How To Handle Students Who Misbehave Behind Your Back

Smart Classroom Management: How To Handle Students Who Misbehave Behind Your BackIt can be especially frustrating.

You’re working with a group or helping an individual student.

Perhaps you’re walking the perimeter of your classroom, observing and looking over shoulders.

Then you hear a burst of chatter and giggling just out of your view.

You look up or turn, but nothing seems amiss. At least, nothing blatant.

But you know there were students misbehaving. You know there were students off task and taking advantage of a moment when your back was turned.

You even know who it was, pretty certain anyway, because you can see it on their faces. They’re now looking at you and others are looking in their direction.

But you hesitate to enforce a consequence because you aren’t absolutely sure. Plus, they know you didn’t see them, which could embolden them to lie and deny.

So what should you do?

Well, because behind-the-back misbehavior often feels like it’s at your expense, and therefore disrespectful, many teachers get fired up about it.

A seed of anger rises inside them and they can’t help but confront those they believe are responsible.

So they stomp over and question. They warn and threaten. They pit one student against another to try to coerce a confession.

All to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

But this is a remarkably stressful approach that risks building a wall of resentment with students who may or may not even be guilty. Besides, there is no guarantee you’ll get to the bottom of it.

You will, however, bring tension into your classroom and may very well have nothing to show for it—with the offenders getting away scot-free.

When students misbehave behind your back, or just out of your view, it takes a subtle, even sly, approach to identify the culprits and hold them accountable.

It takes pretending that you didn’t even notice their misbehavior.

You see, if at first you do nothing at all, if you show no reaction or change in routine or behavior, it’s a surefire guarantee that they’re going to do it again—usually within seconds.

But this time, you’re going to catch them in the act. You’re going to use your teacherly sense to choose the right moment to shoot a hidden glance in their direction.

You’re going to heighten your awareness, finely tune your hearing and peripheral vision, and position yourself so you can anticipate their antics.

You may even move further away from them or put your head down to trigger their misbehavior. It can take an Oscar-winning performance, but eventually you’ll witness the whole shebang.

You’ll have them dead to rights and be able to enforce a consequence without stress, drama, or the prospect of having to prove their misbehavior.

No arguing, battling, or threatening. Just pure accountability.

It’s your job to see misbehavior, to protect every student’s right to learn and enjoy school. Vigilant supervision is a prerequisite of effective classroom management.

But there are times when the pelota gets by the goalkeeper. And when it does, you can still catch them in the act.

You can still follow through.

You can still prove that you really do have eyes in the back of your head.

PS – A quick update: We’re in the filming stages of our new online course called The Total Classroom Management Makeover. Enrollment will open for one week only in early June. More details to follow.

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.


18 Responses to How To Handle Students Who Misbehave Behind Your Back

  1. Mrs. Anna Nichols April 8, 2017 at 7:56 am #

    Right on! If I am experiencing this I will write student’s names on a clipboard, Post-It note, or on the board as a warning. In middle school, it is usually easy to tell who is doing it, especially if it is a class I’ve had for a while and I’m familiar with the students. Just the simple act of writing down names is extremely effective – it doesn’t stop the flow of teaching, the behavior is addressed and not ignored, and the kids respond in kind. Disruptions are instantly taken care of! Thank you for another terrific article!

  2. Maria April 8, 2017 at 8:33 am #

    I’m very excited to hear that you are creating an online video course. Reading your instructions is one thing, but if you actually can show a teacher interacting with students (actors?) I believe I will gain a much better understanding.

    • Michael Linsin April 8, 2017 at 12:02 pm #

      Hi Maria,

      I’m so glad you’re excited about the course! I’m excited too. It’s something new for me. To be clear, the video lessons are of me teaching the course, not teaching students in a classroom.


      • Eric April 10, 2017 at 9:39 am #

        We all would LOVE to see you teaching students in a classroom!

        • Michael Linsin April 10, 2017 at 10:01 am #

          Hi Eric,

          I’m glad you think so. I would love to be able to do it. Unfortunately, as a public school teacher, it isn’t possible—legally or ethically. However, the online course is designed in such a way that anyone can and will be able to implement what they learn and enjoy immediate success.


