How To Avoid Arguing With Students

It’s easy to get pulled into an argument.

Example:

You notice a student pushing a classmate during a transition. It’s a clear violation of your classroom management plan, so you move in and enforce a consequence. Upon hearing the news, however, the student’s eyes go wide, their jaw drops, and they begin to protest.

No way! I didn’t touch him. He cut in front of me.”

As soon as you answer back, as soon as you respond and try to justify the consequence, you’re in a full-fledged argument. Just like that, you’re in deep and can’t get out until you convince them to accept the error of their ways.

In the meantime, you’ve brought tension into your classroom. You’ve interrupted learning. You’ve increased the chances that the student will dig in their heels, battle tooth and nail, and blame you for the consequence.

It’s a tangled, stress-filled mess.

If, however, we rewind the tape to the moment you first informed the student of the consequence, you can avoid the argument altogether.

You see, the mistake the teacher in the above scenario made was waiting for a response. Many, if not most, teachers do this. They give a consequence and then await the reaction. It’s almost as if the they anticipate an argument. They steel themselves for it and even rehearse what to say next.

But what this does is invite students to do just that. Before you know it, every time you give a consequence, there is an argument. There is a complaint, a challenge, a tantrum, a protest, a roll of the eyes, or a display of disrespect.

The good news is that with a simple strategy you can eliminate such reactions entirely. The key is not giving them the chance.

When you give a consequence, approach the student and pause until they turn and face you. Let the moment, the truth of what just occurred, hang in the air a moment. Calmly, almost robotically, deliver your consequence and then immediately turn back to what you were doing before.

You know they broke a rule, so there is no reason for you to argue. They know they broke a rule, so there is no (honest) reason for them to argue. Thus, no other communication needs to be exchanged.

It’s important to note that how you give a consequence must be thoroughly taught and modeled as part of the series of classroom management-related lessons you’ll teach during the first few weeks of each school year.

If you establish it from the beginning, arguing won’t even occur to them.

Now, if in the rare case a student follows you and attempts to argue, it’s okay to repeat yourself one time. If the student continues, or has a tantrum and stomps off or refuses to go to time-out, then wait until they cool off before following up with a stronger consequence.

We receive a lot of emails from teachers wrung out from arguing and perplexed as to why their students so aggressively resist and fight back, seemingly over every consequence. But in most cases arguing is brought on by the teacher, not the student.

If you leave a void by waiting for a response, your students are going to fill it. One of our mottos here at SCM is that students respond predictably to certain teacher behaviors. In the case of arguing, this couldn’t be more true.

Arguing is a byproduct of your behavior. It’s encouraged through your desire to see the student’s reaction to the consequence, to look into their eyes for evidence that they’re taking responsibility.

But if you want to eliminate arguing, complaining, and the like from your classroom, you mustn’t wait for a reaction.

Instead, trust your classroom management plan and deliver your consequence with confidence. “You have a warning because you broke rule number three and didn’t keep your hands to yourself.”

Then walk away.

Note: The release date for Classroom Management for Art, Music, and PE Teachers was set, then moved back, then moved up again, then delayed . . . and now, after all of that, it will be available this Tuesday, May 6th (Amazon.com).

Also, 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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15 Responses to How To Avoid Arguing With Students

  1. Nasrin Fotohy May 3, 2014 at 11:37 am #

    Hello,
    I am the principal of a private school with 20 children from the age of 5 to 13. The class was divided in to three groups. There is a student who does not want to work and misbehaves to get attention. I took all your advise and every week I tried them.Today I had to ask the father not to bring him to class for next week, because it is impossible for us to deal with him and it is upsetting the whole class. He has a brother in the same class who will be coming to class next week, but not him. The teacher is frustrated and a lot of time is wasted to give him time out. He does not stay in time out and he argues and today he hit one of the kids. I am trying to see what his reaction is to not coming to school for a one class.

    • Michael Linsin May 4, 2014 at 6:27 am #

      Hi Nasrin,

      Be sure to read through the entirety of the Difficult Students category of the archive. If you have any specific questions, email me. I’m happy to help.

