Have you ever noticed that it seems the harder you push back against difficult students, the more resolute they become? As strange as it may seem, resisting difficult students strengthens their behavior. Any first year teacher knows that no amount of scolding, detentions, whatever, work. It is like these students get on a destructive path and their egos become committed to seeing it through, sometimes to the point of expulsion from school. Even then, they will say the teacher or the principal had it in for them. They complain to family and friends that their teacher does not like them. It may even be true. I had teachers who did not like me. It did not stop me from getting a begrudging A in their class anyway. Now we all know we cannot change anybody. We can only change ourselves. We know this, but somehow it does not stop us from trying anyway.

A strange thing about human behavior is that the more we try to change a person, the more set in their ways the difficult person becomes. So give it up. Someone said the definition of insanity is continuing to do the same things that never work. At the same time, teachers cannot allow anarchy in their classrooms. Here is one approach to the dilemma. “Fighting” difficult students only makes them more difficult, so turn their behavior to a productive purpose. After butting heads with Jeremy, a seventh grader, a few times, I realized he was simply argumentative. One day as he was warming up to another major class disruption, I took him out into the hall. “What’s up with all this argument? ” I asked him. “I not arguing,” he answered. “I’m an independent thinker. I have my own opinions about things.” (With that I knew he had come out of some of that phony critical-thinking curriculum that’s out there, mixed in with some of that phony self-esteem stuff). I started with his own words.

“Okay, the whole point of education is to teach people to think, so I am really happy you value thinking and want to learn how to think. “That’s what I’m doing, he rejoined. “Well, actually what you are doing is just repeating your opinion, only more loudly. “So here’s the deal. The way you defend you opinion is by showing with facts and logic why your opinion is justified. For example, if I have a silly opinion like smoking cigarettes is good for health, just because I can say that louder than you can does not make the opinion right. I went on. “Next time you feel your opinion is being challenged, find one additional fact or piece of logic and share that in a voice lower than mine. That will also help your classmates learn to defend their opinions. Can we do that? Jeremy agreed. “We’ll have a secret symbol.

When you are starting to get loud, I”ll put my finger to my lips. It worked,but not instantly, and not without a little backsliding at first. 2. The one who throws your words at you. Double challenge: when his buddies back him up. Sometimes the student is honestly misremembering. Sometimes the student is hoping that since teachers talk so much, day in and day out, you will not possibly remember what you said. Sometimes you really did forget what you said. Getting into an argument about what you said or did not say is pointless. You need to know what you said. Most the of the time, the student is objecting to your enforcement of a class policy or points lost for not meeting one or more criteria of an assignment. You had already prepared by not only clearly presenting the class policies and assignments out loud, but also every student possesses the policies and assignments in writing. Calmly point out the relevant chapter and verse.

If the student is still being difficult, and especially in the company of friends, you may want to separate him from his support group before you talk to him. Or you may realize that the students are expressing a sense of powerlessness. Then discuss the objective of the policy or assignment, get agreement with the objective, and SINCERELY ask the students how they would like to go about reaching the objective. Finally, sincerely consider their views, and possibly modify the policy or assignment. 3. The one who complains all the time. Make these students your eyes and ears in the classroom. Students observe all the time that stuff goes on right under the noses of teachers and the teachers do not do anything about it. I once had a pair of students extorting money from their classmates everyday for weeks right under my nose. I knew something was going on.

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