How To Handle An Out-Of-Control Student

Smart Classroom Management: How To Handle An Out-Of-Control StudentSo you have this student who seems determined to ruin your school year.

He (or she) is blatantly disrespectful. He makes fun of and laughs at other students.

He’s rude and silly. He’s argumentative and attention-seeking.

He is well known by every staff member and can describe the inside of the principal’s office.

Time-out has minimal effect and notes and phone calls home rarely do any good.

It’s clear that there is little accountability at home and school administration is reluctant to suspend him for classroom behavior.

Short of physically hurting another student, he is untouchable. And he knows it.

He is one of those rare students who has gotten a peek behind the curtain and has discovered that no matter what he does, within fifteen minutes or so he’ll be right back out on the playground or in your classroom doing as he wishes.

It’s disheartening and stressful, and you’re at the end of your rope. You’ve tried everything. You’ve done your research. You’ve read all the books. You’ve requested help and consultation from counselors and psychologists. You’ve hashed and rehashed it out with your colleagues.

But to no avail.

And so here you are, deep into the school year, and other than a few brief and blissful periods of improved behavior, nothing has changed. In fact, if anything, it has gotten worse. He has now begun misbehaving right in front of you, literally daring you to do something about it.

All the while you’ve been a saint. You’ve worked hard to build rapport. You’ve been patient and kind and forgiving. Your students love being in your class. It’s just this one student. Why isn’t he coming around? Why isn’t he buying into your program?

The answer is because he doesn’t have to.

He knows your hands are tied. He knows you’ve tried everything. He knows he’s got you over a barrel. With no accountability at home and nothing forthcoming from the office—whose hands are tied as well—he believes that there isn’t any more you can do.

But he’s wrong. There is still one more thing you can do. And this, my friend, will work. The key is to make the accountability stronger.

You must make the accountability so strong, in fact—and the alternative so attractive—that it’s guaranteed to work. You see, as you widen the extremes between accountability on one side and what you’re offering as a member of your classroom on the other, there will be a point when he’ll think, “I’d much rather be a part of that (the classroom).” And it is at that point that his behavior will change, and change drastically.

So here’s what you do.

After speaking to his parent(s) and the principal to let them know of your plan, you pull the student aside and inform him that he is no longer a regular member of the class. You tell him, in so many words, that because of his behavior, you can’t ensure the education and enjoyment of the rest of the class, and thus he can no longer be a part of it.

You explain that his desk will be set apart until he can prove to you he can behave like a full-fledged, contributing member of the classroom. This is no permanent time-out, mind you, for there is a way back into the classroom and its good graces that is entirely up to him.

Practically, he will no longer be allowed to participate in learning games, group/fun activities, partner work, and non-essential verbal exchanges. He is still required to do all work and participate as an observer, but he may not actively participate. (If some of the suggestions above are such that you feel can’t be taken away, for whatever reason, then you take away what you can.)

Remember, though, the stronger the accountability, the quicker he’ll be back in your classroom behaving like everyone else. As for recess, if similarly you can’t make certain the safety and enjoyment of every student on the playground, then he shouldn’t be out there.

The best way to handle recess is to sit with him and watch. Like being in the classroom, he needs to see what he is missing. If you’re at a school that discourages taking away recess, then give him the option of running or walking laps—again, while you watch.

Yes, it’s a bit of extra work. But it’s a small price to pay for a peaceful classroom. In fact, even while in the midst of the strategy, your teaching life will become easier, your students will be happier, and you’ll accomplish so much more.

I recommend waiting at least a couple of days before entertaining any thoughts of returning him to full membership status. And even then, only if he has proven through his behavior he can do it and has requested an opportunity to try.

It’s important to note that you shouldn’t attempt this strategy if you’re not otherwise faithfully following a classroom management plan and successfully managing the rest of your students. Further, the strategy is only effective if the student feels he is missing something, thus the critical importance of creating a learning experience your students like and want to be a part of.

To be clear, this strategy is meant only for an unusually difficult regular education student in an otherwise well-behaved classroom.

