How To Handle Students Who Will Ruin Your Day If You Hold Them Accountable

How To Handle Students Who Will Ruin Your Day If You Hold Them AccountableOne of the keys to handling difficult students is to hold them accountable for every rule violation, from the first day of school onward.

Because if you don’t, you’ll be at their mercy.

You’ll have to appease them, lower your standards, and give in to their unspoken demands.

You’ll have to give up your leverage and authority and treat them differently than everyone else. You’ll have to look the other way and walk on eggshells around them.

The thought of sending them to time-out, then, will make you shiver—because the times you’ve tried, even gently, didn’t go well. They became angry and argumentative. They turned their back on you and caused a scene.

They made you pay for having the nerve to hold them accountable.

So now this one student, all of eight years old—or four or thirteen—has you over a barrel and the best you can hope for is to ignore them and cross your fingers that they don’t become too disruptive.

It’s an awful, demoralizing position to be in. You let things go in the beginning, and now you’ve lost all the power and leverage in the relationship.

So what are you to do?

You know in your heart they need to be held accountable. You know they need some humble reflection time separated from the class. You know they need to learn the lesson that in this life they can’t do whatever they want without consequence.

But what if they refuse? What if they reject your time-out? What if they throw a tantrum, call you names, and ratchet up their misbehavior?

You hold them accountable anyway.

You take a deep breath and make the hard decision to do what’s best for them and your classroom and you follow your classroom management plan anyway. You approach the student calmly, deliver the news, and then walk away.

How they handle it isn’t your concern. If they argue, don’t respond. If they throw themselves on the floor, leave them be. If they yell and wail and try to sabotage your lesson, go right on teaching.

When you have a difficult student in your classroom who you’ve emboldened with your appeasement and inconsistency, and who now saunters around your classroom as if rules don’t apply, you must find the inner strength to say, “Enough is enough.”

But here’s the thing: If you refrain from taking their misbehavior personally, and therefore refrain from battling, arguing, or seeking your own form of revenge, then accountability will be set free to do its good work.

After the student calms down, however long it takes, let them sit another ten or fifteen minutes and then invite them to rejoin the class.

And when they break another rule? Do it again. Follow your plan. Their reaction may be as bad as the first time—perhaps worse—but before long, if you stick with it, it will get better. Slowly, tentatively, they’ll start believing that you’re the real deal.

They’ll start believing that you’re someone worth trusting and getting to know. Maybe even someone worth looking up to.

They’ll look you in the eye like no other adult before you. They’ll smile and say hello and be more pleasant and forgiving with their classmates. They’ll look different and walk different. They’ll be different.

You see, when you offer your students real-world truth and acceptance, when you stop tiptoeing around them and instead show your faith in them and who they can become by never letting misbehavior go . . .

It changes everything.

Note: This article was written in response to the many teachers who have contacted us regarding this topic. A far better solution, however, is to follow your classroom management plan from the very beginning.

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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58 Responses to How To Handle Students Who Will Ruin Your Day If You Hold Them Accountable

  1. Jo June 28, 2014 at 2:16 pm #

    Hi! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge! It has made a tremendous difference in my student’s lives. I was wondering if the students should be working on their work at time out?

    • Michael Linsin June 28, 2014 at 4:06 pm #

      Hi Jo,

      Yes, while in time-out, they’re to listen, attend, and complete all independent work. For more detail, please peruse the Time-Out category of the archive.

      Michael

    • Glenn September 24, 2016 at 5:10 pm #

      But it’s unclear what to do with the student that refuses to comply. Do you just let it go and then when he/she repeats the action you just ask them to go to time out, only for them to laugh at you because you didn’t enforce that they go to time out the first time?

  2. Teresa June 28, 2014 at 7:41 pm #

    A friend told me that when she visited her son’s preschool classroom, two students were very disruptive. They were sent to time-out where they proceeded to stand on their chairs and yell obscenities at each other across the room. I suspect this teacher struggled daily with classroom management, but….What should a teacher do in this case?

    • Michael Linsin June 29, 2014 at 8:07 am #

      Hi Teresa,

      It’s a sign that there are much deeper classroom management issues that need addressing. I encourage you to spend some time in our archive, beginning in the Rapport & Influence category and going from there.

