Why Most Difficult Students Just Need Good Classroom Management

Why Most Difficult Students Just Need Good Classroom ManagementTeachers tend to be overly focused on their most difficult students.

They stress-out about them. They strategize over them. They spend more time dealing with them than the rest of their class put together.

They try this approach, then that one. They powwow again and again with colleagues and counselors, parents and psychologists.

They experiment with behavior contracts, incentive systems, and ever-stiffer consequences.

They often fail, however, to apply the one thing that difficult students need the most.

That is, just good, solid classroom management.

It’s common to fall into the trap of being so fixated on finding the right combination of individualized strategies that you give the rest of your class short shrift.

You become sloppy and haphazard in addressing the relatively minor misbehaviors coming from the balance of your classroom.

In other words, because disruptions from the other students pale in comparison, you’re apt to look the other way or not even notice.

The problem with this tendency is that ignoring any misbehavior—no matter how innocuous—is lighter fluid for your most difficult students.

It encourages them, antagonizes them, and even labels them. They take a look around and see that they’re treated differently, and it reinforces the negative beliefs they have about themselves.

It tells them that they are indeed not like the others, that being a behavior problem is who they are and therefore expected. It’s a prophecy they’re quick to fulfill.

But one of the trade secrets to handling difficult students is to focus on managing all students.

You see, when you have a classroom management approach that results in exceptional behavior of the entire class, you effectively remove the fuel that ignites the bad behavior of your most challenging students.

You take away their oxygen. You empty the audience from the theater. You leave them alone on stage with no one to perform for.

They take a look around and see everyone else behaving, and no one amused by their antics, and they do the same. They become what is the culture of the classroom.

They experience the dignity of being treated like everyone else . . . and they start behaving like everyone else. Their sense of self-worth, too, changes.

They begin to see themselves not with an inflated idea of self—which is fragile, false, and ultimately harmful—but with one that jibes with the humble energy of a successful student.

Pride in being just another valued member of the class takes root. They listen. They join in. They engage. They bloom and grow.

So throw out the contracts, the bribes, and the temporary, manipulative strategies that do more harm than good. Draw your gaze away from this one particular student and widen your perspective to include your entire class.

Become an expert in classroom management principles and strategies that really work and that you can feel good about using.

And all will thrive.

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.


37 Responses to Why Most Difficult Students Just Need Good Classroom Management

  1. Beth Dahleen September 20, 2014 at 9:43 am #

    I love your pearls that come in my inbox! I am a stay-at-home mom currently, but when I get back in the classroom — I feel I’ll be better equipped if I keep reading. I hope I can soak it in to be solid when I go back for students that need help learning self-control and anger management.

    • Michael Linsin September 20, 2014 at 9:48 am #

      Hi Beth,

      I’m so glad you’re enjoying the articles! 🙂


      • PJN July 10, 2016 at 1:03 pm #

        Really enjoy your articles and have read your books too. Would you still follow the same classroom management with pupils with autism?

        • Michael Linsin July 10, 2016 at 2:54 pm #

          Hi PJN,

          It depends entirely on the student. I hope to cover this topic from a regular classroom teacher’s point of view in a future book or e-guide.


  2. Sarah September 20, 2014 at 11:16 am #

    This is a general question. What do you do for high school students? They don’t take to this as well as younger students. What consequences do you use? Perhaps you could write a book just for hight school student behavior.

    • Michael Linsin September 21, 2014 at 7:49 am #

      Hi Sarah,

      We’re hoping to address the needs specific to high school teachers in the future.


  3. Chuck September 20, 2014 at 11:58 pm #

    So very true. I was told that certain students do better with structure. And guess what, they do! They’re thriving in my class and are zealous learners. I could see how they could get out of hand in a less structured classroom because I used to have one in past years! I realize how many of my difficult students probably would have been just fine if I had the same experience and knowledge I do today.

    I love your new website layout btw. It makes it much easier to read. =]

    • Michael Linsin September 21, 2014 at 7:50 am #

      Thanks Chuck! Glad you like the new design.