Why It’s The Right Thing To Do

To be an effective teacher, you must never let any one or more students interfere with the rights of the rest to learn and enjoy school. It’s when educators of all stripes lose track of this core classroom management principle that there is a breakdown in learning, behavior, and all things right and true.

For what does it benefit anyone to allow a disruptive student to continue day after day to interfere with learning or run free to bother and harass other students? Do we allow everyone to suffer and lose out on the opportunity to learn and improve and enjoy school and friendships in order to say that we won’t exclude anyone from anything and for any reason?

And here’s the kicker.

Students like this need accountability, desperately. And down deep they know it. Their behavior screams out for it, craves it, pleads for it. They’re searching high and low for someone to step forward and say, “I care enough about you and your future and for the rest of students in this class to truly hold you accountable.”

You may very well be the only person in his life in position to make such a heroic and potentially life-changing, life-saving stand. You may be the only one willing to apply the perfect combination of love and grace and accountability that will cause him to turn off the rocky path he’s on . . .

And leap like from a burning building onto redemption road.

If you haven’t done so already, please join us. It’s free! Click here and begin receiving classroom management articles like this one in your email box every week.

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37 Responses to How To Handle An Out-Of-Control Student

  1. Brian Bassett January 9, 2014 at 6:56 am #

    Your blog has REVOLUTIONIZED the way I manage my classroom. This year has been (almost) a dream.

    I have started the “out of control student” plan with one of mine today. You described him exactly. He is now seated on an island, and I will follow through.

    How does the discipline plan work for him on a daily basis? [i.e. 1) warning 2) time-out? 3) letter?] I understand the long-term plan of ratcheting up the accountability. How do I follow through minute-to-minute?

    • Michael Linsin January 9, 2014 at 8:25 am #

      Hi Brian,

      The onus is on the student now. He has work to do to prove to you that he is ready to return to active status. He is already in time-out and his parents are already aware of your plan. There is only one way for him to go, and thus there is nothing more you need to do.


    • Gani S November 14, 2016 at 2:41 am #

      I have this student that suffers from intellectual disorders and behavioral problems. At times he refuses to do anything. When he is with his class he starts pounding the desk or make different noises to distract the class. He also does not like female teachers or students. Now i teach him in a separate class, but not much of a success. I have been reading recently on the subject matter, but everything i try does not work. I want to help the student, but i do not know how. He has all these problems and nothing works. Sometimes he leaves the class running through the halls. Is there any way i can teach this student? I teach him English, maths and science. Other subjects he is supposed to go with the class.

      • Michael Linsin November 14, 2016 at 8:51 am #

        Hi Gani,

        I’d have to know much more about your school and the child to give reliable advice. We do offer personal coaching.


        • Gani S November 16, 2016 at 12:25 am #

          Hi Michael.

          It is an international school. it follows an american curriculum. the child speaks Spanish. i do not. i speak English. He is extremely shy, but not only that. He has behavioral problems as well as intellectual disorders. there is another problem, he does not like female teachers or students. But not in all cases. He has no problem playing soccer with females in recess. Right now i am his personal teacher. He only goes in P.E and computer with the class. When he goes to the class he makes noises, pounds the tables and eventually stands up and leaves – running. In my class he is OK, but does not want to work. he is dependent on computers as well – video games. he wants to negotiate on everything, but does nothing. On top of all, language is a barrier, but he has learned some basics. i have read a lot on the subject matter. i even did online course, but nothing i try helps. If you have some advice, that would be very much appreciated.

  2. Kendra February 1, 2014 at 8:46 pm #

    Hi Brian,
    I have a student like this. However, when he is in time-out, he continues to get out of the seat and move around the room to do what he pleases, he still calls for the attention of other students. I don’t know how to handle it.

