thanks to you and your advice! I started out the year by following all of your terrific suggestions with my 7th graders in Language Arts. It worked great, but now that students are getting tired and the “honeymoon” is over, they seem to really resent the Classroom plan and me. I feel like I’m intimidating them with it. I never yell or raise my voice, but the kids are just dragging and I can tell some of them are very unhappy. Most are fine, but the unhappy students just bring down the morale of the entire class.
    I also try to make my class very engaging. Do you think it’s the high academic standards I have (reading and writing frequently) or the discipline? Maybe I’m too sensitive, but I could really use some advice. By the way, this seems to be an issue every year.
    Thank you,
    Jean

    • Michael Linsin October 9, 2016 at 5:00 pm #

      Hi Jean,

      I’d have to speak with you personally in order to be able to diagnose the problem and offer reliable advice. There is a cost involved, but we do offer personal coaching.

      Michael