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Classroom Discipline Tips: Dealing with Difficult Students & Parents

Classroom Discipline Tips: Dealing with Difficult Students & Parents
Recently Teaching collected discipline questions from members. Veteran teacher and author of First Year Teacher’s Survival Guide, Julia Thompson, answered questions with helpful suggestions. Browse the questions below to find answers to questions that can help you be more prepared to handle difficult situations.


What do you do with students who are disrespectful?

Every teacher has to deal with disrespectful students. While no two situations are alike, perceptive teachers can find ways to manage the situation. First of all, refuse to take the disrespect personally. Keep in mind that the child does not really know you as a person and is responding as a child would—childishly. Next, work to minimize the disruption in your classroom. Depending on the degree of disrespect—from rolling eyes and heavy sighs to loud remarks, you can choose to keep everyone else as on task as possible. Deal with the misbehaving student personally and in private whenever you can. When you do speak with the student, resist the urge to engage in a verbal battle. Instead, take a problem-solving approach. Work to solve the original problem and usually the student will volunteer an apology. Even if the child does not apologize, when the behavior improves, be glad. You won. Even better, the child is on the right path.


What should you do if you have a behavior problem with a student and the parent refuses to believe that their child misbehaves?

When parents and teachers don’t work together, everyone loses. Unfortunately, this can happen to any teacher at just about any time. If you have done everything you can to build a positive relationship with the parents of your students and if a parent still refuses to believe you or work with you, then you need to speak to a supervisor or administrator about the situation. (It would certainly be best to do this before the parent does.) Ask for assistance and advice. Be very careful to maintain meticulous documentation. Also, grit your teeth and continue to treat the parent with respect, dignity, and professional courtesy. You have nothing to lose if you do this. Finally, and really, most important—keep in mind your larger goal: the welfare of the child. Don’t let a conflict with a parent affect the positive relationship that you want to maintain with all of the children in your class.

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I just read an interesting article about “helicopter parents” who are causing problems for colleges and universities by being too involved with their kids’ day to day activities at school, which prevents the kids from learning to fend for themselves. Is there a similar concept to “helicopter parents” for grade school / high school children? Do these overbearing parents cause problems for their children later in life?

Helicopter parents have driven teachers nuts for decades. In an article I read recently, parents were filling out g-r-a-d-u-a-t-e school applications for their children. I mean…really, graduate school? Anyway, helicopter parents are those overeager, anxiety-ridden folks who do their child’s science fair projects, scream at Little League games, and write term papers. If you are a teacher, there is at least one student in your class with these parents. I don’t know if they cause problems later in life (although the graduate school application may be a clue), but they sure can cause problems while their child is in school. Children who are, for want of a better term, over-nurtured, do not really develop the self-confidence and perseverance that they need to lead successful lives. If you are a parent, it is heartbreaking to watch your child struggle at anything, but struggle is what makes us strong. Even though helicopter parents usually have good intentions, they can do a great deal of damage in the name of those good intentions. As teachers, though, we have to be very tactful in how we approach these parents. Direct confrontation has never worked well for me. I try to bolster the child’s confidence. I do this over and over. A true helicopter parent is not going to be easily deterred, though. Just keep working with the child. Sounds too simple to work, but it does.


I teach in an international school in Lagos Nigeria, it really appears as many a kid in high school are too exposed to the mass media too early in life and unable to concentrate on anything in particular. A craving for an easy life seems the undercurrent- any activity designed for a learning task is taken as ‘boring’. This translates into noise making, disrespect for class orders and teachers. what other means does the teacher have hold the class in control for the benefit of the serious students?

In America we know exactly what you mean. Our students are the same way. In order to reach students, we need to reach them where they are. While you should not pander to their whims, it is important to help them see the importance of learning. I work with my students to set short and long range goals (some of my students can be as unruly as yours, I believe, and for the same reasons). I make sure they know WHY they have to do the work—how they will benefit. I also work hard to make the assignments as appealing to them as possible. I try to motivate them to do their work by using real-life problems and examples, by making the abstract as concrete as possible, and by using their interests whenever I can. I work hard—really hard—to build a solid connection with each of my students. I want them to have a better life. Even those students who are really unruly often want the boundaries and structures that school can bring. As for the students who care—try to focus on them more than you focus on the misbehaving students. Sooner or later, you can turn it around. Try every single trick you can to motivate and then keep on trying some more. Your students need you.


What do you do with high schoolers who are apathetic? How do you manage them without taking away from the rest of the class?

I have problems with this, too. I am sure that we all do. Try to make them feel as if their contribution is important to the class and that they are valuable to its success. Involve them in group work and project-based learning whenever you can. Also, involve their parents if you think that would help. High schoolers have that too-cool-for-school attitude, but really, no one wants to fail. I try to focus on the kids who care and try to find out why the others don’t care. Then, it can be a one-on-one solution. Good luck, Elana, we all face this.


What about high school kids that mouth back and their parents do, too? Do you get the administration involved?

You bet. And don’t you just hate it when this happens!? I really do work with kids one on one with this problem. I am not above telling them that it hurts my feelings and that “they are better than that.” I try to find out why they talked back. Sometimes, it is a habit. And when the parents are rude, well, no surprise that the child is too. If a parent becomes confrontational, IMMEDIATELY contact an administrator. I do like to talk to an administrator before parents get there so he or she can hear my side of the story. By the way, you are welcome, Elana—our messages crossed!


What do you do with a child who continually has outbursts in the class that interrupts lessons?

First, you need to find out why the child is making these outbursts. One you know the reason or cause, then you can begin to solve the problem. Even with older students (I have taught high school for years) I work with them one on one and then bring in parents. I do try to make the child understand the negative impact of the outbursts. Even though it is almost impossible, try to ignore as much as you can. Put the child in a spot where others can’t be bothered as much and get on with business. Often, an outburst is a way of seeing attention and power. If you can give that child both of those in advance, you can channel the negative energy.


How do you approach a parent that thinks their child has a behavior problem but you think it may be more serious- like a learning disability? I’m a new teacher and don’t really know about this.

If you have a child whom you might think has a learning disability, talk to a counselor right away. Talk to your mentor, too if you can. The sooner a child is identified, the better.

What do you do with a chatterbox classroom? Share your strategies now.

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