How To Handle Students Who Question Your Methods

Smart Classroom Management: How To Handle Students Who Question Your MethodsWhy do we have to raise our hand?”

Why can’t we talk while we’re working?”

Why do we have to walk in line?”

The questions may be different, but they’re all meant to challenge your methods.

They’re meant to challenge your decisions, your motives, and in some cases, even your authority.

They’re often asked with an accusatory tone and always in front of the class.

You must be very careful how you respond.

Because if you become defensive, if you cross your arms and say “because I said so” or “because I’m the teacher,” you’ll put yourself at odds with your class.

Classroom management is most effective when students buy-in. It’s most effective when they believe you have their best interest at heart and appreciate what it’s like being in their shoes.

It’s most effective when they willingly go along with your methods.

Because, in this day and age, ‘my way or the highway’ doesn’t work. It merely seals your fate to a career of stress and battling with students.

So when a student questions your policies, procedures, rules, or expectations, it’s best to think of it as an opportunity to show that you put them first.

I wish you could call out whenever you wanted. That would be ideal. And if it was just a few of us, you could. But because there are 28 students in this class, it wouldn’t be fair to everyone.”

I understand what you’re saying, but one of my most important jobs is to protect your learning. Talking during independent work time, while everyone is trying to concentrate, is distracting.”

It would be fun to head down to lunch or the library in a big mob. I’m all for it. But unfortunately, we have to allow room in the hallway for others to pass by. We also have to be careful not to disturb classrooms along the way.”

By using the power of why, and appealing to the true reason behind your decisions, you can turn such questions around.

You can assure your class that everything you do has a purpose that benefits them, those around them, and the class as a whole.

A great many students believe that teachers enjoy bossing them around—because that’s the conclusion they draw when you don’t provide the ‘why’ of what you do.

The more open and transparent you are in explaining the logic of your methods, the more your students will embrace them.

So when you get a question that is meant to challenge you or throw you off your game, seize it. Welcome it.

You can even encourage it.

Please challenge me on anything. If you want to know why we’re doing this or that, please let me know. I’m happy to answer.”

It’s an approach that sets you apart and demonstrates the purity of your motives. It causes your students to swim with the tide rather than against it.

It proves your sincerity.

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28 Responses to How To Handle Students Who Question Your Methods

  1. chittem venkata reddy September 10, 2016 at 8:24 am #

    I am also having problem in my class room .please give me reply with good solution. I am teaching mathematics for 11th and 12th classes.

  2. Lynn September 10, 2016 at 8:24 am #

    As usual, a great article Michael. May I add that if you get a question to which there is no good rationale, perhaps it is time to rethink your reasoning as to whether that particular rule is necessary for that particular group? For instance, a class I had one year became a block schedule and some teachers in the school wanted to limit bathroom visits to a certain number of times a marking period. A parent questioned the policy, the teachers behind it said to explain that unless there was a medical necessity and a doctor’s note, the child was probably just stretching their legs and trying to take a break. As the in-class support teacher at the time, I explained this to the patient of the special ed student who was asking me about the new policy. The mother said, “So? 80 minutes is a long time for a child with ADD to sit without a break, maybe she does need to just stretch her legs.” And I thought, you know what, she’s right! For all the kids! They’re kids and that’s a long time! So from that point on, in that class and any other class I taught, I pretty much had a stretch break policy if you needed to take a quick walk around for a minute at an appropriate point in the lesson. My long-winded point is that we should always believe in our rules and be able to justify them, like you say in this article. Thanks for all your awesome advice.

    • Michael Linsin September 10, 2016 at 8:56 am #

      You’re welcome, Lynn. Good point.


    • Swade September 10, 2016 at 11:00 am #

      Love this insight! Thank you for sharing Lynn. I looked at my class this year as opposed to last year and my students are not abusing the privilege. This is truly a case where allowing the students a bit of freedom just might be appropriate. Thank you again!

  3. Darlene September 10, 2016 at 1:48 pm #

    I started reading your articles this summer in preparation for moving from a middle income level school to one in a poverty- stricken community. After the first week, teachers who’d been in the school for a long time could not believe how transformed the students in my class had become. Even better, I have 5th graders who draw pictures for me, write friendly notes at the bottom of their homework ( yes, 90% of them complete it) and tell me that school is actually fun. While my teammates struggle with truancy, I’ve only had two absences so far, and one was a documented doctor’s appointment. You are impacting so many students’ lives for the better!

    • Michael Linsin September 10, 2016 at 3:06 pm #

      Awesome. So good to hear, Darlene. Way to go!


    • Jonathan September 11, 2016 at 8:00 am #

      That’s great! I love hearing stories like this.

  4. Angela September 10, 2016 at 6:42 pm #

    Thank you for this insightful article Michael! I believe that learning should be meaningful and purposeful for students but I had never considered explaining the purpose of my classroom management plan to them in the same way. I can see how this approach would reduce the arguments and increase cooperation. Thanks!

    • Michael Linsin September 11, 2016 at 6:38 am #

      You’re welcome, Angela.


  5. Kapa September 10, 2016 at 9:10 pm #

    I’m finding the better my classroom management is getting, the greatest opposition is coming from other teachers rather than students, especially in team teaching situations. Is there an article on how to deal with other teachers who resist and undermine these techniques, especially in front of students, even though I am getting results? By undermine I mean after I have implemented something they chime in with a lecture or when I’m about to be transparent with a student the other teacher will say “you follow rules; don’t question them.” If I say something to the student then I don’t want to undermine the other teacher even if I don’t agree with them.

    • Michael Linsin September 11, 2016 at 6:39 am #

      Hi Kapa,

      It’s a common problem, and a good suggestion for a future article. I’ll put it on the list.