      Michael

  3. Holly June 29, 2014 at 3:38 am #

    I am a middle school teacher who works in an urban school. I have a great classroom management plan and make certain that in my room if rules are broken there will be consequences. However, the school itself has a weak behavior plan. Admin does not follow the district’s written procedures. They discourage teachers from writing referrals, teachers are not allowed to send difficult students to the office or to a buddy room. Teachers must monitor students they have given a lunch detention or after school detention by giving up there own time because the Admin will not hire someone to make sure detention is served. Saturday detention does not exist and there is a lot of inconsistency. The students realize this and act out.

    So my question is when you have followed your classroom management plan, but when it is time to take action that is stated on a districts behavior guide, but your school doesn’t follow that guide what should a teacher do?

    • Michael Linsin June 29, 2014 at 8:04 am #

      Hi Holly,

      You take care of misbehavior yourself, which is what this website endeavors to empower you to do. We have nearly 300 articles in our archive that will arm you with the strategies you need to effectively manage your classroom, regardless of how much or how little outside support your school offers.

      Michael

  4. Chuck June 30, 2014 at 2:16 pm #

    In regards to detention, as mentioned by a previous poster, would you recommend holding detentions for students who don’t bring home behavior letters or who reach the home communication stage?

    Last year I enacted your CM plan with the consequences you laid out and the letters worked for a while, but they stopped making a difference for students whose parents just signed them and sent them back without caring. I’m thinking of this year contacting parents directly to enact a more immediate consequence and asking if they feel a lunch detention is appropriate.

    Also I wonder if a delayed lunch detention might be okay. I tried to do lunch detentions the day of the misbehavior (which was ideal), but it soon got to the point where holding lunch detentions conflicted with my other duties at lunch, or with students who wanted to just hang out in my classroom at lunch. I’m thinking this year of just holding them on Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays, or even just two days a week.

    Also, I’m interested in Teresa’s question. You mentioned that there are deeper CM issues that need addressing. What do you suggest the preschool teacher do in the heat of that moment, if there are students calling across the room in time-out?

  5. Chuck June 30, 2014 at 2:21 pm #

    I also want to clarify that the primary reason I used lunch detentions last year is just when students failed to bring in a signed letter home to their parents which was a strategy you mentioned in a previous article. It wasn’t a common consequence.

    • Michael Linsin July 1, 2014 at 6:22 am #

      Hi Chuck,

      I think it’s fine for middle school to back up your letter home with a detention.

      Michael

  6. Ingrid July 1, 2014 at 1:05 am #

    Hi Michael and kia ora from New Zealand,
    Just wanting to pick your brains here. Found your site and thought this is the sort of colleague I would love to have to bounce ideas off.
    In my 25 years I’ve worked in various capacities, the last 17 as a classroom release teacher and in High needs-Down Syndrome. You’ve got to be pretty onto it with your management strategies when you’re only part time. I think I do darn well, in the fact to this day, I have never had a child swear at me. BUT, what we are seeing here in NZ is an increasingly disproportionate number of our inmates in prisons with Dyslexia and up to 80% of them with learning disabilities of one sort or another.A lot of these are angry young men who hated school as you’ll know.Its quite likely world wide.I believe we are failing these kids here because the powers at be don’t see them as being ‘bad enough’ to warrant sufficient funding for their learning. We have approx 7% of our school age kids with Dyslexia and amongst those in the know, 30-50 % of our prision population! What I’m trying to put together is interview for all kids so that we can get to the bottom of what might be bugging them and impacting on their learning, sooner rather than later on any one particular day and go from there. I’d like to talk to my own whole class, one day, right at the start of the year and say,” Right guys this is what is happening this year…If something is up for you on a particular day, I want you to come and tell me first before we get underway. If I’m flat stick just give me the ‘look’ and we’ll sort you. I’d far rather you’d tell me what’s up or if something bugged you yesterday before the bell goes than have you blow up on me later …If something does go wrong for you during the day,expect me to ask you these sorts of questions… Tell me what’s up? Tell me what I can do better to reach you today ? How can we work this out ? Let me stand in your shoes and tell me what you need to make learning happen for you today?
    What do you think the best way to word something like this might be Michael? Have you done something like this already that you are sharing on your site? I just feel so frustrated when I observe the same kiddies doing the same things when I’m in classes observing. I find its best with boys,especially, to cut right to the chase. What’s the deal fella? Surly, if we can hit the nail on the head quickly we’re going to have kids who get on with their day with far less chance of their behaviour compromising everybody else’s learning. The sooner we know the sooner we can help them. I can’t help wondering sometimes if we don’t beat ourselves up as teachers trying to get to the bottom of things. Deal with the trees now in this minute and then go find the forest.The amount of time teachers waste dealing with the same behavioural issues day after day. I recon that old saying, a problem shared is a problem halved,on the kids behalf, has that much truth to it.
    So tell me Michael, if you were going to write a list of ‘interview questions’ for a teacher to put in their ‘toolbox of strategies’ for how to get to the bottom of a child’s bad day or melt down, what would you say? I know as much depends on the teacher’s personality and teaching style.Some might find my take on things a little ‘coach’ like but after 25 years that’s what works for me.I just can’t wait to get back to full time one day but at the moment its my High needs kiddies and family who need me the most.
    Ui mai koe ki ahau he aha te mea nui otea o,
    Maka e ki atu he tangata, he tangata, he tanagata.
    (Ask me what is the greatest thing in the world? I will reply,’It is people, It is people,it is people.- Ancient Maori saying. Good on you Michael for trying to make a difference.)

