Why Students Tattle And How To End It

Smart Classroom Management: Why Students Tattle And How To End ItTattling is annoying.

It’s disruptive.

It’s petty.

It wastes time and gets on your nerves.

We think of it as something students do to gain attention or get others in trouble.

So we wave them off. We send them back to their seat.

We tell them to worry about themselves and to mind their own business.

We discourage it and even go so far as to forbid it in our classroom.

But doing so is a mistake.

It’s a mistake because tattling—especially if it’s frequent—is a sign of poor classroom management.

Here’s why:

It reveals inconsistency.

Students tattle when they feel their right to learn and enjoy school is being trampled on. They become frustrated with disruptions or with classmates who don’t follow rules like they do.

They become frustrated with their teacher who promises to hold misbehaving students accountable but doesn’t always follow through.

So instead of taking matters into their own hands, they try to do the right thing.

They approach you to see if you’ll take care of the problem for them. They approach you to hold you accountable for enforcing the rules of the class.

It reveals inattention.

Tattling is a byproduct of a teacher who doesn’t pay close attention. It’s the result of a busy, scrambling teacher who doesn’t have time to observe.

Observation is a characteristic of exceptional teaching—not only because it allows you to learn in-depth about your students and adjust instruction, but it enables you to enforce your classroom management plan consistently.

It also sends the message that you’re watching, that you’re not asleep at the wheel, and that rules and procedures that save time and protect learning are expected to be followed.

It reveals confusion.

If students are unclear about what is expected, if they’re unsure what behavior or behaviors constitute breaking which part of your classroom management plan, then tattling will the result.

When students approach the teacher to tattle, it’s often their way of asking, “Is this behavior against the rules? (Or shouldn’t this behavior be against the rules?) And if so, why aren’t you doing something about it?”

This underscores the importance of teaching and modeling your classroom management plan in detail, so there are no doubts or misunderstandings.

It’s Not Them, It’s You

Teachers tend to chalk tattling up to neediness.

And while it’s true that some students are more apt to tattle than others, most tattling is the result of frustration with you.

They’re exposing a weakness in your teaching and offering you a clear sign that you need to shore up one or more of the three areas above.

Your best response when a student tattles is simply, “Thanks for letting me know. I promise I’ll take care of it.”

Then do it.

Do what you promised on the first day of school and hold your students accountable every time they stray outside the boundaries you established during the first week of school.

Follow through on your commitment to safeguard them from disruption, interruption, bullying, and the like.

Clarify through detailed modeling what is and isn’t okay.

Be observant and vigilant and defend the love of learning and being a member of your classroom.

And you’ll eliminate tattling from your classroom.

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46 Responses to Why Students Tattle And How To End It

  1. Gary May 28, 2016 at 1:16 am #

    Hi Michael,

    When students have tattled in my class, I’ve just told them to politely be quiet and get on task. My concern is if I didn’t see the bad behaviour how can I act on it? For instance if after putting his hand up and being acknowledged by me, Jack says “Teacher, Tom was using his mobile phone a moment ago”, how should I respond if I didn’t see it? I can’t prove that he did it. Should I tell Jack to talk to me after class about it and tell him to get back on task?

    How would you respond to this scenario?


    • Michael Linsin May 28, 2016 at 8:08 am #

      Hi Gary,

      Please check out my response to Maggie above. I’ll be sure to write about this topic again in the future.


  2. A teacher May 28, 2016 at 8:43 am #

    There are times that students tattle and it’s hard to know how to take care of it without telling them to ignore it and worry about themselves. Here are some common ones I hear a lot:

    – she won’t stop looking at me and making faces.

    – he flushed the toilet until it flooded

    – she wouldn’t play with me at recess (this one usually accompanied with sobbing)

    I know it’s very specific, but do you have suggestions for taking care of these? Thanks

  3. Donna May 29, 2016 at 5:58 pm #

    I disagree with this article as well. Some students just wait for the smallest thing to tattle on and it has nothing to do with management. A student can drop a pencil and another student can tattle about it being noise. I teach the difference between something being important and not. We can’t let students tell on every little thing. We’d be there all day listening to them and nothing would be accomplished in the classroom.

  4. Doris Palmer July 16, 2016 at 7:32 am #

    I totally agree with the author. The prohibition is not a true solution. Teachers should delve deeply into the problem and seek a rational solution. I like the old article from here which revealing the causes of tattle and proposes solutions http://www.smartclassroommanagement.com/2010/11/06/tattling-students/ so better add this link to this article too. – Lissa Wimberley from thesis writing service.