    • Jeffrey C. Sandberg September 12, 2016 at 8:07 am #

      I find the same thing when my students have success in their to content area. This is refreshing to hear.

  6. Nicky Griffin-Appadoo September 11, 2016 at 3:45 am #

    I have a questioning student who likes to challenge everything and is downright rude at times. We were looking at travel and tourism as our topic and I mentioned that you can get a free tour of Singapore if you have a long enough wait time between planes. He clearly did not believe me, he has made it plain that he has difficulty believing what I tell him. I told him one day he may pass through Singapore and make use of it and he replied “and pigs might fly”. Another time I was taking them on an excursion to look at tourist sites locally and he asked if I were going to treat them. I said it’s already a treat to be going out for the day and that was his treat with all the tickets being paid by the school. He just then asked if I were going to personally put my hand in my pocket and shout them to anything. I just tell him to stop being cheeky but I feel my response is inadequate and doesn’t stop this rudeness and disruption from happening. Help please.

    • Michael Linsin September 11, 2016 at 8:11 am #

      Hi Nicky,

      If the student is calling out and being disrespectful, then following your classroom management plan is the best course of action. For more on how to do this, search “disrespect” (top right-hand corner of page) and you’ll find many articles on this topic.


  7. Roman September 11, 2016 at 10:11 am #

    Thank you so much for this article, I have been waiting for this, I misunderstood in the past and thought I should never discuss my classroom management plan with my students, I thought Michael discouraged me from doing so, but I must have misunderstood. Now my only question regarding the topic of “explaining why” – some of my students doubt it is necessary to give warnings, as other teachers never do so and still handle the class gracefully. Michael wrote once: “They (naturals) walk into a classroom and somehow, mysteriously, the students just know to be at their best.” I have a few colleagues like this so some students consider my management method weak and proving that I cannot handle them without this “strange, unnatural method”. What do I say to them, sorry, I am not a natural, so I need this method, unlike my more successful colleagues? I feel as if I put myself in the loser category by having to give them warnings. This is about 16 year old students mostly. Otherwise, the methods work wonderfully, just this little thing that I cannot explain to them or myself…

  8. Reyhane September 11, 2016 at 1:25 pm #

    Hi Michael

    Thank you for your really good articles.I’m a new teacher.I’m 21 years old and I’m teaching English.I’m from Iran. Please tell me what should I do with my busy students?


    • Michael Linsin September 11, 2016 at 3:14 pm #

      Hi Reyhane,

      I’m happy you like the articles. If you mean busy like distracted, then the key to get them back on track is with compelling lessons. Your voice and personality also play a role. I’ve written about these topics in the past, but will be sure and cover them in the future.


  9. Ane September 12, 2016 at 9:41 pm #

    I work as a guest teacher and always put my 4 expectations on the board for all Ss to see:
    1. Stay in your own seat
    2. Raise a quiet hand (older Ss “Use appropriate actions and words”)
    3. Follow directions the first time given
    4. Voice lever “0” or “1”

    If anyone asks why I write them, or say ” we already have rules” I say: “they are there because sometimes when ms jones is absent, some of us might forget the rules. So, if you forget what to do, just look up here”. That generally work and if anyone forgets (and they will) I gently refer them to the number on the board.

  10. Helen September 13, 2016 at 8:50 pm #

    How to make a child read, what is the best way to make it easy for them

  11. Tibeb September 30, 2016 at 7:29 am #

    Hi Michael: What if they keep asking questions to the point of taking up 1 or more class periods? I can’t continue to welcome questions in this scenario because I see the students (8th grade) only once a week. Thanks

    • Michael Linsin September 30, 2016 at 7:56 am #

      Hi Tibeb,

      This underscores the importance of being clear, communicative, and transparent in all you do. They should have very few, if any, questions.


  12. Denise October 8, 2016 at 4:55 pm #

    I’ve tried this. It works great, if the students actually want to know why they have to do something. Unfortunately more often than not their motivation is not to understand why. :/

  13. Heidi October 9, 2016 at 11:14 am #

    Another great benefit of allowing and working with the challenging questioning is that the authority figure may actually realize that a change actually does need to be made.

    In the book, “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High” conversations are compared to a pool of shared understanding, each participant can add information to help, poison the pool or withhold information. It is incredibly amazing to see a leader be strong and humble and ask for clarification when his or her methods are questioned. And, if necessary, change. Very cool.

  14. Arif October 17, 2016 at 6:24 am #

    Hi Mr Linsin.

    I am Arif from an NGO in Malaysia (named Projek Ihsan) that focusing on the welfare of the under-privileged kids education. I found out that your article is very useful with regards of our situation especially when the situation occurred in the sample above frequently happen during the time our volunteer doing the extra-classes for these kids. And we struggled to overcome this obstacles too.

    I would like to ask for your permission to translate this article to our native language in Malaysia so that our volunteer (and community too) can utilise this useful tips. We will include your name as well as the sole writer of this article and the link to this page. Your respond is much appreciated.

    Best regards,
    Projek Ihsan,

    • Michael Linsin October 17, 2016 at 7:58 am #

      Hi Arif,

      For this single article, and as long as you don’t charge for it, yes, you may translate the article above.


      • Arif October 17, 2016 at 8:51 am #

        Thank you. Will update to you later the link of the translated article when it is done. And do not worry, it is non-profit initiative. 😀

        • Arif October 22, 2016 at 11:22 am #

          Hi Mr Linsin. Here is the update of the translated article. The language is Bahasa Melayu (Malaysia).

          Thank you for this knowledge.

          • Michael Linsin October 22, 2016 at 12:52 pm #

            You’re welcome, Arif.