      Michael

  2. shmu May 3, 2014 at 9:03 pm #

    Dear Michael,
    Thank you for another great article. You wrote “You have a warning because you broke rule number three and didn’t keep your hands to yourself.” Is it necessary for clarity or to reinforce the rule, to add in because you broke….or is it enough to say – “you have a warning” and then continue?
    Thanks again.

    • Michael Linsin May 4, 2014 at 6:29 am #

      Hi shmu,

      If it’s obvious what rule was broken, then “you have warning” will suffice.

      Michael

  3. Chuck May 4, 2014 at 5:01 pm #

    Thanks for the help last week Michael. I’ve realized that if there is a student who is being disrespectful, even jokingly, I need to shut it down immediately.

    I had a question about this week’s article as well. If you are in the middle of instruction, and a student begins having a side conversation, and you stop and give the student a warning before moving on with instruction, let’s say the student has a gut immediate response: “What?! But I wasn’t even talking!” which he calls out loud before you’ve moved on with instruction.

    Would it then be appropriate to move him further up the consequence ladder, or ignore the outburst and just continue with instruction?

    • Michael Linsin May 4, 2014 at 6:31 pm #

      Hi Chuck,

      Ignore the outburst, wait until you finish your instruction—thereby avoiding further argument or confrontation—then enforce a consequence.

      Michael

  4. Mollie May 5, 2014 at 9:32 am #

    Hi! I am so excited to hear that you are coming out with a book for Specials Teachers! As an art teacher who only sees my students once a week, it can be difficult to find the time to practice procedures and be consistant. Sometimes I find myself being lax and making excuses because of time. Your posts have already helped me quite a lot with maintaining composure and staying “in charge.”

    I think your tips and strategies are absolutely phenomenal and I truly appreciate all you have shared. Thank you and I look forward to reading the new book 🙂

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

      Wonderful, Molly! So good to hear. And I think you’ll really like the new book.

      :)Michael

  5. Judith May 8, 2014 at 6:31 pm #

    Thank you very much for the awesome advice. I recently started working with students and it has definitely been an “adventure”. I am grateful to have found this site and won’t be looking anywhere else- that’s how much it’s helped. Being a newbie in this field, i was showered with advice, techniques, and opinions. many backfired and left me a big headache. I found all the suggestions in this website really helpful.
    Even though I had immediate positive results. I would like to see articles aimed for subs and

    • Michael Linsin May 8, 2014 at 7:11 pm #

      You’re welcome, Judith! I’m glad you found us.

      Michael

  6. Emily Morris May 9, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

    I focused on this this week as I have a few second graders who already are prone to arguing. Today I moved right on with the school day even as I saw the fire of an argument in one student’s eyes and heard her “But–!” She quickly silenced, glowered for a minute or two… but later came up to me with a big hug and an apology for almost arguing. I had said nothing! Thanks for the tips here!

    • Michael Linsin May 9, 2014 at 4:29 pm #

      Great, Emily! You’re welcome.

      Michael

  7. Jan teacher of y4 primary UK February 1, 2015 at 2:59 am #

    I have bought your book and have a 3 tiered warning system. I have to say I feel much better about my situation with one boy in my class. It’s much more calmer in my class now. Although I do feel very anxious I am not losing my temper and am getting through the day without feeling completely wrung out. The problem now is that this boy now misbehaves at play time (recess) and gets very worked up at lunch times. The SEN has insisted this boy needs time out of class to go through de-sensitising activities however I feel this is making him worse. In class he goes to the exclusion table twice a day and last week got sent to the exclusion area just outside my classroom twice. He also refuses to move to the exclusion table unless I warn him I will fetch a senior member of staff to move him physically (this does work at the moment). Am I doing the right thing?
    Do you run training sessions in the UK?

    • Michael Linsin February 1, 2015 at 2:21 pm #

      Hi Jan,

      No, I don’t offer training sessions at this time. As for your question about your student, you’re certainly doing the right thing to hold him accountable. However, the Difficult Student category of the archive should give you many more strategies you can use to create greater leverage and a more influential relationship with him—which is key to transforming his behavior.

      Michael

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