    • Michael Linsin July 1, 2014 at 6:17 am #

      Hi Ingrid,

      I think it’s an important topic, and I’m glad you took the time to share your thoughts. I wish I had the time and space to address your questions here, but I’ll be sure to put the topic on the list of possible future articles in order to give it the treatment it deserves.

      Michael

  7. Ingrid July 1, 2014 at 2:21 pm #

    Ka pai Michael !
    I will certainly look forward to reading you thoughts here once I’ve gone through your other papers. I have emailed the details here to student teachers who I want to soak it all up.
    At the moment our NZ government is going to invest $359,000,000 into trying to raise student achievement. However the bulk of this money is going in at the top to try to fix things by putting high performing principals into schools two days a week to initiate changes. This of course is like putting the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff as our teachers,who can have a degree in anything ,only need to complete a one year training course before they enter the classroom. We have a four year degree and a three year course but the feedback is very much the same. In the final year at some of our Unis, Diverse learning needs is an option alongside Drama etc.I have been told time and again by students and teachers “They did nothing.” Our one year graduate trainees do not leave uni with a specialized ‘toolbox’ to prepare them for what to do, if they get a child who doesn’t fit the norm. I believe in the States you have to have a Masters degree before you can train to be a primary school teacher. How long does that take Michael?
    At the moment I have a letter, which has been forwarded by two of our Ministers of Parliament to our Minister of Education, Hekia Parata. I’m hoping she will listen.
    Bad things only happen when good people turn their backs.

    • Michael Linsin July 1, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

      Hi Ingrid,

      I’m glad you’re passing our website along to student teachers. Good classroom management skills in the beginning of their career will not only make things much easier, but it will allow them to be more effective right from the start. Here in the states the requirements to become a teacher vary from state to state, but a Master’s Degree is generally not required.

      Michael

  8. Patrick MacGibbon July 1, 2014 at 6:29 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    Thanks for all the great ideas. I just finished my fourth year of teaching middle and high school music, and this year was a turning point for me in terms of classroom management, due in no small part to ideas that came from your site.

    One thing that I quickly realized was that in order to do classroom management the way you describe, you have to be really crystal clear about exactly what you expect from your students, and I quickly realized that almost all of my CM troubles were tied to the fact that I either didn’t know what I expected (except in some vague sense) or secretly felt that my expectations were somehow too demanding.

    The thing is, once I stopped arguing, firmed up my own ideas about what I expected, started having the students practice what I wanted them to do, and then started enforcing my CM plan time and time again, it was like night and day in my class. The change was almost instant, and the new approach actually improved my rapport with the difficult students.

    Thanks again!

    Patrick

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

      Awesome, Patrick! Way to go. You’re spot on. Thanks for sharing your success with me.

