How To Handle Students Who Push Your Buttons

How To Handle Students Who Push Your ButtonsMaybe it’s the way they interrupt you.

Maybe it’s their disrespectful tone.

Maybe it’s their silliness or side-talking or affinity for misbehaving at the worst possible time.

Whatever it is, it bugs you. It gets under your skin.

It prompts an internal dialogue you’re not very proud of.

If you’re like most teachers, you tend to focus on these students, on the one or two with an uncanny ability to push your buttons.

Day after day you find yourself lecturing and questioning them.

You find yourself drawn into circular arguments with them.

You find yourself angry and frustrated and pointing out their transgressions in emphatic detail.

But here’s the thing: These normal reactions are only making things worse. They’re only encouraging more of the same behavior you’d love to avoid.

Like a moth to a flame, though, there you are mano a mano trying to outwit them, one up them, and put them in their place.

In quiet moments it seems silly and petty, but it’s so very hard to resist.

Because somewhere in the back of your mind is the nagging feeling that if you can somehow lay bare the error of their ways, convince them of their wrongheadedness, and get them to say “uncle,” then all will be well.

But it isn’t true.

You see, what you need is not more focus on difficult students. What you need . . . is less.

You need a wide open perspective that includes all students equally. You need to take a step back and allow your rules and consequences to step in and replace in total all your efforts to try and change them.

In practice, you would no longer glare in their direction, engage them in discussion about their behavior, or allow your mind to wander into negativity.

You would no longer fixate on them, waste energy on them, or spend any more time on them than you would any other student.

You would accept them for who they are.

At first this may be a challenge, especially if you’ve grown accustomed to devoting an unequal amount of attention to them. But very quickly, within days, it won’t be so difficult.

And here’s the amazing thing.

When you stop focusing on individual students, and instead allow your classroom management plan to do its job, you’ll discover that they no longer have the power to get under your skin.

Not only that, but soon after you begin using this disengagement strategy, a surprising thing will happen. One day out of the clear blue sky you’ll find yourself smiling at them. Warm and genuine.

You’ll find yourself enjoying them, seeing the best in them, and appreciating their uniqueness.

You’ll discover that they’re just a child, that they never really had any malicious intent, and that perhaps your imagination got the better of you. You’ll wonder why you ever felt the way you did.

You’ll also be free, gloriously free, to talk to them, laugh with them, and build rapport with them—with no strings attached.

They too, will be changed. No longer will they see you coming and gird themselves for battle. No longer will they resent you or try to push your buttons or pull you into their spinning orbit.

No longer will they take personally your accountability, but instead realize that breaking rules is entirely on them and therefore their responsibility.

Before long they’ll begin admiring you and wanting to be around you. They’ll listen to you. They’ll be eager to please you and behave for you.

This is no pie-in-the-sky scenario. It’s true and it’s real.

And it works every time.

With every student.

No matter how annoying they may seem at the moment.

PS – If you’re a principal and would like to improve recess behavior, click here.

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10 Responses to How To Handle Students Who Push Your Buttons

  1. Lisa Doucette May 23, 2015 at 11:26 am #

    This article made me tear up because, as a parent of a difficult student, I empathize with my son’s teacher. But I also see that the solution for teachers with difficult students is the same solution for the parents of those kids: to accept them for who they are. More difficult than it sounds.

    Thank you Michael.

    • Michael Linsin May 23, 2015 at 1:19 pm #

      It’s my pleasure, Lisa.


  2. Kristen Stez May 23, 2015 at 12:27 pm #

    What do you do when it is the same students over and over getting detention slips or removal to a different seat? It appears that I am giving them more attention because I AM. 10% of my students take up most of my time. When I ignore the behavior of these middle-schoolers, I get comments from the “good kids” who are flabbergasted and disturbed that the bad behavior is overlooked. I can’t seem to find a happy medium. I feel like a lot of advice assumes that only 2 or 3 kids misbehave, when the reality is that it can be as many as 7 or 8. They just aren’t that concerned with the consequences because they don’t mind detention or being removed from the classroom all that much.

    • Michael Linsin May 23, 2015 at 1:24 pm #

      Hi Kristen,

      You should never ignore their misbehavior, which only causes it to happen more often. Continued misbehavior from multiple sources is a sign that there is a problem elsewhere. I’ll be sure to write about this topic in the near future.


  3. Carissa May 26, 2015 at 8:01 pm #

    Ah thank-you. Whenever I’m having a frustrating day (today was a recess fistfight and constant chattiness) I can come to your site and usually figure out where I’ve gone wrong and make a plan for correction. Tomorrow new seating plan and practicing silent work and making time for appropriate chatting.
    Sooo…..I’ve asked before but I’ll ask again. Any chance you will be writing about ADHD soon? It looks like my class make up for next year will have 4 ADHD students (1 unmedicated) in the room. I already teach several of the students during the week and I find your behavior plans work fantastically on the ones who take medication but on the last…. well he constantly blurts out answers or questions followed by a genuine “oops!” acts silly, wanders around, doesn’t do his work and makes me want to tear my hair out. I don’t want to give up on him but I really don’t know what to do. Help?

    • Michael Linsin May 27, 2015 at 6:13 am #

      Hi Carissa,

      It’s on the list, but I can’t promise exactly when. I hope soon. 🙂


  4. Carissa May 26, 2015 at 8:04 pm #

    I should have said above that I am not these student’s regular teacher but will be next year (I’m on leave right now) but next year will follow your steps in teaching rules, consequences etc.

  5. Karen December 5, 2015 at 11:25 pm #

    Thank you for your website and sharing your expertise. Three weeks ago, I started using the classroom management plan that you recommended. I teach art to about 600 students K-5. The plan is working well with most of my classes, except for one class of 5th grade students. What do you recommend for pack of 5 students who feed off of each other’s bad behavior and try to shut down your class? They have a reputation of disruption throughout our building and it is getting worse. This week in art class they appeared to not be affected by the consequences of having to write a letter home, so I referred the ring leader of the pack to the office. I spent most of my time having them sit in time out or writing letters home. My goal is to focus on my students who want to learn, not to be overrun by students who just want to disrupt the class. I appreciate your advice.

    • Michael Linsin December 6, 2015 at 3:31 pm #

      Hi Karen,

      Are you referring to the plan here on the website or in the book for specialists? If it’s the former, then I recommend picking up a copy of Classroom Management for Art, Music, and PE Teachers.


  6. Shaylee January 23, 2016 at 10:21 pm #

    I know it does not sound right but I have a kid whom I hate, like cannot like anyway. Cannot find good words than this and so sorry for my language but this kid is a smart a–. (It’s high school) I know I should like who he is and everything but I just can’t! It even makes me hate myself!
    I appreciate your advice.