  3. Crystal Webster April 8, 2017 at 9:10 am #

    This happened just yesterday!!! It fell apart just like you described—learning lost, tension, #epicfail .
    These email articles have helped me survive a first year in a new position with 6th graders in an urban school setting with 80-85% economically disadvantaged & 60% enter reading in a 3rd-4th grade level!!! I’ve been teaching almost 25 years, mostly in suburban or rural-suburban schools. THIS year was a new paradigm & the learning curve big, but I’ve been able to make CRM shifts a little at a time, a day at a time, one email/article at a time!!!
    I’m looking forward to the next 8 weeks being better a little every day, to next year starting fresh & with a new plan & to your TCRMM video to build a Smartly Managed Classroom! THANK YOU!!!

    • Michael Linsin April 8, 2017 at 12:07 pm #

      You’re welcome, Crystal! The course will walk you step by step through exactly what you need to do (or not do) to create the well-behaved class you really want.


  4. Liz April 8, 2017 at 10:16 am #

    “…an Oscar-winning performance…” Your articles are fantastic and I love the humor you weave into them. Thank you for continuing to update and provide real-world suggestions. I use many, many of your strategies in my classroom. I think you help cultivate a certain mindset that leads to less stress and more enjoyment in teaching–thank you!

    • Michael Linsin April 8, 2017 at 12:08 pm #

      It’s my great pleasure, Liz! Thank you.


  5. Mohamed from Morocco April 8, 2017 at 10:44 am #

    I’ve been asked to answer a tricky question in an interview about misbehavior. The question is : one of your students says that the lesson is boring! How would you react to this?

    Please give me a good answer Mr Linsin. Thanks
    Elgamrouni from Morocco.

  6. Christine April 8, 2017 at 12:27 pm #

    Great post! And I learned a new word, I had to look up pelota.

    • Michael Linsin April 8, 2017 at 1:54 pm #

      Thanks Christine!


  7. Jeanie McCallum April 8, 2017 at 4:41 pm #

    Thank you, Michael,
    I am always grateful for your common sense thinking and helpful articles. Very excited about the online course too. A great way to get across the geography; knew you would get to NZ one day.

    • Michael Linsin April 8, 2017 at 5:40 pm #

      Thanks Jeanie! Indeed, but I’d love to visit.


  8. Laurie Preston April 8, 2017 at 8:25 pm #

    I cannot wait for the summer course. Your common sense approach has not only made me a happier and much better teacher, but our entire elementary school is seeing a big difference! We always say that we have to channel our “inner Michael” before we begin our class! I am so grateful I found you and I’m sure my students would say the same! Thank you for all you do!

  9. Jean Zimmermann April 9, 2017 at 7:07 am #

    When this happens in my classroom, I usually just make a blanket statement that the side conversations need to stop because it’s not polite to interrupt others who are working.

  10. Shara April 9, 2017 at 12:40 pm #

    Hello Michael,
    Thank you very much for this article. My students (college) make fun of me discreetly. I sense them commenting to each other about what I say, how I talk, and smiling (not in a good way). It is not open disrespect, I cannot hold them accountable for quietly smiling to each other, but I am sure that the smiles are at my expense. This is just a few students in each class, but they give a bad example to others.
    I use storytelling as you recommend, but they don’t seem interested, and make fun of this too. I suspect that they see me as too idealistic, naive, obnoxious. I suspect my speaking out against drugs and consumerism in class (related to my topic) rubbed them the wrong way- this is a very consumerist, brand crazy upper class private school. What am I doing wrong? Is it my own excitability passing on to them? Their continuous fun-making is wearing out my desire to be a good teacher to them.

    I am pretty consistent with the classroom management, but this is something difficult to address with classroom rules (“don’t smile at your neighbors with quiet comments during the college lecture?”??)

    Please advise! What section of the website I should read more? Why are they doing this?

    • Michael Linsin April 9, 2017 at 3:32 pm #

      Hi Shara,

      I definitely understand your concern and why it troubles you. I have not written an article on this topic, but you’re right, it’s not something that you would address with a rule or set of rules. However, I would need to speak with you personally, and ask questions of my own, before I could offer reliable advice. I have a couple openings this week if you’re interested in personal coaching. Rest assured, you’re not alone. I’ve coached a number of college instructors who’ve been frustrated by similar behavior.