8th grade ceramic comedy/tragedy masks based on Ancient Greek art

Every teacher has experienced kids being disrespectful at one time or another, you are not alone! Sharon Christman once told me, "If you give respect, you get respect." This is so true! However, what can you DO when some kids are disrespectful to you, no matter what you have tried? 
What is a proactive and effective way to handle disrespectful students?

#1: STAY CALM and don't take it personally when kids inevitably choose to push the boundaries! I know, this is easier said than done - one of the biggest mistakes I have made is taking misbehavior personally, getting really discouraged and emotional when kids refuse to behave. I have had some tough groups of kids come through my middle school classroom!

Kids WILL test you. 

Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or extraordinarily naive - I have heard it said many times that as long as the teacher has great lessons and keeps the kids busy they won't have any behavior problems. Those things definitely help, but kids will be kids! 

It's not you - it's them!

Although there are things the teacher can do to promote student respect (see list below), the ultimate responsibility for students' behavior belongs to the students, not the teacher.

 NEVER, never, never take it personally when kids are disrespectful to you. 

Michael Linsin has several wonderful articles about how to stay calm while enforcing consequences:

He also suggests we do what Olympic athletes do; "Decide First." Make a choice first thing every morning that NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS that day, "I will remain calm." A herd of wild buffalo can stampede through the classroom and it will have no effect on your mood! 

Advice from Connie Allen Forget, art teacher:
"As soon as they start to act disrespectful, stop teaching. Make them stop working or talking or fooling around. Tell them quietly that this kind of behavior is not allowed and that everything will stop until they are ready to behave properly. They might need to practice sitting calmly and waiting until you feel that they are ready to resume listening or working. Do this EVERY time that they act inappropriately. Start your next lesson by saying that they will need to earn the right to talk in your class as a whole. Separate friends in your seating chart. Be rock solid firm and coolly calm. Once they realize that you will not falter from this course they will fall into line. Then you can go back to being a fun, interesting teacher. (Repeat as necessary). Classroom management hinges on the worst behavior that is allowed to happen." 


"Rule #1" in my middle school classroom is:

 "Be respectful - obey the first time without arguing or talking back."  If a student breaks this rule s/he is assigned a consequence. 

I give a calm and unemotional warning; "Linda, it is disrespectful to talk back when you are told to do something. You are better than that! Just say, 'Yes, maam' and do it. You have a warning." 
(Make it a rule to NEVER get into a power struggle with a student. Arguing is counterproductive and the student often WANTS you to argue so they can have a war of words. Students will come up with very creative reasons why they shouldn't have to follow your instructions.)

If the student insists on arguing, you can try the "Broken Record" technique: 

  • Teacher: "Linda, it's time to clean up your table."
  • Linda: “In a minute – I have to talk to my friend/do my nails/etc.” 
  • Teacher: standing still and straight, looking directly at the student, calmly and firmly says in a low voice, “Clean up your table, now.” 
  • Linda: rolling her eyes, “In a minute, sheesh!” 
  • Teacher: “Clean up your table.” 
  • Linda: with an attitude, in a loud voice,  “I don’t have to do what you say! You’re not my mother!” 
  • Teacher: “Clean up your table.” 
  • Linda: snorts, stomps, mutters under her breath about what a mean, hateful teacher you are, and then goes to clean up her table. 

In my classroom, the student will receive another consequence for continuing to argue - s/he will be sent to the isolation table and will fill out the "Think Sheet" and/or will write an essay about respect. The student could also be "written up" for talking back and being generally disrespectful, and for defiance if she actually refuses to clean up her table.  

If I remain calm and repeat the instruction over and over, meanwhile scanning the activity of the room and making sure all the other students are doing their respective jobs, I haven’t lost any momentum. Also, a lot of the power of the rude student is diffused because s/he can tell that I am really not all that concerned with the rudeness, I am concerned with managing my class.

For severe disrespect in cases where the student starts yelling or cursing, I will send the student out of the room and will call his/her parents. There have been a couple of times in my career when I hit the "Call" button for an administrator because a kid was completely out of control.