  4. Heidi September 21, 2014 at 6:11 am #

    This is a lovely INTRODUCTION to a larger article. You have absolutely convinced me that classroom management is key, but you did not include how you would actually manage the classroom. Strategies, in my experience are necessary and need to be switched up from time to time.

    For example, you suggest not letting small misbehaviors go by. I agree…sometimes. Sometimes, what gets attention is that which the instructor gives oxygen. Sometimes, when you have so many young adults of different talents and challenges in one room, the bigger picture – the lesson plan; useful pertinent questions and exercises – are key.

    I am always looking for new and innovative positive ways to manage 50 plus inner city kids (x five classes – high school) with different talents and potentials. Why not provide some?

    • Michael Linsin September 21, 2014 at 7:53 am #

      Hi Heidi,

      Please spend time in our archive (lower left sidebar), where you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for.


  5. Kathleen September 21, 2014 at 3:03 pm #

    Hi Michael. I am so grateful to have found your website and started applying the classroom management strategies the first day of school. I teach the arts to 11 different groups from grade 1 to 6. Some of these children are autistic and I have found it difficult to enforce the rules because I truly wonder if they are able to follow along (for example sitting on the carpet for very long as I teach a new song). It tears at my heart to give a consequence for breaking a rule for the little guy who sits with his paper and writes out algebra equations all period – he isn’t bothering anyone, yet he has not followed the teacher’s instructions.
    Still working things out!
    Thank you!

    • Michael Linsin September 21, 2014 at 6:26 pm #

      Hi Kathleen,

      I’m glad you found us! In such cases it’s best not enforce a consequence. I’ll write more about this situation in a future article.


  6. NNorrell September 30, 2014 at 8:56 pm #

    Ok Michael,

    This is the teacher with 39, 1st graders. I have attempted to start over and teach my procedures and discipline plan all over. However, I am having the toughest time, teaching with constant disruptions. There is large amounts of chatter and I have about 6 difficult students. My Rules are (Whole Brain teaching rules) 1)Follow directions quickly, 2) Raise your hand for permission to speak, 3) Raise your hand for permission to leave your seat, 4) Make smart Choices, 5) Keep your dear teacher happy. From there I have the behavior clip chart. The goes from Parent Contact to Excellent Job. And every time a rule is broken a student goes down the chart. I find that I can start some mornings and many of my tough 6 are at Parents contact by 9 am. I think this is because of our breakfast and morning bathroom routine. I have resorted to yelling again and tried to start fresh and teaching and learning is no really happening. I am really frustrated because I really want to TEACH and enjoy it but I haven’t been.

    • Michael Linsin October 1, 2014 at 6:27 am #

      Hi NNorrell,

      Have you read The Classroom Management Secret? We have a particular philosophy here at SCM with unique strategies that fit that philosophy. Although each of out 280+ articles can and will help improve behavior, it’s the total, comprehensive approach that will transform your class.


  7. meg November 9, 2014 at 7:21 am #

    Hi, was hoping to get some advice. I have a student that blatantly told me that “no one likes me”, “that I need to stop talking” “Blah,blah,blah”. I have never had a student say these types of things to me. I don’t know how to even handle it. I’m shocked. I find it hard to even look at her now. I have been so nice to this girl. Actually, made a positive call home about how exemplary work ethic and behavior. These hateful comments toward me came after I refused to “charge her phone” in the classroom. What do I do?

    • Michael Linsin November 9, 2014 at 10:51 am #

      Hi Meg,

      You let it go in one ear and out the other. It’s not your issue. Angered that you wouldn’t charge her cell phone, she was likely trying to get revenge by hurting your feelings. Having said that, if she transgresses your classroom management plan, you enforce a consequence.


      • Kelsidney November 5, 2016 at 9:50 am #

        My students have shown a turn on behavior once I implemented Rick Smith’s Concious Mangement Classroom. I have taught 29 years and I tell you I had tried everything. I highly recommend it.

