Are You Making Your Most Difficult Students Worse?

Making Difficult Students WorseMost teachers are hyperaware of their most difficult students—and well they should be.

It’s smart to know where they are and what they’re doing.

But this awareness can cause you to behave oddly around them.

It can cause you to glare and glower in their direction. It can cause you to hover near the edges of their personal space and tense up in their presence.

It can cause you to label them with your behavior.

Because when you act differently around difficult students than you do the rest of your class, you’re effectively telling them that they’re not like other students, that they’re incapable of being trusted and that you expect them to misbehave.

This is a powerful message you may not even be aware you’re sending. Your most challenging students, however, can see the smoke signals from a mile away.

They know when they’re being surveilled, marked, and followed. They know when they’re disliked and resented—or merely tolerated. They know when you have negative thoughts about them and their future prospects.

And they’re quick to live up to their role as troublemaker, to become the very person you see in them.

Although you should always maintain awareness of all your students, if you were to make it a point to behave the same way around your most difficult students as you do everyone else, you would see marked improvement in their behavior.

This includes the same smiles, jokes, and stories. It includes the same nonchalant way you look in their direction or ask about their weekend. It includes the same belief in their ability to listen, learn, and follow rules.

For many teachers, though, this is far easier said than done.

It’s only natural to be cautious and distrustful around students who have repeatedly disrupted your classroom. It’s only natural to linger and eyeball and use proximity to try and stop their misbehavior before it starts.

The solution, however, is simple: From the very first moment of each school day onward, you’re going to pretend that your most difficult students are already well behaved.

You’re going to assume that they will, of their own accord, follow your rules and expectations just like everyone else. And by pretending, by shoving aside any and all negative thoughts you have about them and their previous misdeeds, they’ll respond in wonderful and miraculous ways.

That isn’t to say that they’ll never again misbehave, but they’ll no longer do it to spite you or get under your skin. They’ll no longer do it because they’re fulfilling a prophecy. They’ll no longer do it because it’s expected of them, because it has become part of their identity.

Although improvement can be immediate, in time, and as the rest of your class begins to take up your cue, those ugly labels and beliefs they have about themselves will gently slide off their shoulders.

Their burden will lift. They’ll look you in the eye, unashamed. And for the first time in their school career, they’ll relax into their skin.

They’ll become an integral part of the whole.

A key ingredient in the soufflé.

A certified, accepted, and valued member of your classroom.

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.

, ,

19 Responses to Are You Making Your Most Difficult Students Worse?

  1. az October 25, 2014 at 9:04 am #

    This is a wonderful proposal. And I can glean lots of inspiration from it. Importantly, I will reboot some of my notions about certain students starting . . . NOW.

    And . . . I’m wondering where the hedge words are? Where the qualifying language is?

    It’s your blog, of course, but the way this post is phrased, well, I’m left feeling as if your opinion is fact — that your advice in this case will work for each and every student (and teacher). Is there not an instance in which all of this might not actually “work”? Or is such an exception a given in your mind . . . and thus not worth mentioning?

    If you get a chance, please clarify.

    Thanks. 😉

    • Michael Linsin October 25, 2014 at 4:01 pm #

      Hi az,

      The SCM website is based on my experiences and observations, and for the sake of brevity I focus only on what works–as I see it–in a real-world classroom. The onus is always on the reader of any article, book, or blog to test and try and discern the truth.


  2. molly October 26, 2014 at 8:50 am #

    I want to thank you for you Inspiring posts. Itws always so helpful.
    my question is: Iwm a speaciai education teacher and I have in my class an assistant.
    she is very kind to the kids and rarley enforces the rules in the class (I think that she needs to that only when I’m not in the class , but she doesn’t) this leaves me whit the situation that Im the “bad guy” and Im starting to feel that the kids loves me less and less and they love her more and more. and I know from your post that It’s important that the kids will like the teacher. what should I do?