  3. Andrea February 27, 2014 at 4:45 am #

    I’ve done exactly this with my unruly student, but to no avail. He doesn’t like his classmates (and vice-versa). So he is glad he doesn’t have to sit with them and interact. He is a kid who is rough around the edges and the rest of my students are very mild-mannered. So even in a desk away from the class, with no active participation, having to do the work for himself, he still behaves in an out of control way throughout the day. I’ve talked to his parents numerous times and nothing changes. I’m at my wit’s end and am losing my patience with him as this year goes on! What can I do at this point?

    • Michael Linsin February 27, 2014 at 7:43 am #

      Hi Andrea,

      Please read the first half of this week’s article. As alluded to above, you must widen the gap between the experience of being a member of your classroom and sitting separate from the class. This is what you haven’t done. At least not far enough.


  4. Mike February 27, 2014 at 2:40 pm #

    what do you do if a child is physically disruptive, e.g., hitting book out of teachers hand during read aloud, erasing words teacher writes on board, ripping up another student’s work, taking pencils out of another student’s hands, etc.?

    • Michael Linsin February 27, 2014 at 3:05 pm #

      Hi Mike,

      I’ll write more specifically about this topic in a future article, but essentially you’ll follow your plan and/or the strategy above the same way. The only major difference is that if the behavior becomes dangerous, you must report the incident to your administrator and the child’s parents.


  5. A. Bolick March 4, 2014 at 3:08 pm #

    I’m a high school teacher, and in each of my classes, I have about 3 out-of-control students. Parent calls, detention, administrative referrals…nothing works.

    A lot of your suggestions on this site deal with elementary classrooms where you can give time-outs and take recess. Do you have any ideas on how to modify your suggestions for a high school setting, where I don’t have those options?

    (I can send my kids to “re-direct”, which is like in-school suspension limited to a class period. But most of my “problem kids” would prefer to be in ISS than my class anyways.)

    • Michael Linsin March 4, 2014 at 5:17 pm #

      Hi A,

      That’s a big question I’m hoping to answer in a future book specifically for high school teachers. I wish it were as easy as offering a suggestion or a single strategy, but a lot needs to be unpacked in order to give you reliable advice. I hope you’ll stay tuned. It may be awhile before I even begin the process of another new book.


  6. Kathy March 29, 2014 at 5:00 am #

    Hi Mike

    As a primary-school EFL teacher, I see each of my classes twice a week for a total of three lessons. In two classes I’ve been battling against disruptive behaviour from a handful of students. Now here’s my conundrum: While one of the classes (10-year-olds) has responded extremely well to the implementation of your classroom management plan, it doesn’t seem to be working with my two “problem students” in the other class (9-year olds). Whenever they misbehave and are faced with a consequence, both are in the habit of running home crying at my “unfair treatment” of them, which promptly sends their enraged parents to the phone or directly to the school to complain, throw a shouting fit or lecture me about neglecting their much misunderstood child’s needs.
    Even though the class teacher, Head and other staff members are very supportive, I can’t imagine how the situation is ever likely to change as long as the kids’ parents keep undermining my efforts. What are my options?

    • Michael Linsin March 29, 2014 at 7:21 am #

      Hi Kathy,

      It’s difficult for me to give specific help to a specific situation unless I can observe you or have a lot more information. There is definitely something missing because my first thought was, “Why would parents be enraged?” There must be something in the way you’re going about using the classroom management plan that would make parents so angry. As far as the students, you just stick to what you know is best for them. As long as you’re following our recommendations, how students feel about it shouldn’t be a concern. Please read through the Classroom Management Plan, Rules & Consequences, and Difficult Students categories of the archive.


  7. Kathy March 29, 2014 at 9:41 am #

    Hello again

    … and thanks for replying so speedily! Yes, I realize there’s a lot of context missing and it’s probably too specific a situation to advise on from a distance. Still, here’s a little more information: One of the two boys is a junior sports star who gets very frustrated if he isn’t given as much individual attention as he must feel he deserves, the other child used to be bullied in his first two years at school and has since cast himself in the role of permanent victim. The father blames the school for “not doing enough” to stop the bullying and brings this up every time you talk to him about anything. In both cases, the parents basically reject the idea that their son is capable of or can be held accountable for any unacceptable behaviour: It’s either someone else’s fault or it didn’t really happen. By seeing them every day, the main class teacher has been able to build a more stable relationship and establish her authority with the two boys, yet she struggles with the same parent issues.