  8. Anna November 19, 2014 at 10:45 pm #

    Yes! This describes what I’ve been seeing in my classroom this week! All of my kids have stepped up to the mark (or closer to, anyway), and I can finally throw myself into teaching instead of trying to run a three-ring circus. It’s been marvelous! (Now, if I can just figure out how to apply the principles of motivation/accountability with my kids at home, then I’ll have it made…)

    • Michael Linsin November 20, 2014 at 7:08 am #

      Good to hear, Anna! Thanks for sharing your success.


  9. Kelly Horgan March 8, 2015 at 12:04 am #

    I am tired of hearing that 100% of student mis behavior is caused by “bad classroom management”! It is not fair to put 100% of the burden on controlling the classroom on us and none on the students. You should NOT address “every mis behavior, even if it’s minor” in all circumstances. I had a long sub gig with a class that had driven off 6 teachers; students screamed the f word literally several times every single minute. So, pray tell, how do I “address each problem”? Mis behavior escalated; when it got to the point that a student stripped, gyrated on the desk and rubbed her breast and vagina sexually I gave up on the placement. I take ZERO responsibility for the behavior issues I had and I am proud of that. These were high schoolers who had driven off 6 teachers.. they were NOT “begging to learn” and eagerly awaiting a good teacher who would help them. It was their fault. This class had a teacher of record; she was 74, said “the school is trying to force me to retire” and “didn’t have time to” teach this class. It was one 3 hour class; the students were ELD students who knew almost no English. So it was the administration’s fault for allowing this and (to a lesser extent) the teacher of record’s fault for farming her class out to subs. This is not a standard situation; I get that. But as a society we need to stop denying that a) we have a culture of out of control students and b) that the problem is now so severe many teachers simply can NOT be expected to teach/control their classes unless and until something changes. If we just keep telling teachers “you MUST control your classes” and then blaming no one but them if they can’t–not “don’t want to” but CAN NOT– control their classes, then in a generation we will have no competent teachers in hard to staff schools at all. Smart teachers are smart :); they notice that if their students are running around their classroom screaming, then “calmly waiting for them to sit down..and staying silent for 5 full minutes after they do so” is simply NOT a realistic way to deal with their classes. And they won’t be willing to be told “the only reason this is happening is because you suck as a teacher”, either. They will leave..and they will NOT be replaced by “good teachers” who will fix the problem.

  10. Nelva October 2, 2015 at 10:41 am #

    It is so insightful to see classroom management from your perspective. It is also very refreshing and encouraging. However I wouldn’t throw out the contracts, bribes, and incentives every strategy counts and helps in different situations that might develop on daily teaching practices.

  11. Jim November 20, 2015 at 9:53 pm #

    Hi, Michael

    Thanks for publishing you blog and giving a lot of advice on classroom management. What you pointed out is the case I have now. Class clown, calling over, disrespect to classmates and me. I tried not to argue with my students and keep clam.

    Some students keep push my button. As I came in the middle of the year and some class environment has been formed. Now it is nearly end of the year and some students are affected as the learning is disrupted by a few.

    I really want to try your advice with 3 weeks left for this year what is your suggestion.

    Of course I will implement the consistency, simplest rules as you advice the four. I sometimes wonder what consequence should be used. The students seem forget quickly. I like your idea that manage the whole class rather than focus the problem ones. In practice, we as teachers also forget the effective rules and quickly controlled by our emotion.

    One thing I would like to ask is the culture and accent issues as I am not native English speaker. I would say my English is quite easy to understood though with occasional minor pronunciation issues. I am quite brave to accept students corrections however there still someone mimic my accent and tried to make fun of it and it is sometimes difficult to identify the one who did it. I use the ignore-it to minimise the distraction but it does interrupt the learning.

    Any suggestions to teachers who teach core subjects but with different cultures and language backgrounds.

