Learning to work with difficult students

When you find a solution that works, it’s an incredible feeling

~ By Marin

Having 12 classes that total over 450 students is definitely a challenge. The numbers alone are enough to make anyone a little wary. The majority of my students are eager to learn and like coming to school, but there are a couple in every classroom that either do not enjoy being at school, are having a bad day, or have some type of obstacle that impedes their learning. These kids typically end up causing distractions and derail classes. Learning how to work with these kids has been even more of a challenge than the huge class sizes.

Having large classes and having students that misbehave kind of go hand-in-hand. It definitely is easier to manage a class with half of the regular number of students. Kids are calmer, they have space for themselves to work in, there are less distractions, and I can more easily work with them individually when need be. But the days when classes are half their normal size are very infrequent, thus learning to work with difficult students has been really important.

So far, the best way I have found to get them to behave better is just by talking with them and getting to know them on a personal level. Once they realize that you value them and value their participation and good behavior, they seem more likely to behave and engage. One of my 3rd grade students, Esmeralda, is very stubborn. She didn’t want to participate, she didn’t want to do the work I asked of her, and she was full of excuses. She and I sat down one day (after she cried because I took away part of her recess time), and we had a talk about why she wasn’t paying attention and why she wasn’t behaving. The next class period, she behaved perfectly, and I made a point to thank her for her good behavior.

But talking with students and getting to know them isn’t the perfect solution. Each classroom and student responds differently. Sometimes talking doesn’t work, or they improve for a few classes and then begin misbehaving again. Sometimes students respond better to having consequences for their actions, or some respond better when you make class into a competition, and in other cases working with their teacher to come up with a solution is the best option. But when you find a solution that works, and the dynamic changes, it’s an incredible feeling.