Here is a great resource about defusing an emotionally charged situation: 
The Intervention Two-Step, by Dr. Richard Curwin

#3: Make your expectations crystal clear from day one: be proactive by having a set of rules and consequences in place from the beginning of the year (teach and re-teach them). Make sure there is absolutely no mystery about what will happen if a student talks back to you, argues, or refuses to comply. If you skip teaching your rules, procedures, and consequences, students will be caught by surprise when you attempt to correct their behavior. This will sabotage your relationship with them, it will facilitate rebellious behavior, and will essentially create a miserable experience for you and the kids. 

#4: Work on building relationships with your students. Show them that you value their respectful/positive words and actions and their hard work and show them that you care about who they are as people. Sit down at the table with them as they work and just talk "about nothing." There is never enough time in the day to get all the things accomplished that we want to, but it is so, so important for us to take the time get to know our students. 

I once spent two entire days in the classroom without being able to make a sound. My voice was completely gone, and I could not get a substitute. It was a fascinating learning experience for me, trying to come up with ways to communicate effectively as well as still control my classes. I am simply blessed that my students (all except one class) did not try to take advantage of me. I wrote on the board, made a power point for step-by-step directions, and had a student "speak" for me by reading what I wrote. The kids disciplined themselves to watch me, and I used a LOT of gesturing. 

My most interesting observation was that the students who struggle the most with behavior issues had the hardest time being tuned in to and watching me for direction. They seemed to habitually ignore me, and to get their attention I needed to tap them on the shoulder or stand directly in front of them. Why do these students ignore the teacher? I think it is because they get primarily negative attention when they interact with teachers. I made it a point after this to specifically look these kids in the eyes, smile, and wave a greeting. To see their eyes change from dull rebellion to the light of a friendly greeting made my day and opened my eyes to a simple truth - it isn't hard to send the message that teachers really do care! How often do we get too busy to see how much our students need us to notice them, acknowledging that they are people, too?


Recommended resources about practical ways to deal with student back-talk: 

the following are Fred Jones' articles on the Education World  website:

Tools For Teaching Implements PBIS; Tertiary Prevention in the Classroom; this is about dealing with difficult students

Tools For Teaching; Calm is Strength/Responding to Backtalk

Here is an Edutopia article by Dr. Richard Curwin:

Classroom Management: The Intervention Two-Step

Also, educator and author Michael Linsin has a large repertoire of articles about the "difficult student" at smartclassroommanagement.com

How To Handle Six Disrespectful Students in One Class, Michael Linsin

Effective Love and Logic Strategies for the Classroom, by Alicia Eggers, theartofed.com

"From an American point of view, the Japanese lesson begins in a rather striking way. At the signal from the student monitor, all the students stand and bow, in unison, to the teacher. The teacher bows in return, and the lesson is officially under way." SOURCE: Stigler, J. & Hiebert, J. (1999). The Teaching Gap, In Chapter 3, Images of Teaching (p.36).
       article by Mrs. Anna Nichols

An anonymous art teacher writes, "This is my 16th year teaching art and I would have to say that my biggest concern is the diminishing level of respect. I teach at the high school level and students don't respect teachers, administrators or each other as much as in previous years."

 I have wondered for a long time if this issue is as prevalent as it seems.  Recently I found an article by Dr. Irvin King, education professor at the University of Hawaii. He goes into great detail about his experiences both as a high school math teacher and as a university professor supervising student teachers. The following excerpt is from this article. (You can read the entire article here: One Man's Perspective of Discipline in the Schools) He began teaching in 1963 and tells of removing a disrespectful student from his class on the first day of school. Later, when the principal asked him to allow the student back into his classroom, Dr. King replied that it would send the message that any student could stand up to his authority and win. The principal decided not to allow the student to return to the class. Twenty years later as a university professor, Dr. King went back to the schools to supervise student teachers and was shocked by what he found:
"I was assigned student teachers at almost every grade level from kindergarten through the twelfth grade in my first year of supervising student teachers, and in classroom after classroom I saw rude and disrespectful student behavior. In a third-grade classroom, children would not cooperate or obey the simplest of commands. The teacher had four time-out locations in the room where she sent disobedient children, but she needed many more. In an intermediate school Physical Education class, I witnessed students slap the student teacher on the back of the head at the beginning of each period. When I asked him why he permitted this, he pretended he was unaware of it. In a high school English class, a glassy-eyed boy, wreaking of alcohol, arrived ten minutes tardy. When the student teacher moved towards her desk to mark the attendance book, the boy kicked over a desk and shouted obscenities at her. And so it went...........To be sure, there were classrooms in which students were orderly and attentive. Even so, I would estimate that fewer than ten percent of the teachers were without discipline problems. Teachers had lost their authority, and teaching had become a very stressful occupation."
  Fred Jones, author of a myriad of books on classroom management and education, started his career by observing many teachers. At one school, he spent the morning in a state of shock at the chaotic and disrespectful behavior of the students. When he followed these same students to their afternoon classes, he was surprised to find the kids behaving and working hard. What was the teachers' secret? They couldn't describe it except to say, "You better mean business!"