    • Michael Linsin November 21, 2015 at 11:08 am #

      Hi Jim,

      Being yourself is always a strength. 🙂 I’ll be sure to put this topic on the list of future articles, including some specific strategies you can use.


  12. Mia December 2, 2015 at 10:38 am #

    In response to Sarah. Consistent, fair, dispassionate rules and consequences work at any grade level. I am nearing retirement, and am delighted to see this excellent advice offered here. I have taught every grade level from 4 to 12, except grade 5. The advice I see here is what I have practiced myself for my entire career. It works.

  13. Donna Wareham December 13, 2015 at 9:01 am #

    What you’re saying doesn’t work on 5 yr old Alexander. If he misbehaves and is given a time out he runs under a table and begins a full blown tantrum and hurts me or other children. He will NOT accept any consequences and I’m being told to do a behavior chart where he’s good for 5 min then gets prized toys the other kids dont…
    I have to call behavior specialists in every day for escalating behavior…he wants my attention from other kiddos approx every 2-5 min.

  14. Alice February 22, 2016 at 5:46 pm #

    I have been reading your articles. I am a first time teacher, in a long term substitute position, teaching math for 9th and 10th graders in an arts school. I know I need to follow through with class rules and consequences but sometimes more than half the class is breaking rules. I’ve been told to find the head of the snake but in a large class sometimes I cant. Instead of sending half the class to the principals office or calling parents what do I do? I tried to have vice principals come up instead but they often are not available. Thank you for your articles.

    • Michael Linsin February 23, 2016 at 7:47 am #

      Hi Alice,

      This is a big question that takes more than the time and space we have here. I would have questions for you before being able to provide accurate advice. I have a classroom management plan ebook scheduled to come out before next fall and, if interested, I also offer personal coaching.


  15. ruth March 14, 2016 at 5:22 am #

    Where can I buy this book or access it?

    • Michael Linsin March 14, 2016 at 6:52 am #

      Hi Ruth,

      You can find links to all our books along the right sidebar.

  16. IIT JAM Maths classes April 11, 2016 at 2:16 am #

    I believe that a little attention may resolve this problem, In my maths classroom sessions, many students were not attentive in starting but I decided to put a confident step forward in order to encourage inclusion of these students.
    I started quick tests, treats, online sessions(this helped a lot), number games & these students performed exceptionally well in all these activities.
    Classroom Management is not something that need fun activity or strict behavior all the time, you’ll have to find the bolthole to deal with each & every student in a different manner.

  17. Heidi H. October 25, 2016 at 2:49 pm #

    I can’t believe I just recently stumbled upon your website. It is packed with meaningful information for educators and parents. As an educator, classroom management and bringing out the best in each and every student was always first and foremost importance. As a parent of a child with a severe learning disability that has led to emotional issues, I’m troubled by the tendency for teachers to immediately refer to him as a behavior problem. When I ask questions, I’ve been stunned by the lack of classroom management and manner in which they respond to his needs. He has been treated like a bother. Thank you for many perspectives on these issues!

    • Michael Linsin October 25, 2016 at 4:30 pm #

      You’re welcome, Heidi! I’m so glad you found us. Welcome!


  18. Michael Ronco November 3, 2016 at 9:51 am #

    Great Article!
    The best one word topic is management.
    The two best phrases are:
    1. Ignoring any misbehavior is lighter fluid and is counterproductive to successful management overall. Students miss nothing when it comes to how others behave and they love to play the “unfair” card. They have trouble understanding a hierarchy of misbehavior – it is all just misbehavior. If what a teacher sees as minor is ignored, a student sees it as the teacher picking favorites.
    2. Focus on managing all students because all students are imperfect. Just as all teachers. Students need to learn the difference between fair and equal. Doctors don’t treat every patient the same way with the same medicine, but they treat each patient consistent with the ailment. That does not make the treatment unfair. The same is true in the classroom. All must be treated, but fairly – not always equally.

    The blog is helpful as it gives specific advice but also a place for teachers to share experiences; some may have worked and others may have not. No reason to reinvent the wheel here.