Classroom Management–How to Deal with Difficult Students


Four weeks have passed in Parkland Florida since that horrific killing of 17 students and teachers and wounding many others.  Quickly, the police arrested the killer, a young man nineteen years old, Nicholas Cruz. The news flooded my mind with facts that troubled me.  Why? Why would Nicholas age 19 slaughter his own generation, blink out their future lives? 

I mourned the death of the innocent students and brave teachers, who guided their students to safety, only to be shot down.

Each news report added to Nicholas’s profile: Nicholas is 5’7” 130 pounds. He’s small, an orphan, a loner, a student expelled last year for violent threats against students, emails warning teachers to alert staff if they see him on campus wearing his backpack. At least 66 reports phoned in to the Broward County, Florida police department that went unreported to higher commanders. Police were called countless times to his home. His profile expands each day, more folders needed to contain all the missed opportunities to catch Nicholas before he acted out his dream as a “professional school shooter.”

If anything positive can come from this tragedy, it would be how to keep it from happening again.  Already in Spanish Fork, Utah there’s been copy-cat school threats several times a week. On Fox News, the newsperson for the hour suggested we give no press for the perpetrator’s “big day.”   Thousands of high school students descended on government offices for gun laws to be stricter, most kids wanting no guns ever, disregarding the 2nd Amendment. 

Finally, there is more talking about mental health care.  Open up the mental health hospitals. Urgent need for nuclear families-father, mother, kids living in one home. Healthy mentality needed before buying a gun. 

What resonants with you as a teacher?  

Have you ever taught a kid like Nicholas? 

Each year for each period, troublemaker students were part of my classes.  One year as the drama teacher, just before the school year started, I naively asked the counselors to delete any kids on my class lists who were agitators.  They looked at me like I was crazy. But I was desperate because I did not know how to deal with rebellious kids. In college, I know I never learned in educational classes about how to deal with disorderly kids in America’s classrooms. 

According to Chris Biffle, author of Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids, “Year after year, good teachers leave teaching because they are tired of warring with disruptive kids.”

We know that blowing our stack only adds tremendous credibility to bad kids’ desire to demolish the teacher’s objectives. Teenagers live for their peers approval. 

I remember how horrible this was one year.  

In one class, I had about seven kids who were friends, talkers, non-listeners, and especially disrespectful to me.  One day I met with the two leaders out in the hall and asked them to lead the class to be better listeners etc. They looked at me and said, “Ok.” Then they walked back in, smirking at my suggestions.

At parent teacher conference, the parents did not want to hear their boy was disruptive. They blamed me for his B grade and U in citizenship. 

I kept citizenship records, chronicling each kid’s poor behavior. One day near the end of the semester, I printed the records off and handed them out in class.   The regular troublemakers thought what fun. They read off all the bad they had done as if they were in competition to see who was worse. I sent these reports to their parents. If the parents received them, they never contacted me to say they’d get their kids acting right. By the end of the semester almost half of my class asked to be transferred to another class.  I believe this happened because of the popularity of these two kids.  Their friends and the parents of their friends wanted to hang with them no matter their negative influence. 

No, these kids were not in any way close to having the same outcome as Nicholas Cruz. They were the Entitled Kids of our school.   Nicholas Cruz came from a broken family, these kids came from good families. 

However, another year, one student I taught wrote in his journal that he wanted to set the school on fire and I and a few other teachers would die. I had collected the journals to read and grade. His entry disturbed me.  I decided to meet him in the library and asked him about it. He hardly spoke nor did he look at me. I told him about the Columbine shooting, about how he cannot say things like this in his journal and expect no one would care.  I told him all the things I might do—tell the principal, call his parents, call the police. I think it upset him. He went back to class. I thought I should take care of this myself, so I didn’t tell the principal.  

Now, because of the Parkland school shooter, I see how wrong this was.  

A week or so later, the principal came to my class and said they decided to transfer a few kids who were giving me a hard time.  This transfer included the journal boy. I don’t know how the principal knew unless the boy had lied to his parents, telling them how bad I was to him, and they requested a transfer.  I don’t know how this boy fared with life, but so far no atrocity from him. At least he had parents who supported him. 

Ten years ago I retired. About four years ago I subscribed to Michael Linsin’s smartclassroommanagement.  His wise advice came too late for me. But I urge every educator to read his blog.  Four days before February 14th Mr. Linsin posted this blog: There is a strategy that builds strong, behavior-influencing rapport with virtually any student. It’s to take an interest in them.  Read Linsin’s strategy. It seems too obvious, too silly but he advises how to do it so it will work and you will gain a student’s trust. 

The following links are amazing strategies that treat troublesome students with respect.  These ideas would save kids like Nicholas Cruz. It is so sad when a student is expelled. There should be a lot of interest on how to save a troubled child. Now more than ever there should be social and mental health workers to catch these kids before they fall through the cracks and kill innocent people.  How to Handle a Student Who Questions You with Disrespect.

5 thoughts on “Classroom Management–How to Deal with Difficult Students

  1. This a timely article about a long overdue problem in our society. It is time to deal with problem students, But How. The solution should be towards embracing troubled children somehow and still standing firm. Thank you for including all these links. I am excited to read them and employ the tactics and suggestions. My heart goes out to all teachers who have to deal with such a complicated dilemma

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Teacher4Ever

      Thank you Brooke. I like your word “embrace” which is much healthier than “expelled.” Expelled is needed to protect students and teachers. However the school should follow up and make sure that student is embraced by social and mental health workers.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pete

    This so important. It’s a big problem here with such kids and I think every headmaster / teacher needs to read this piece.

    I will print it out for Mary Margay.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the resources–dealing with student disrespect was always the toughest and most feared part of my day. And when the parents don’t care? That makes it worse, because you know those kids probably won’t have a lick of respect for anyone else.

    Liked by 1 person

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