"Taking poor student behavior personally sends the message to your students that they can push your buttons and disrupt your day if they choose. This shifts control over to your students and weakens your ability to manage your classroom. When you react out of anger, you are inviting, even daring, disrespect. Back anyone into a corner, and they’ll want to fight back or resolve to get even. Butting heads with students always results in more bad behavior. You must have a bit of shrewdness in you when it comes to classroom management and understand that the most effective classroom management strategies don’t always jibe with our most natural reactions. So when a student is blatantly disrespectful, especially in front of the rest of your students, it is only natural to take it personally. It’s how we’re wired. But if you can take a step back and realize you’re shooting yourself in the foot every time you react on instinct, then you can gain immediate control of the situation without losing your cool—or your authority. So how should you react? The most effective way to handle disrespect is to simply and dispassionately follow your classroom management plan and enforce a consequence. Enforcing your classroom rules—which should include a rule specifically for disrespectful behavior—with an attitude of indifference strengthens your authority and your classroom management effectiveness." How To Handle Disrespectful Students, by Michael Linsin

Editor's note: Managing student behavior involves far more than discipline techniques. In order to create an environment for student success, the teacher needs to provide quality instruction as well as appropriate motivation. Most importantly, the teacher needs to have the right attitude for leadership in the classroom. Finally, having a solid classroom management plan with rules and procedures set up from the beginning of the year is also extremely important - students need to be very clear about what the teacher's expectations are.

disclaimer: These are a set of ideas about being proactive in teaching based on classroom experience as well as various education authors. Many times there are circumstances in the classroom that are beyond any teacher's control, especially when serving at-risk populations or in environments where those in administration fail to provide effective leadership in a school. Sometimes, regardless of the prevailing theories about teacher responsibility, the teacher is not to be blamed for out of control students. Finally, we do NOT recommend that you put any of these strategies into practice if your administration disagrees with them. 

article by Mrs. Anna Nichols


Anna Nichols said...

In my own classroom, I experience this when students do the whole, “non-verbal” communication thing with each other while I am trying to teach. Yesterday, a (usually) very good 8th grade student of mine needed to be reminded to quiet down. She loudly said, “Yes, MAAAAM!” and looked around the room, smiling and inviting all the other students to join with her in the joke. Of course, I asked her to step out into the hallway where we had a serious chat and I then documented the incident on a discipline form. I will now have to call her parents, etc. What is the most proactive thing we can do to prevent this? I know we can’t control what other people do, but there HAS to be something within our power to combat it! Perhaps it is just the whole 8th grade mindset?

Sharon Christman said...

I find that young people just want to be "heard".
I walked into a 6th grade group of students years ago on a maternity leave and encountered a group of students who were determined to do me in.
The first two weeks were a real struggle.
While they worked I would sit down (not stand but sit at their level) at a table with a small group and find out who they were, what they love and are interested in and what they would like to get from my art class.
It took some time but by the end of the 6 weeks I had their respect and they started to invite me to their Friday afternoon soda store spot.
I truly believe young people just need to be shown you as a teacher care about them and who they are.
I have to say I have had very few discipline problems.
It takes sometime but I believe give respect and you will get respect!

Kids ESL said...

These are some pretty good tips. I completely agree with you. I also recently wrote a post about this here http://www.kidsesl.net/2017/05/dealing-with-difficult-students.html If you have an advice to add that would be great! :)