How To Handle Class-Clown Disruptions And Disrespect

Class-Clown Disruptions And DisrespectThere is nothing wrong with a class clown.

In fact, students gifted with a clever sense of humor can be a wonderful asset to your classroom.

They can be another ingredient in the mix that helps you create a learning environment students love being part of.

The truth is, the most effective classrooms laugh. They laugh and joke and enjoy each other much more than most teachers realize.

As long as it’s done within the confines of the class rules, humor should be encouraged and even led by the teacher.

It makes your ability to influence behavior that much stronger.

But when a student steps outside those boundaries to deliver an ill-timed one-liner, it can have the opposite effect. It can pull the entire class off task. It can cause silliness and excitability. It can encourage others to do the same.

It can also make the teacher feel as if it was done at their expense, especially if it happens during direct instruction.

After all, in one fell swoop a funny remark can undo the time and effort that went into creating a captivating lesson or engaging activity.

It’s natural to be offended, to take it personally, to glare daggers in the student’s direction or cut them off with a biting rebuke.

But an angry reaction will only make matters worse. It will extend and deepen the interruption. It will bring stress and negativity into your classroom. It will ensure a slow return to focused work and cast a dark cloud over the rest of the day.

It will also put into motion an antagonistic relationship with the offending student. One that can be difficult to overcome.

So, how should you handle it?

Well, it’s instructive to look at the situation from the student’s perspective. The truth is, when they make a silly comment, their intention isn’t to humiliate you. How you feel about it emotionally isn’t even on their radar. They just want to crack up their classmates. That’s it.

Now, it’s important to point out that such outbursts are disrespectful, no doubt about it. A willingness to interrupt your teaching shows a lack of regard for you as well as their classmates.

But the class clown is only thinking of themselves and the attention the moment can bring them.

So you must tread lightly.

You must approach the situation shrewdly and strategically rather than impulsively. You must handle it in such a way that minimizes the disruption, yet at the same time holds the student accountable, restores respect for you, and lessens the chances of it happening again.

Reacting in anger won’t cut it, not even close. In fact, the most effective reaction is no reaction at all.

Don’t frown. Don’t tense. Don’t even sigh. Just stand in place and wait for the moment to pass. Wait for movement to cease. Wait for silence to be restored.

Let the weight of disrupting the sacredness of teaching and learning in your classroom dawn on the offending student. Let them realize of their own accord that they just interrupted, disrespectfully, the teacher they like and admire.

Let the entirety of the moment hang in the air as a message to every student.

You see, when you let the elephant in the room just stand there, alone and awkward and shuffling its feet, the lesson becomes powerful and meaningful to everyone in the class.

But especially to the offending student, whose witty quip now rings hollow and absurdly out of place.

When the moment is right—and you’ll know when—calmly take a step or two toward the student, deliver your consequence matter-of-factly, then turn and get on with your lesson.

In this way, you safeguard your relationship with the disruptive student. You restore, and even increase, respect for you. And you all but remove the chances of it happening again.

In less than 60 seconds you’re back to work.

As if it never happened.

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37 Responses to How To Handle Class-Clown Disruptions And Disrespect

  1. Douglas March 7, 2015 at 10:32 am #

    Michael,

    Thank you for this article. I have one “class clown” in each of my 3 classes, and each of them have tried their hand at making the class laugh at the perfect time – while I was teaching and all of my students were silent and engaged. In my experience, the other students were too shocked that a student would disrupt the lesson to react (I credit Smart Classroom Management for that), and a swift, dispassionate warning was all that was needed before returning to the lesson.

    We’re all human though. What should we do if we accidentally laugh at something that a students says at an inappropriate time? It seems inappropriate to give a consequence if I can’t help but smile at the one-liner, but I certainly don’t want to encourage the misbehavior.

    • Michael Linsin March 7, 2015 at 12:30 pm #

      Hi Douglas,

      I see nothing wrong with saying, “That’s a good one, Allen. Very clever, but You still have a warning.” I’ve done it myself.

