How To Handle A Student Who Questions You With Disrespect

Smart Classroom Management: How To Handle A Student Who Questions You DisrespectfullyIt’s among the most requested topics we have yet to cover.

How do you handle a student who questions you, your decisions, or the way you run your classroom?

How do you respond when you know their motives are less than pure?

When you know they’re just trying to get under your skin.

Or worse, trying to get the class to turn against you.

The “question” usually comes out of left field, catching you off guard.

It’s almost always public, confrontational, and in the form of a challenge:

“Why can’t we just leave our seats when we feel like it?”

“Why do we have to be silent while we work?”

“Don’t you think it’s mean to make us do our essays over and over again?”

With more than a tinge of attitude, the student is clearly being disrespectful. But because it’s cloaked in the guise of a question, enforcing a consequence straightaway would likely only add fuel to their fire.

It would only prove their point—in their mind, anyway, as well as in front of the class—that you’re mean and unfair.

On the other hand, it’s hard to know what to say. It’s hard not to come across as angry, flustered, or defensive. So how should you handle it?

Here’s how in three easy steps:

1. Defer

It’s best not to respond to their question—at least not right away. Instead, defuse the tension in the room by deferring your answer to a later time.

Say, “I appreciate your question, but now’s not a good time. Let’s finish this lesson first, and when I get a chance, we can talk.”

Then move on as if nothing happened. Refuse to give them the forum to air their grievances or drag you into an argument in front of the class.

2. Wait

Wait at least twenty minutes before approaching the student. This way, you give them a chance to calm down and rethink the manner in which they posed their question.

Waiting also shifts control of the situation to you.

During this time, it’s important to formulate a simple, direct, and honest response that demonstrates how the rule or policy in question benefits them—as well as every student in the class.

3. Approach

Avoid pulling the student aside for a private chat or otherwise making the situation bigger and more important than it is.

Just approach them where they are, smile, and deliver your prepared line:

“You must raise your hand before leaving your seat because it protects every student from disruption. It’s also best for learning.”

“We must be quiet while we’re working because every student has a right to concentrate without interruption.”

“Rewriting is an important part of the writing process that will improve your essay and make you a better writer.”

Follow up with another smile and a quick, “Now get back to work.” Then turn and be on your way.

The Importance of Why

The three-step strategy will defuse tension and hostility, allow you to take control of the situation, and provide an effective response to their question.

It will reinforce the message that you know what you’re doing and that you base your decisions on what’s best for them.

Handling it this way is honest.

It’s clear and true and reestablishes the roles of student and teacher. It also effectively eliminates future challenges to your authority.

However, it’s important to note that the incident itself is a sign that you’re not adequately explaining the why of what you do.

Why is so important.

Because when your students know why they must work silently or raise their hand or rewrite essays, or follow any other rule, policy, or procedure . . .

They’re far more willing, and even eager, to go along with it.

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18 Responses to How To Handle A Student Who Questions You With Disrespect

  1. Mary Ann S October 7, 2017 at 7:51 am #

    Does this include ” You can’t tell me what to do!” When you give a quick warning to a student to keep his voice down?

  2. Susan Nesbitt October 7, 2017 at 10:38 am #

    How to handle preK students who refuses to do whatever he wants.

  3. Jonatan Sanchez Martin October 7, 2017 at 11:19 am #

    Hello Michael, thank you for sharing this plan for a common problem every school year. I have learned with you how important is to time our response when dealing with difficult students.

    • Michael Linsin October 7, 2017 at 2:50 pm #

      You’re welcome, Jonatan. So true, a common denominator when dealing with difficult students.

      Michael

  4. Linda October 7, 2017 at 2:42 pm #

    How do you respond to a 3 1/2 year preschooler who is in everybodies face including teachers and raising his fist at teachers.

  5. Captain Kevin October 7, 2017 at 7:04 pm #

    I got paddled by the vice principal when I was in 7th grade. That was the last time I misbehaved in school. Oh for the good old days!!

  6. Mary October 7, 2017 at 8:03 pm #

    This is very helpful!

  7. anna October 8, 2017 at 12:24 am #

    Thanks for all your plans. I’im on this site several times a week – and I must say that I agree with almost everything you write Michael. But I would not go for step 1 and 2 here, I think the student deserves a an a short and honest, direct answer right away, so I would chose step 3.

    Best regards from Anna, Denmark

  8. Will October 8, 2017 at 7:45 am #

    What about the student who will not wait for the response?

  9. Karen October 8, 2017 at 11:50 am #

    I am going to try this. However, here’s MY problem, sometimes I forget!!!! I agree that students deserve an explanation because it’s important to be fair.

  10. Pamela October 8, 2017 at 4:59 pm #

    Great article for young and seasoned teachers alike. I have found that these steps do work. Plus, the wait time allows the adults to formulate next steps without going off half-cocked. Sometimes the simplest of responses is the best.

  11. Georgia October 9, 2017 at 1:11 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    I have a small class of 10 students mostly ESE students. There are a few students with big behavioral issues but they are fine with me for the most part which I believe is because I always smile and am kind. I have written before… my problem like most people being inconsistency. Well this small class went from half spanish speaking students to all English. It is my fault but before I was kind of letting a couple kids who knew and enjoyed math a lot to call out the answers. I let them know I appreciated it but that I would like for them to raise their hand to give others a chance. One student has a behavioral plan that includes not calling out. I am re-starting this week with rules and procedures, as they were unclear sometimes why they were getting checkmarks etc. due to my inconsistency. I agreed and this week like I said we have slowed down the math to go over rules and procedures. Now that I am having everyone raise their hand before speaking, I am getting a lot of push back from this student that used to love my class. He keeps saying I am “Aggravating” “he hates this class now” etc. I understand the frustration so I don’t get mad or anything but I am hoping that my consistency will make them all enjoy the class more in the end. It’s hard because I appreciate that he’s actually trying and comfortable with speaking in front of the class, but him and his partner will just continue calling out not realizing how that doesnt give everyone else time. Tomorrow I plan on doing what you said in another post… get in their seat and demonstrate calling out to show how ridiculous it is. I can’t help but feel bad that my class seems “boring” now that there is no calling out. But I know it’s only fair to everyone else. This is the class I want to really do what you are saying on this website with and stay consistent all year long. I need to hold myself accountable. It is just hard when it moves into an interesting discussion on “wait so what is the right answer?” and people want to naturally just start talking and add their thoughts but even in a group of 10 its only fair and polite to raise your hand EVERY time you want to say something?

  12. Liuda October 16, 2017 at 1:26 pm #

    Hi, Michael! Thanks for your articles! I would be very grateful if you write post about students who often notice rule breaking faster than you and say something like “Teacher, a warning for him, because he broke rule #1! Should I just discuss this type of behaviour an unacceptable?
    Many thanks.

    • Michael Linsin October 16, 2017 at 4:05 pm #

      Hi Liuda,

      Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll be sure to put it on the list of future articles.

  13. kellie October 20, 2017 at 4:46 pm #

    Thank you for the insight Michael, as a first-year teacher I find your advice extremely helpful 🙂

    • Michael Linsin October 21, 2017 at 10:10 am #

      You’re welcome, Kellie! I’m so glad you’re enjoying the articles.

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