      Michael

  9. Backroads July 2, 2014 at 1:06 pm #

    Holly’s question got me thinking. I’d say a great classroom behavior plan would take care of most failings on the part of a school’s behavior plan, but what would you do if you found yourself in over your head with an aggressive/violent student (which is usually the school/district’s responsibility to discipline as most teachers aren’t trained to) when the school is being wishy/washy? I realize that’s probably a very rare circumstance and probably falls outside your jurisdiction, but, like I said, Holly’s question got me thinking.

  10. Mr. Janati July 6, 2014 at 2:01 am #

    Hi. I started my DTLLS and I have to write about managing challenging behaviours.
    Could you please tell me any book and/or any article that can be helpful.
    Thanks

    • Michael Linsin July 6, 2014 at 12:51 pm #

      Hi Mr. Janati,

      Our website has over 250 articles on the topic. You can find our books along the sidebar.

      Michael

  11. Rachel July 9, 2014 at 8:00 pm #

    Hi Michael. I am a new graduate, about to start my first year as a third grade teacher in September. I have been reading lots of your articles and am planning to put lots of ideas in place right away to start the year off strong.

    I am also curious about a question that has come up in some of the previous comments. How would you respond to a completely out of control student who is refusing to go to time out, throwing a tantrum, etc? I am nervous about moving on like nothing is happening out of fear that the child could disrupt other classes and that I will not be seen as capable by fellow teachers and/or administrators. Is it ever better to try to distract/redirect a student to de-escalate the situation and if so do you have any recommended strategies?

    Thanks!

    • Michael Linsin July 10, 2014 at 6:12 am #

      Hi Rachel,

      I’ve written about this topic extensively. Two such articles are linked within the article above. You may also want to spend some time in the Difficult Students category of the archive, where you should find your every question answered. If not, email me. I’m happy to help.

      Michael

  12. Jonathan July 28, 2014 at 2:48 am #

    Michael,

    A scenario with a difficult student, who has been diagnosed with a mental illness that as yet has been untreated. Single mother (dad in prison) who has told our school she ‘isn’t in to medication’ and routinely makes excuses for the student’s behaviour and lack of responsibility.

    In one session, the student has multiple rule violations, with warnings according to the management plan (I’ve tweaked my plan so it includes 4 warnings so it goes: warning, minor in class penalty, time out, letter). First for calling out during a quiz, then for an aggressive tone of voice when addressing the teacher, then for slamming her fist down on her desk when talking to me.

    The student consistently refuses to admit wrongdoing, claiming that she just wanted help and ‘had her hand up’ (she had her head on her desk and I was keeping a close eye on her, didn’t see any hand up), while at the same time snapping pencils, throwing her work items across the floor, slamming her fist down on the table when talking to the teacher.

    She refuses to go to time out. I write her take home letter and say that if her decision is not to go to time out, she must have her final warning and a letter home.

    She scrunches it up and tosses it in the bin. After I hand it back to her she says, “what have you put on it today, you lied in the last letter… I haven’t been disrespectful, I’ve done nothing wrong!”

    I’m in a tiny 15 student rural school, it’s just me and the principal in the next classroom. I go next door and let her know of the situation and that this seething student may need to be removed. The principal is fine with this and calls out for the student to come to her classroom. She has to repeat this twice before it happens.

    Eventually the student goes next door. I carry on with my lesson for 15 minutes or so. The student slinks back in, letter in hand. She’s a bit calmer. She insists that she did have her hand up.

    Mindful of getting into an argument, I tell her that nonetheless, snapping pencils and slamming fists down when talking to anyone in our classroom is not okay. She tries to argue. I say to her that I’ll keep an eye out for her hand up if she makes sure she keeps it way up, easy for the teacher to see. I say that we can rewind and go back to two warnings rather than have the letter home.

    I just wanted to get back to my lesson. After school I feel really deflated, like my credibility and authority has been completely undermined. The student managed to essentially get off scot free. No real consequences for her. She managed to make me give in to her demands with her repeated adamant refusal to accept that she violated rules.

    How could I have avoided this? What do I do now?