      Michael

  2. Ashley Friedman March 7, 2015 at 10:47 am #

    This seems like a great solution to a pretty common problem! I have a question though…

    What should I do when that student continues to crack those one-liners in the silence? I’ve done this in class – the not reacting, stoic silence thing, but the students take it as an opportunity to continue to stay in the spotlight, thus lengthening the disruption and giving them all the attention that they needed. Advice?

    • Michael Linsin March 7, 2015 at 12:37 pm #

      Hi Ashley,

      Blatant disrespect of this nature is a symptom of deeper classroom management problems. I’ll be sure and put this topic on the list of future articles.

      Michael

      • Elissa May 20, 2016 at 4:59 pm #

        Is there a follow up article to this problem? I suspect your answer will be that the lessons are not engaging enough.
        I have this same problem with my class clown (I don’t react, he continues to make fart noises even as the rest of the class begs him to stop because they are engaged in the lesson). It is first grade in a high poverty area…do you have any thoughts on trauma informed classroom management which promotes a lot of one-on-one counseling, etc. with difficult students. This method suggests not giving a consequence in the moment because it can be triggering to students. I have found this to be the case. I dispassionately give a consequence and student screams and cries and throws chairs for the rest. of. the. day. Admin will not remove him for any reason.

  3. Rebecca March 7, 2015 at 2:06 pm #

    An incredibly well-timed article! Thank you 🙂

    • Michael Linsin March 7, 2015 at 2:12 pm #

      You’re welcome, Rebecca! So glad to hear it.

      Michael

  4. Chuck March 8, 2015 at 5:26 pm #

    Great article!

    I just got TWO new students this late in the year from very rough schools and families in the same class. One of them got suspended the first day of school (I don’t know what she did). I’m worried about my classroom environment. We’ve build a culture of respect and relationship.

    The first day (Friday) for one of these students during the middle of a test she blatantly called out very aggressively “WHY ARE YOU LOOKING AT ME?” to the other students in the room who were interested in her and looking at her while I was getting her started on an activity. She’s putting on a front of badassery and I’m thinking this might lead to conflicts with the other students. She doesn’t seem to be looking for friends, though I’m sure that she’ll make some and influence them towards her way of thinking rather than them influence her.

    I’m determined to integrate them both into my classroom and make it clear that the rules hold from day one of their entry into my classroom. I have been very cordial with her and spoke to her very respectfully and normally (even when her blurting out shocked me). I might be able to build a relationship with her, but I’m a little bit nervous nonetheless. Any tips?

    • Michael Linsin March 8, 2015 at 7:24 pm #

      Hi Chuck,

      That’s an excellent question, but too big for the time and space we have here. It has been on the list of future topics for some time, and I hope to get to it soon. In the meantime, my best single tip is to stay the course. While sticking to your plan is indeed most important, resist the urge to try and speed up your relationship with her as well as her relationships with her new classmates. Give her a chance to get her bearings, get used to how you do things, and slowly become part of the class.

      Michael

  5. Bryan Prettie March 9, 2015 at 5:30 am #

    I have perhaps 5 such students in a class of 20 students..any suggestions would be appreciated…thx

  6. Krishna August 23, 2015 at 10:36 am #

    Nice article really use full…!
    Thanks for great suggestions….!

    • Michael Linsin August 23, 2015 at 12:20 pm #

      You’re welcome, Krishna!

      Michael

  7. Kathryn January 21, 2016 at 2:10 pm #

    I work in a classroom (aide) at an alternative, computer-based high school with approximately 25 students per class The students are referred from their regular high school for a number of issues; failing classes, ditching, sleeping, etc. The goal of my school is for the students to catch up on credits and graduate on time.

    Unfortunately, we get students who are not interested in education, prefer to defy the teacher and disrupt the class. Many would rather stare off into space or sleep than work.

    Since there is no direct instruction, many diversions don’t fit my class.

    Your thoughts?

    Thank you.

    • Michael Linsin January 22, 2016 at 7:51 am #

      Hi Kathryn,

      Because of how specific your situation is, and how big your question, I couldn’t be sure to give you accurate advice in the time and space we have here. If you’re interested, we do offer personal coaching.