  8. maria fredrickson April 3, 2014 at 1:37 pm #

    hmm, great, but what if said student refuses to be separated from the class and moves his/her desk back? what if principal refuses to assist me? what if student just walks out the door to recess even if told not to?

    • Michael Linsin April 3, 2014 at 6:39 pm #

      Hi Maria,

      I can tell from your questions that you’re new to our website. Welcome! Your questions have been covered in previous articles. There is a lot to take in, but when you have time, please have a look through our archive. I recommend starting in the Classroom Management Plan category and going from there.


  9. Karen May 1, 2014 at 5:25 pm #

    I am new to your website and enjoy your articles, but one line here made me cringe. “It’s clear that there is little or no accountability at home.” Not always. We adopted a boy from Russia when he was 7. From a terribly abused home, we have rebuilt his life to where he is completely compliant at home, but rude and defiant at school. Why? Because the teachers feel they can handle it and have decided never to call us. We have insisted on a behavior sheet so we can monitor and encourage him, but he knows that he is in charge in most classes, that the teachers will take more time to deal with him, and that swearing at a teacher only results in a warning. Big deal. Despite repeated requests, I have never received an email from a teacher about a problem behavior, such as repetitive disruption, swearing, and stealing. He refuses to bring in school supplies that he owns because he knows the teacher will give them to him. He would never behave like this at home because we expect more from him. (We are also not afraid to get him out doing yard chores at 7 am on a Saturday.) This has gone on every year — he is now 16 and he knows they expect the worst from him. Assignments not handed in are often not counted at all, and late ones always get full credit. Rudeness is overlooked. Continuously overlooking his poor behavior devastates his self-esteem, deep inside. We parents who love our troubled children wish that others would communicate with us and expect more from them too. These doormat, touchy-feely teachers are doing much more harm than good.

    • Michael Linsin May 1, 2014 at 7:10 pm #

      Hi Karen,

      To clarify, it’s clear from the viewpoint of the teacher in the scenario. Certainly, not all difficult students lack accountability at home. I’m sorry if the sentence gave that impression. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You’re right, it does students no good to overlook poor behavior, and indeed it is so important that teachers provide parents honest feedback.


  10. Monteen king May 24, 2014 at 12:11 pm #

    I have multiple students in my 6th grade classes that are disruptive, have no accountability at home, and suffer from severe apathy. Looking for suggestions for those students that make it difficult for others to learn.

    • Michael Linsin May 24, 2014 at 12:58 pm #

      Hi Monteen,

      I have an article on tap in the next few weeks that addresses this issue of more than a couple disruptive students. Stay tuned!


  11. Kathy June 19, 2014 at 9:27 am #

    What about a disruptive student who is verbally disruptive? The more he was ignored, the louder he became. I ignored him and would not acknowledge the noise he made. The other students began complaining about his disruption. When he as told “no” for any reason, he would throw everything off his desk onto the floor. This year he became angry, flipped over his desk and broke it. Last year he would throw chairs across the room.

    What should I do if that happens again?

    • Michael Linsin June 19, 2014 at 4:31 pm #

      Hi Kathy,

      We do have articles that address tantrums, outbursts, and such, which you can find in the Difficult Students category of the archive, but we’ll be sure to cover the topic again in the future.


  12. Fiza Ahmed June 27, 2014 at 7:27 am #

    Hi! I am a new teacher (1 month old) and am the class teacher of grade 6 boys class. All of them are really smart students, but I want to bring to attention about a particular boy in my class. During my lessons, apart from moving around the class a lot unnecessarily, he is attentive and understands the topic nicely. But I have had other subject teachers complaining that he takes longer trips to the washroom (more than half a period), or just goes out of the class without asking for permission, and on being confronted about the same, exhibits an uncaring attitude or denies that he ever did such a thing. Punishing him for the things that he has done in other teacher’s classes seems unrealistic, but the system in our school is such that we have to take thew principal’s permission before sending a note to the parents. He is a good child, and I feel that constantly being scolded by the other teachers might make him more defensive and would result in him shutting us all out.

