Are You Blaming Difficult Students For Poor Classroom Management?

When I began this blog more than six years ago, I made a commitment to telling the whole truth about classroom management.

Blaming Difficult Students For Poor Classroom ManagementThe good and bad. The harmful and transformational.

What really works and what doesn’t.

Along the way we’ve dispelled myths, exposed misconceptions, and perhaps even ruffled some feathers.

We continue to pursue this approach because reality is an unparalleled teacher.

Although it can hurt initially, it’s only when we know the truth that we’re able to take steps toward improvement.

It’s an essential ingredient of success regardless of the endeavor, but is particularly important for teachers.

The truth sweeps away mental clutter, stress, and second-guessing. It simplifies, empowers, and fills with hope. It offers a fresh start on the right path.

It also helps shed the justifications that hold so many teachers back.

One such justification, common among those struggling with classroom management, is to point the finger at difficult students as the reason their class is the way it is.

It manifests itself most prominently toward the end of a long day.

The students are excitable and bouncing off the walls. They’re spinning and arguing. They’re pushing and tattling and ignoring the teacher’s calls for attention.

The teacher, wrung out, exhausted, and counting the minutes to dismissal, sighs and thinks:

If it just weren’t for those few students . . .

Now, before we go any further it’s important to point out that under the circumstances it’s perfectly understandable to feel this way.

In fact, to a struggling teacher it isn’t a justification. It’s a viable reason. It’s a barrier they feel helpless against.

They see their most challenging students riling everyone else up and draw the most reasonable conclusion: The chaos starts with a few and then spreads to everyone else.

But the truth is, this is a sign of poor classroom management, not the cause of it.

The class is misbehaving because they can. They’re misbehaving because of inconsistent accountability, movable boundaries of behavior, and a misunderstanding of effective classroom management.

They’re misbehaving because they’re bored and dissatisfied, because there isn’t a compelling reason not to, because the teacher has no leverage.

A Comprehensive Approach

If you were to take an exceptional classroom manager and drop them into a class like the one above, they wouldn’t focus on the most difficult students.

Other than faithfully holding them accountable, they would pay them little mind. Instead, they would focus on everyone.

They would focus on improving classroom management class-wide, from the physical environment to how to sit and listen to how to walk in line and all points in between.

It is this comprehensive approach, of consistently applying proven and effective methods, that has the power to transform any classroom, no matter how far gone, from chaotic to peaceful.

Minute by minute, as the teacher gains more trust and influence, more and more students come on board. More and more buy in. More and more begin liking—loving—being part of the class.

And those few students the struggling teacher insisted were causing all the trouble, insisted be tested for this and that and observed by this expert and that one, gently and unceremoniously fall in line.

They look around and see everyone else behaving and no one to laugh at their silliness. They look around and realize that their behavior is absurd, out of place, and no longer fun and enticing.

They shrug their shoulders and begin doing what everyone else is doing.

They see the pride. They see the purpose. They see the evidence of something better and far more alluring.

And they want to be part of it too. They want to be part of something special. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves.

We all do.

It’s the most powerful motivator in the universe.

And you must take advantage of it.

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

Also, 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.


16 Responses to Are You Blaming Difficult Students For Poor Classroom Management?

  1. S Dearman May 30, 2015 at 8:49 am #

    That’s sounds great! Now HOW do you do it?

    • Michael Linsin May 30, 2015 at 1:53 pm #

      Hi S.

      We have over 300 articles in our archive and three books that show you exactly how. 🙂


  2. Rebecca May 30, 2015 at 2:57 pm #

    This is exactly where I am at, and it is what I need to hear! It feels embarrassing to acknowledge that I have not managed my classroom well, yet again. I start the year out strong, I think, and then it gradually falls apart. I can see the looks in the eyes of the students who do behave well, as they realize the ones who misbehave have gotten away with too much – and you’re right, the students who are misbehaving, are doing so because they CAN. I plan to do a lot of summer reading in your archives. Thank you for writing this blog – I want to enjoy being a teacher, and I want my students to enjoy learning in my class – my well managed class!

    • Michael Linsin May 30, 2015 at 6:07 pm #

      Hi Rebecca,

      I love hearing the determination in your words. It’s the first and often most important step. Way to go! Stick with what works and you’ll get exactly what you wish for.


  3. Pauline May 30, 2015 at 7:42 pm #

    As a Core French teacher in Ontario Canada, I deliver workshops on classroom management and behaviour management, as I know the difficulties facing rotary/itinerant teachers everyday. Many know what they need to do but not how to do it. So in my workshops, I demonstrate some systems for classroom and behaviour management that can help teachers make the classroom a well functioning and safe learning environment for all!

  4. Emily May 31, 2015 at 8:56 am #

    Love this philosophy and while I’m yet to be perfect at it, it seems to work!

    My question is when should a good teacher seek further help for difficult students, difficult students not being your typical troublemakers but those who through no fault if their own are simply in the wrong placement? Where’s the line between your basic classroom management and reassessing a student’s IEP?

  5. Emily May 31, 2015 at 8:59 am #

    I guess I’m asking, when should I just polish up my management and when do I recognize a student needs more help than I can realistically give? Any typical signs to look for?

    • Michael Linsin May 31, 2015 at 10:14 am #

      Hi Emily,

      This is a big question and an article for another day. I’ll be sure and put it on the list of future topics.


  6. Mark M June 3, 2015 at 7:41 pm #

    I teach 1st grade once a week for 60 minutes. Recently, my class got completely out of control. My kids have completely lost respect for me. I cant talk to the kids parents or send home letters. What can I do to keep control? Also any suggestions on how to make the class really fun? Please help!

    • Michael Linsin June 4, 2015 at 6:15 am #

      Hi Mark,

      We’ve written about these topics extensively. Please use the search function or peruse through the categories of the archive. You should have no trouble finding what you’re looking for. 🙂


  7. Kristen Munday May 3, 2016 at 11:56 am #

    This is very lovely in theory. My concern is this: how can one teacher hold every student accountable for every transgression… all day every day.

    I have twenty little six year olds, and no Educational Assistants, Early Childhood Educators, or classroom volunteers to help me. I hate letting the little things slide, but sometimes I have to because I need to prioritize problems as they arise. I have a strong classroom management program in place which is designed to hold students accountable for their actions, and to reward positive behaviour.

    But, the fact remains that if I stopped, held every student accountable every time they break a rule at any time, I would not have the time to teach. Plain and simple. I don’t see a realistic way around this. Do you?

    • Michael Linsin May 3, 2016 at 12:47 pm #

      Hi Kristen,

      It’s a sign that there is another area or principle of classroom management that needs strengthening. I am available for personal coaching if you’re interested in getting to the bottom of what that might be.


  8. RAE December 10, 2016 at 9:29 am #

    As a middle school teacher for 17 years I am seeing across my campus an out of control student body who have endured three different principal and assistant principals in three years. There have been inconsistent behavior plans ranging from zero campus consequences to having to make up our own behavior plans which means in each classroom the students have different rules. It has been horrible not only for our students but for staff, as well. Your blog is a godsend, thank you.

    • Michael Linsin December 10, 2016 at 10:18 am #

      You’re welcome, RAE.


  9. Mary December 10, 2016 at 9:44 am #

    I am curious about how these strategies work with intellectually challenged self contained elementary classes. Especially if I am a music teacher seeing a class once a week for 30-45 minutes.