      Michael

  8. Rose Lucio February 6, 2016 at 10:51 am #

    I need help in applying this article to a very immature six year old. He is as cute as a button and makes me laugh most of the time. But what he is thinking about during my instruction and then blurting it out has nothing to do with my lesson, happens too often to be humorous. He does set off others who are easily distracted and valuable instructional time is lost with an age group where their attention is already short. This happens at all times of the school including when he is with his parent. It’s possible he will repeat the grade due to not having the ability to understand and do the work. Any ideas? Thanks

    • Michael Linsin February 6, 2016 at 11:25 am #

      Hi Rose,

      We recommend holding all students accountable for calling out by following your classroom management plan. For more info, please see our archive (bottom right sidebar).

      Michael

  9. Maureen February 7, 2016 at 8:44 am #

    Hi Michael
    I have a similar situation to the comments above. In an inclusion kindergarten , a non identified student looking for reactions from several of my identified little guys who have extreme difficulty ignoring the behaviors , which just encourages my misbehaving student more. Most of the distractions come in the form of him physically acting out ( silly faces and wiggling crazily). I really feel like we have been following our management plan to the T – trying to get this little guy to buy into being part of the class , having fun with us but he just continues to be a major disruption … help

    • Michael Linsin February 7, 2016 at 11:11 am #

      Hi Maureen,

      I would need to learn a lot more, or even observe the student in action, to give an accurate opinion on such a specific situation. I wouldn’t want to steer you wrong. 🙂

      Michael

  10. Mark February 23, 2016 at 11:13 pm #

    I have the same issue as Ashely, several students will just go on if I stop. Between my 140 middle school students, I have about 8 like this, 1-2 in each period. How do you go on “as usual”; the other kids are bothered by the disruptiveness. It doesn’t stop so eventually they start side chatting of course they are bored they can’t pay attention to me teach even if i tried talking over the disruptive kids.

    But why would this be a symptom of “classroom management” problems? What happened to the “it’s not me” philosophy to hold students accountable for their everyday in the moment choices as Individuals.

    I call home, have had parent conferences, try to build relationships with the kids but they really don’t seem interested. I have separated them from the class to sit alone, they’ve been suspended, nothing works. They literally don’t care that they are failing so at this point I feel that it is damage control I don’t know what to do.

  11. Daniela March 27, 2016 at 1:19 pm #

    Hello, I am the mother of a 7 years old boy who is the clown in his class and have been asked by teacher to fix the issue as she has tried everything she is capable of. There are 2 other smalls clown in the class and the parents of the other children have complained. How should I talk to my boy and what should I tell him to stop this behavior in class? Thanks ahead for an advice.

    • Michael Linsin March 27, 2016 at 1:52 pm #

      Hi Daniela,

      You must hold him accountable for his misbehavior. You simply tell him what exact behavior isn’t allowed and what the consequence will be if it happens.

      Michael

  12. Mark E April 5, 2016 at 9:34 am #

    Very interesting problems and solutions. A lot worth reading!

  13. Roman April 18, 2016 at 6:33 am #

    I would like to ask about a student who almost always speaks with a very funny (comic), strong accent during my EFL English lessons. This is Central Europe, the kids are foreign English speakers. I heard him speak much better English already. So he obviously can speak with much more natural or neutral accent but for some reason he prefers to imitate this foreign accent. Nobody is laughin, but he still does it almost all the time. I am not sure if this is an example of misbehavior, and if so, what kind of misbehavior, or is this just lack of academic efforts?

    • Michael Linsin April 18, 2016 at 7:01 am #

      Hi Roman,

      I think the only reliable way to know why he is doing it is to just ask him. I don’t have an explanation for you and wouldn’t be able to form an opinion unless I could observe the student in your class.

      Michael

      • Roman April 18, 2016 at 8:34 am #

        I think, it is a clown act, mocking the accent he acts out. It is not his natural accent, so I suppose it is a clown act, but I wasn’t sure. If he does it as a clown or mocking accents, then he is breaking the rule of acting respectfully, right? I can ask him, but he will probably confirm. If he says, it is something he does just to entertain himself and others, I will tell him it is not allowed.