    • Michael Linsin October 26, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

      Hi Molly,

      It’s important for you and your assistant to be on the same page. Therefore, I recommend explaining to her the need for continuity and consistency and the critical importance of enforcing the your rules in precisely the same way.


  3. Emily October 26, 2014 at 7:40 pm #

    Molly, just lay out your whole teaching philosophy. I too have an aide who tends to jump into discipline a bit early. It helped wonderfully by explaining to her just what I’m doing.

  4. Mrs. Anna Nichols October 30, 2014 at 8:26 pm #

    I am commenting in response to Az:

    Michael Linsin’s expert opinion about the mindset/attitude of the teacher having an effect on students is quite true. After 11 years in the classroom, I can personally attest to this fact. Our students need us to believe in them – it is a tragic mistake for teachers to judge students. Who are we to judge a person’s potential? Yes, kids can be aggravating, sneaky, and downright snotty. However, I have seen firsthand how healing it can be for so called “difficult” students to be in an environment where the teacher chooses to see the good in them, to believe in them.

    In Proverbs it says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”

  5. mark November 6, 2014 at 5:35 am #

    My friend is New maths teacher.This is his first year in his school.he could not control his 10th class room.he is worrying and stressing a lot.There are 6 or 7 students are behaving very bad.also they are using very bad words.Already he informed the management.they called the parents and what ever they want to do they have done.but still that students are uncontrolled.
    In this case can you give him any advice to him.

    • Michael Linsin November 6, 2014 at 7:10 am #

      Hi Mark,

      I recommend he comes to this website. He’ll find everything he needs to manage his classroom effectively.


    • Lavinia Pirlog July 16, 2016 at 8:47 am #

      And i also recommend reading Michael’s book Classroom Management for Art, Music and PE Teachers, which wonderfully explains the HOW to specialist teachers. This book is GREAT!!!

  6. chin ah yim November 7, 2014 at 8:30 pm #

    Need help to manage students in the classroom

  7. Ashlynn Christian February 6, 2015 at 11:55 am #

    This is really inspiring. The other day at a school I heard a teacher say that she is not cut out for teaching because one of her students was not acting correctly. I remember thinking to myself even if you thought that, why would you say that in front of your students? This blog brings up such an interesting topic of classroom management. Each student is different even though as teachers we spend a lot of time them we never know what there situation is at home and if the negative behavior is due to a bigger situation.

  8. MPDUBBS July 2, 2016 at 10:04 am #

    Thank you. I will try this. Unfortunately classroom management ideas are like diets, and there are alway the flavor of the week. At my school they incourage proximity as a deterrent for difficult students. It was working temporarily, but I could see the resentment or acceptance of being “bad” in their eyes. Thanks I will try this.

  9. Anitha Anoop July 20, 2016 at 8:33 am #

    thanks a lot Michael for the tips and i think most of these i am following.I am an Indian teacher and i am going to attend an interview as a chemistry teacher in usa.these tips will help me a lot .thanks again.

    • Michael Linsin July 20, 2016 at 10:42 am #

      You’re welcome, Anitha. You’ll do great!


  10. Shira August 28, 2016 at 7:44 pm #

    Do you think teachers should be told before the school year which students to “look out for” ie. students who in the past displayed challenging behavior.

    • Michael Linsin August 29, 2016 at 7:35 am #

      Hi Shira,

      I think they should have the option whether or not they want to know.


  11. Alvin December 4, 2016 at 12:57 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    I was wondering how you might enforce consequences with “difficult students.’ How can you do this in a way that helps the student see the importance of the rule they broke, but without compromising your relationship with the student? After spending time to build that relationship, I often feel like I’m “walking on eggshells” hoping that they student will behave, because I’m not sure how to address their misbehavior with enough grace that they will see the severity of their actions, without losing trust in me or faith in their growing identity as a well behaved student.

    Thank you,

    • Michael Linsin December 4, 2016 at 1:12 pm #

      Hi Alvin,

      After thinking more about your question, I think I’m going to write about it next week (12/10). Stay tuned.