Many of us become teachers in part because we are interested in the pastoral care aspect of the job. We care about our students and we want to make a difference to their lives. Occasionally, we encounter the odd student that makes our commitment to the class a little more challenging … and sometimes we come away feeling frustrated and demotivated to maintain our passion for the job.

In my previous post, I looked at five ways of dealing with students that display challenging behaviour which I’ve found useful.

Here are five more:

  1. Reflect on what it is that makes that student difficult
    Why do you classify that particular student as the difficult one? What is it about their behaviour that you find challenging? Is it because they are not participating in your classes? Why do you think they might be doing this?

    Sometimes, students might seem difficult because they are not fulfilling an expectation that we have of what we think makes a ‘good student’. And these expectations we have might be due to our cultural filters and the norms that we are used to. However, take a moment to consider the possible differences in expectations. Perhaps the student is not participating because they consider active participation as showing off and being boisterous? Perhaps a student is not making eye contact out of respect? Perhaps they are interrupting constantly because they operate according to different turn-taking rules in their communities? Perhaps they are openly disagreeing with you in order to show their willingness for open discussions?

    How could your perceptions be leading you to think that a student is being difficult when actually they might simply be operating under different norms from you?

  2. Get to know them
    Sometimes the best way to deal with challenging behaviour is for us to try and understand where it’s coming from. I once had a one-to-one student in her late teens who refused to say more than three words to any of her teachers. It took me more than a fortnight, but when she eventually opened up, it became clear that she begrudged her parents for sending her away for English classes in the UK every summer because she’d much rather spend her school holidays with her friends having fun.

    By getting to know our students, asking the right questions and listening to them, we can find out so much about their backgrounds, their motivations, and their lives outside the classroom. Our ability to empathise means that we can put their behaviour in context and better deal with it, but it also means that the student would feel like they are better understood and would therefore become more willing to cooperate.

  3. Speak to the student privately about how their behaviour is affecting the class
    If you find the challenging behaviour persisting, consider dealing with the matter in a more direct way. Speak to them about their behaviour and find out how aware they are of the impact of their behaviour on the class. However, try to do this privately outside of class time, and not in front of other students. Shaming them and taking their face away is not a good strategy when trying to get them to cooperate (especially if they are adults!).

  4. Engage them in the lessons
    I had a teacher trainee on one of my technology courses who had huge issues with some of her students who constantly had their heads buried in their mobile phones and were consequently not paying any attention to what was going on in class. She strongly felt that employing the use of mobile phones during a lesson would encourage this behaviour and was extremely skeptical of any classroom activity that had students using mobile devices. However, as we started exploring the more engaging activities, she became convinced that the way to stop her students from being absorbed in Snapchat and Instagram was to engage them fully in the lesson.

    If your issue with the student’s behaviour is their level of participation and attention to the lesson, consider tapping into what motivates them. Make your classes so engaging that it becomes difficult for them not to participate and enjoy their lessons.

  5. Stay calm and be respectful
    When dealing with challenging behaviour, we can feel awfully affronted and it can be extremely difficult not to let our emotions get the better of us. Challenging behaviour can be annoying, frustrating and even offensive, but we must be aware of the emotions such behaviour is triggering in us and remind ourselves to remain calm and to model the respectful behaviour that we are expecting from our students. Shouting and getting angry with students is not exactly an ideal way of getting them to cooperate and improve their behaviour.


In my previous blogpost, I specified that I mainly taught adults (some of whom are very young) and therefore the above tips might or might not be applicable to younger learners. In a humorous conversation with a fellow parent, I was once told that the negotiation techniques often recommended to parents for dealing with difficult toddlers resembles the techniques used to negotiate with terrorists.

I’m in no way equating our more challenging students to terrorists, but I do wonder how different the methods we use to deal with younger learners with challenging behaviour are as opposed to the ones we employ with adults that have challenging behaviour. In your experience, what are the differences? Do share them in the comment section below!