  14. Rita May 18, 2016 at 12:20 pm #

    Hello, Michael
    Thank you for your priceless pieces of great advice!
    I am a part time language teacher in two junior schools, so I only deal with each class I have once a week. I have a particular class, year 6, I was having problems with. A class clown and a few other ring leaders who are very disruptive. Despite all my attempts and dedication, trying to make lessons fun and structured, I was struggling with behaviour.
    I used your method to the T and it worked wonderfully today. I was much calmer and one of the students even apologised, spontaneously, something he never did before. He started clowning about as usual and I did what you suggest. I said: ‘You were funny, M, but I still have to put your name on the orange’ (orange is a warning, red counts on loss of golden time). He said sorry and he usually changes and gets angry when I do that. I think it was because I let him get away with it for too long.

    Now, please, shall I always stay quiet and not say a word, like you suggest, until the last voice or laughter goes unheard? Are they going to see through what I am trying to do? I have to get this right, as it’s my probation period in this particular school.
    Thank you!

    • Michael Linsin May 19, 2016 at 7:46 am #

      Hi Rita,

      You should always wait for quiet before speaking or moving on with your lesson.

      Michael

      • Rita May 20, 2016 at 4:04 am #

        Thank you, Michael. I will stick to this plan. I’m coming to the end of my probation period so everything must count. I was observed by the Head yesterday in a different class and was successful. Children can be so difficult when you don’t know how to handle them. I see now how poorly I have handled many class situations. I feel ashamed but it’s never too late to change and succeed. Thank you!

        • Michael Linsin May 20, 2016 at 7:59 am #

          You’re welcome, Rita.

          Michael

  15. Lyne November 11, 2016 at 7:31 pm #

    I work in a very small charter school. The reality Is there is no set discipline policy by administration, and the kids as well as the guardians know this. The students are aggressive and some are thus far missing up to 32 days of class, and feel as though because they are unlikely to get kicked out (ADA), they can di what they want. In my senior class of 28 it makes it nearly impossible to teach.

  16. Alvin December 4, 2016 at 1:34 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    I’m a bit confused by what constitutes a “disrespectful” outburst as opposed to acceptable joking or laughter in the classroom. I have been finding it difficult differentiating laughter that is appropriate vs inappropriate. I also read your related post on “Why laughter makes classroom management more effective,” but can’t seem to figure out where to draw the line.

    This happens in two instances. One where the student cracks a joke during a lesson. I suspect a disruptive comment is one that is irrelevant to the topic or is intended solely for drawing attention (rather than spontaneously happening). What is an example where laughter is appropriate? Is there a time where being facetious is okay?

    Another instance is where students are working in groups. My confusion has made me suspicious of small pockets of laughter in during group work. I have been known to say to student, “Excuse me, but I don’t think your work can be that amusing.” Have the students broken a rule in this instance? Please help!

    With so much appreciation,
    Alvin

    • Michael Linsin December 4, 2016 at 4:20 pm #

      Hi Alvin,

      I don’t know whether you saw my answer to your earlier question, but I’ve since amended it. It was just too good of a question not to write about. As for what is and isn’t appropriate, in your first example, it absolutely isn’t. Anything that disrupts your lesson is inappropriate, especially if the student calls out. Group work depends on your topic and what exactly are their responsibilities during their meeting–as well as if they’re on or off topic. I’ll be sure to write about this in the future, but a good rule of thumb is that appropriate laughter is something that everyone participates in together and everyone is in on the joke–even you. It’s also, in most circumstances initiated by you.

      You ask excellent, thoughtful questions, Alvin.

      Michael

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  4. WBL- Learning aims | Uni Blog - April 24, 2015

    […] Understandably this learning aim was always going to be achieved, as arguably in many schools their are always disruptive students, who need to be made aware of their actions. Their was also research undertaken as some of the common classroom control techniques did not always work. this research includes, the article “How to handle Class-clown disruptions and disrespect” by Michael Linsin. This article can be found here:  […]

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