    What do I do?

    • Michael Linsin June 27, 2014 at 7:56 am #

      Hi Fiza,

      Please spend some time in our archive. Begin in the Classroom Management Plan and Difficult Student categories. I think you’ll find the answers to your questions there.


    • Roseanne June 24, 2016 at 6:53 am #

      ‘Punishing him for the things that he has done in other teacher’s classes seems unrealistic’

      Really??? What kind of team player are you? How supportive are you to the teachers who come to your classroom once or twice a week to offer invaluable skills to your students?

  13. Michelle October 13, 2015 at 9:42 am #

    Ok I love your blog and it has work for me for years. This year I have a student who is angry and defiant. He elopes. He swears, he wont sit at his island, he will bother the other kids, he does back flips in the classroom, climbs to the top the the lockers, steals and refuses to complete his work. Major distraction and tries to pull others with him. What can I do…it is causing my class to spiral out of control.

    • Michael Linsin October 13, 2015 at 9:56 am #

      Hi Michelle,

      Without seeing you, the student, and the rest of your class in action, I would only be guessing and I just don’t want to give any unreliable information. Very specific problems about unique children are very difficult to fix from afar. I would offer personal coaching, but even then, without being there with you in class and experiencing the student myself . . .


  14. Raja Kumaran February 27, 2016 at 10:57 am #

    Hi. I am new to this website and i am new teacher. I am doing my first teaching practice and some of my pupils are really difficult to control. I am doing the most exciting activity in the classroom and there is this one pupil who don’t want to participate actively in any of my lesson. I have been very humanistic and never assertive to these pupils. I even tried to engage him more actively by making him as a part of my lesson. But there is no changes in him. Is there any solutions to my problem? I don’t want this boy to be left behind.

  15. Samantha June 24, 2016 at 3:53 am #

    Hi Michael
    Thanks for this site. I have just had an incident of a student hitting me after I gave him another 5 minutes loss of choosing time. I am an art teacher who only comes once a week for this class. I know he has anger issues but he never gave me problems before. The teaching assistant refrained him and took him out. I have told the incident to the Principal who assured me he would take steps towards this, although he wasn’t sure what he would do.

    At the time of the incident, I didn’t react. He hit me once on the chest and was removed by the TA who is a man. I just said to the child: ‘you need to go’ and carried on teaching as if nothing had happened. The kids asked me if I was alright and I said yes and moved on. Now, as there are other behaviour issues there, how do I go about it with the other children in the class? I don’t know the outcome of this yet but what verbal message do I convey to them next week when I’m back in class? Please help.

    • Michael Linsin June 24, 2016 at 7:41 am #

      Hi Samantha,

      As long as the student was held accountable, I don’t see the benefit of saying anything at all about the incident.


      • Samantha June 24, 2016 at 8:54 am #

        Thanks, Michael.

        I hope he will be held accountable. He’s a brilliant learner, with lots of creativity but he has a big temper. As he had been given loss of choosing time before my class and I told him he was going to miss another 5 minutes again for interrupting me during the lesson, ignoring my first warning and shouting out, he had that outburst.

        Note that I didn’t shout at him at any moment, I don’t like it, but I guess he was building up all that anger in his head. I actually felt sorry for him because I know he goes to anger management sessions, he also has ADHD, and I see how hard it is for him to control his emotions, but it doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be held accountable. My hands are a bit tied on this one, as I’m not the main class teacher. All I could do was to communicate the fact.

        • Michael Linsin June 24, 2016 at 10:44 am #

          I think you handled it perfectly.

          • Samantha June 24, 2016 at 11:02 am #

            Thank you, a relief to be reassured by an expert.