    • Michael Linsin July 28, 2014 at 12:37 pm #

      Hi Jonathan,

      A student can’t make you do anything. It’s you who went off track. You have to calmly follow through with your promises no matter who the students is or how they respond. If the student throws away the letter, then you wait until she calms down and give her another one. (With an extremely agitated student, always wait until they cool off before following up with the next consequence.) Continue to unemotionally respond in the same manner every time she or anyone else breaks a rule. As for what you need to do specifically to build a better relationship with her—which is key—I would have to see you and her in action.

      Michael

  13. Jonathan July 28, 2014 at 2:46 pm #

    Thanks for that, Michael.

    So, keeping that in mind for the future — that I made a mistake and allowed her to dictate the terms of the management of the classroom for a session — how should I deal with that in the future? Just act like it didn’t happen, and next time if the student says something along the lines of, “I don’t agree with this, and the letter only gets sent home if I agree with it!”, just ignore it?

    Thanks

  14. April August 6, 2014 at 9:27 pm #

    Thank you so much for posting tips for classroom management. I am a second year art teacher hoping to find new ideas for handling challenging behaviors in the classroom. Last year, I seemed to have one challenging student in every class and it drove me nuts and kept me from paying attention to the good students who were ready to do art. I hated this and tried multiple behavior strategies with some success. Do you have any articles that discuss consequences for individual misbehavior. The challenge I face is that I have to many students to find time for record keeping and notes to parents. I need some kind of consequence system that is quick and easy or I will end up not having time to follow through with it. Currently I have more then 600 students, two schools and am lucky to learn student names. Thank you for your help!

    • Michael Linsin August 7, 2014 at 7:18 am #

      Hi April,

      I recommend spending time in our archive. Specifically, the Classroom Management Plan and the Rules & Consequences categories. Also, you may want to check out the orange book along the sidebar. It was written for specialist teachers like you.

      Michael

  15. Linda September 13, 2014 at 8:26 pm #

    I have a new student in my room, 7 years old, who is very defiant, and refuses to do anything. He will put his head down and not do one thing. How can I get him to participate?

    • Michael Linsin September 14, 2014 at 6:44 am #

      Hi Linda,

      We’ve written about this topic in the past, but will be sure to revisit it in the future.

      Michael

  16. Claire September 15, 2014 at 4:38 pm #

    I am a specialist (art!) and all of my classes are off to great start this year because I wholeheartedly subscribe to your philosophy. I also have read and truly appreciated your CM for Art, Music and PE Teachers. I have one student who has come out of the gate in an outrageous state. He was fine last year and we have a good rapport one on one, but this year he is in a VERT chaotic 1st grade classroom and has been defiant and disruptive before his class even lined up for their first art class of the year (one of his classroom teachers presented him to me at the start with a false exclamation about what a ‘great day!’ he had had so far… uh oh…). As a result of his antics, I have hardly been able to establish enough order in either of their art classes this year (meant to be 45 min but this class came 15 min late both times) to meaningfully convey the CM and motivate them. Today I spoke frankly with them and said that they are very smart and I expect a lot from this year, but that they currently have a problem. I said that we will work together until they are doing the same activities as all the other classes at the same pace. I currently plan to announce next week, that we will have a temporary set of consequences (one warning, then contact parents) until we are all good at the art room routines. At that point, they would revert to the same CM as all other classes. I already told the particularly disruptive student that I am contacting his parents so I have to follow through with that. Do you think this would be a mistake or a viable solution? While there is a particular student acting as catalyst, this class has already adopted unsustainable norms as a whole.

    • Michael Linsin September 16, 2014 at 6:24 am #

      Hi Claire,

      Yes, if you said it, then it’s a must that you follow through. As for the rest, be sure and practice that first procedure before you even enter the room. If it doesn’t go well, then take them back out to do it again. Get control first, then worry about teaching your plan and procedures.

      Michael

  17. Jorge October 28, 2014 at 7:34 am #

    Hi.
    I have this gipsy student this year. He’s 10 and he lives with his father. The student has a really low spanish level (I,m a spanish teacher). In class he barely does a thing but his behaviour is not bad.
    The problem arises during the breaks and when he has to go to the living room. He always want to go home what means to escape from school.
    He is really stuborn and when gets angry he yealls to anyone even me (but sometimes he is a bit less angry if I am with him when gets angry)

    My headmaster and cheaf of students are useless at dealing with him or his father. In fact they are really scared of the father (has been sued by the headmmaster).
    I really do not know how to handle the situation. I suppose is better to create a way of changing the student,s behaviour before it appears (when gets angry it,s imposible to let them understand anything).

