One 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.
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.
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