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5 Surefire Tips for Handling Misbehavior

5 Surefire Tips for Handling Misbehavior

Joel |

How do I handle students who always test the rules? I basically give the kids a free pass to misbehave once before getting in trouble. I give a warning at the beginning of the year and from then on, any misbehavior is fair game to punishment.

When I first was learning how to do it, I would have the kids call home and tell whoever answered the phone what they did. I learned quickly to ensure that they knew what they had done wrong before calling. Otherwise it was, “umm, hi, my teacher wants to talk to you.” That was far less effective than “I interrupted the class twice today without permission.”

Parents generally like it when you or their kids call them to let them know of misbehavior. The ones whose parents don’t care will usually be the ones who continue to give you trouble. Detention doesn’t work. They view it as penance for their misbehavior rather the correction. So just how do you handle those lovable bundles of joy you hate to love, love to hate, and yet hate to hate?

Here are some things that I do.

1. Remain in control

Be in control of your anger. Be in control of your actions. Stephen Covey calls responsibility the ability to respond. Children react. Adults respond. Preempt problems by knowing what might happen and how you will respond.

2. Accept responsibility when you are wrong

Children will misbehave much less when they know that you are fully aware that you’re not perfect. The testing the limits is often their way of showing off for other students. When you don’t give them a chance to prove you wrong, then you remove a chance for them to show off.

3. Do not make empty threats

If I tell a student that something will happen, I have to be sure that it will. The exception is listed below. If you tell a student they will lose X privilege, they will lose it. On the rare occasion that I make this exception, I will talk with the student privately and explain to them that they totally do not deserve to do X because of their misbehavior. I then introduce the concept of grace — getting something we do not deserve. I will then go on to explain how my allowing them to do X is an example of grace given to them. I make sure they know I respect them and know they will not let me down again.

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4. Add levity to a tense situation

Come up with creative expletives. One of my high school math teachers would literally say “Bad Words!” when we did something she didn’t like. I’ve known people who just use nonsensical words (e.g. dinglehopper, flarfenations). Call a student by a (non-offensive) nickname. Here is where I may do an empty threat if it’s not a confrontational situation. It really depends on the age of the student here. I have, with a smile, threatened to meet the offender by the bike racks or flagpole after school to settle it. I had a student once who was constantly making noises with his trumpet mouthpiece. I told him if he didn’t stop, I would take it off his trumpet, beat him over the head with it, and shove it up his nose. Obviously I wasn’t going to do this… The key to any of these is in the delivery. The smile must be present, and genuine.

5. Say what you have to say and move on

Don’t even give them a chance to respond. “Alfredo, I’ve already told you to stop talking. Don’t talk, don’t respond! Thank you. Now let’s open our books to page 14…” Shuts them up faster than most anything else. When the spotlight is turned off so quickly, they have no idea what to do about it.


Of course, there are also times when they like to occupy the corner. Misbehaving students do not belong in the same setting as students who care. Bad behavior and bad attitudes are like cancer. They must be aggressively cut off as soon as possible because they spread so quickly. A student who chooses not to participate correctly, even after effort has been made to refocus him, must be removed from the position to rob other students of their education. The corner is sometimes the best place for that.

Read more about class management techniques.

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