    The situation is tense. I would like you to give me some advice.
    Thanks!

    • Michael Linsin October 28, 2014 at 6:44 pm #

      Hi Jorge,

      It’s not so much what you do to positively affect the situation, but rather who you are. In other words, your relationship with the student is the key to influencing his behavior. My best advice is to work on building trust and rapport, so he’ll listen when you offer your advice or council. Please read through the Rapport & Influence category of the archive.

      Michael

  18. James November 16, 2014 at 8:55 pm #

    I placed a child in the discipline table. However, he keeps banging on the table with his hand and refused to stop. What next?

    • Michael Linsin November 17, 2014 at 7:03 am #

      Hi Jeff,

      You move on to the next consequence. You can read about how to do this in the Difficult Students category of the archive.

      Michael

  19. Kay November 26, 2014 at 7:02 pm #

    I’m late to this article but I just happened to stumble on this site for the first time out of desperation and need some advice. I work for a private school that is going through a financial situation and because of that the principal’s main interest is keeping all the parents happy no matter what so that they keep paying. Even if it’s at the expense of the teachers. I’m an ESL teacher. I teach Pre-K – 2nd grade. I am going through a terrible situation with 1st grade because of one particular student. I cannot accommodate the class in my classroom so I have to go to theirs. When I arrive the regular teacher leaves for lunch. As soon as she leaves, this child starts running around the classroom, jumping over chairs, jumping on top of backpacks, throwing notebooks, pencil cases and lunch bags at other students. He goes around randomly kicking and punching the other students and the other students start fighting back as well. Before you know it, the class is a loud violent mess. This child doesn’t even acknowledge me when I try to talk to him, he just continues on and laughs throughout. I have been sending this kid to the office Almost EVERYDAY for the past few months! the principal has to literally DRAG him out of the classroom or carry him like a baby because he refuses to walk to the office on his own. The new problem I’m having is that now parents are starting to complain about me because kids are going home telling them that all of this is happening during English class, The problem child’s mom knows that he has a problem but she refuses to have him medicated. The principal on the other hand should have kicked him out months ago, but given the financial situation she hasn’t even mentioned any intention of it. All she tells me is to keep writing student reports to his mom. I can’t afford to quit, but I don’t know what to do anymore. His regular teacher is also sending him to the office almost everyday but because it tends to start during English Class I’m being blamed for something that is not in my control. Please help! what should I do? His mom isn’t doing anything. The principal is ignoring the situation and the parents are blaming me for the fights and property damage. Please help.

  20. Wanda February 19, 2015 at 1:18 pm #

    I would like some advice about a student who won’t go to most of his classes. He’s in grade 7, with several teachers, and I’m his homeroom teacher. I really worry about his future. He refuses to do any work and will pick and choose if he wants to go to the odd class or not, but generally won’t do any work if he does choose to go. In previous years, he would enact some kind of behaviour in the room bad enough to get him sent out of class, and would accelerate the behaviour until he was sent home. This year we have tried not to send him home and give him alternate places to work, but he won’t accept any of these or any help, and will wander the halls. At first he would accept some help from the guidance counsellor, but he won’t even to that anymore. He causes havoc at recess, and spends the day sitting on the couch in front of the office. We’ve tried adapted work, incentives, offering EA assistance, and asked him what it is he wants, but he won’t/can’t say. Other students are starting to copy some of his behaviours. I’ve never encountered anything to this level in 25+ years of teaching. He seems to hate everyone, and I’m pretty sure his homelife is dysfunctional – parents are having trouble at home too, but don’t really value education. I don’t know – this one has me stumped, and questioning my ability after many successful years.

    • Michael Linsin February 19, 2015 at 5:33 pm #

      Hi Wanda,

      It sounds like a tough, tough case with many variables. Therefore, it wouldn’t be responsible of me to offer shorthand advice without first speaking with you and ultimately observing the student in action.

      Michael

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