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Working With ‘Difficult’ Students: 5 strategies to Improve Classroom Management

Introduction Most traditional school teachers interact with more than 150 students daily. Each student holds distinct interests and values...

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Working With 'Difficult' Students: 5 strategies to Improve Classroom Management 3


Most traditional school teachers interact with more than 150 students daily. Each student holds distinct interests and values and thus needs a unique approach.

Here are five effective methods that teachers can use to enhance their classes for all students.

Build Relationships with Students

Sometimes students don’t understand the lecture since the topic is too foreign to them. This leads to a loss of interest and students then become easily distracted. Sometimes these students cause distractions themselves when they are not interested in the subject. It is important to remember that leading a class takes a managerial approach, and it’s difficult to manage a group you don’t know. If you understand the way your students see the world and process information, you can convey the content of your lectures more clearly and in a more engaging manner. 

For example, you can test their way of perception of the material – whether they better listen to the story or learn the diagrams. Some students may need to write notes, which they will read after the lecture. And some get distracted when trying to write down a single word. Find the method, which will suit your class most. 

You also might search for modern methods on the internet, or check other teachers’ experiences they share with the public in their research papers, working reports, or even essays. This will show your willingness to find the best way between the class and the children. After finding your own working method, you also would be able to write a report on the work done and describe your achievements. To save your time you might use report paper samples or even search for a report writer to help you. With such a display of empathy and care, students will open up to teachers with their issues and concerns. Rather than impose authority, teachers ought to do their best to find an approach.

Building a solid relationship with students, while essential, takes time and effort – especially for more challenging students. It’s important to take deliberate steps mentioned above when approaching difficult students. 

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Set Clear Expectations

Setting clear expectations from the start is one of the best classroom management strategies. It helps to prevent many potential problems just by simple proactive discussion. Switch from an adult-led setting to a more student-centered learning environment. Instead of you setting rules of the conduct, first discuss with students why following rules is essential. You can use examples that they can relate to. Then explain what your expectations are of them, and kindly ask students about their expectations for the class. Collaboratively, make a list of dos and don’ts with the class to create a sense of community where the rules are set for the common good.

Creating a list of expectations is also possible through games or books. Most stories show an antagonist who can serve as an example of terrible behavior. Teachers can lead discussions reflecting on the character’s behavior, motivations, and how such behavior affects others. Teachers can lead discussions about alternative behaviors for various scenarios that would be more acceptable. For instance, Macbeth’s Tragedy can be an example to high school students of the dangers of the excessive pursuit of power and the betrayal of friends. Make it clear that such behaviors are unacceptable and explain how they can negatively affect those involved. With this strategy, try to choose the book or story that fits the age of children to gain the best understanding. 

The teachers should understand the core reasons for children’s misbehavior to use this strategy. Many teachers fail to realize that negative behavior is usually caused by seeking extra attention, the desire to regain control in their lives, or a lack of confidence. Understanding every child’s needs and problems can help teachers more effectively lead the discussion about expectations and find the best direction for it.

Also keep in mind, that children must feel safe to share their thoughts in class, especially those unrelated to studying. When the teacher yells or threatens, the children feel uncomfortable, and thus, the situation often only gets worse. Being consistently calm is the key to successful classroom management. Even if the problematic children try to disrupt the lesson, try to stay calm and respond to them clearly and truthfully.

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Avoid the Trap of a Power Struggle

We can’t stress enough the importance of calm communication in managing a classroom. When students provoke their teachers, it shows they wish to dominate. It is difficult not to react to provocations, especially if they are continuous. Students easily figure out what provokes the teacher’s reaction and use it to disrupt the class. Moreover, students often communicate and share information with their peers on what triggers a teacher’s response, thereby amplifying the effect. When there’s no reaction, students will find new ways to increase the pressure and “push more buttons” until they run out of ideas.

It is, therefore, important to leave the ego at the door to maintain your leadership role within the classroom. Adults should never engage in a power struggle with children. Instead,  they should keep a clear head, a calm voice, and a nonreactive demeanor. No specific strategy can help you with this – it all depends on the main traits of your personality. Though what is important to remember is that children are not rivals, they do not have to compete. This takes practice and self-improvement, but it brings great benefits in both personal and professional life.

Use Positive Psychology

Enforcing discipline could lead to a negative response and further the problem. Instead of expecting a certain sort of behavior to change, it’s better to redirect it to positive use. The use of Positive Psychology is one of the more unique behavior management strategies, but its effectiveness holds strong scientific evidence. The focus of this approach is to assess the negative skills that students display and eventually put them to good use. That is, the teacher could address disruptive or otherwise negative behavior as a valuable trait. For instance, students who show manipulative behavior in class could employ the skills of leadership and advocacy beyond the classroom for more positive outcomes. The “class jokers” usually possess high intellectual and creative skills that could be directed to some other artistic activity. Instead of trying to explain the negative aspects, it’s better to show admiration for the years it took to perfect this skill and help the child understand how it could be a valuable trait in many realms.  

Connect with Students’ Diversity

Ethnic, cultural, or racial differences can become a disruptive element if teachers can’t work with them properly. Some teachers have issues because they don’t know enough about a student’s religious views and cultural restrictions. Lack of empathy and the presence of stereotypes and biases make the classroom unmanageable. There are educational books that teachers can use to improve their work in a multicultural environment. Some are The Skin That We Speak, by ___ The Freedom Writers Diary, by ___; I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, by ___ When reading books like these, teachers gain insight into students’ diverse experiences and cultural traumas. This allows them to better empathize with and anticipate their students’ needs. This is the framework of Culturally Responsive Teaching, which is a best teaching practice based on inclusivity and equity that has proven positive effects on students of all backgrounds.

In cases of racial intolerance in class, teachers need to mediate and help students resolve their issues. Racism and violence are topics in which it is impossible to know everything. Before you start a conversation, watch the news, read the stories of victims of racism on the Internet, and look at the situation from a different angle. Don’t miss information that can help your child learn the truth. It is essential to explain to the child that these differences should not be a reason to bully and humiliate members of other races. You should explain that black people often face racism, but we must resist this tendency and help people who are oppressed to live life to the fullest.


Communication is the essence of every classroom management strategy. Talking to and learning about students helps prevent provocations and negative student reactions. Also, the use of tools like positive psychology and culturally responsive teaching is the foundation of good pedagogy.

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