Teacher Tips: How to Deal With a Disruptive Student

Address annoying classroom behavior by making your expectations known.
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Dealing with disruptive or distracting behavior in the classroom can be a troublesome management issue for teachers. Students of all ages might exhibit disruptive behavior, such as tardiness, complaining, apathy, irresponsibility and rudeness, that makes it difficult for teachers to focus on classroom objectives. Classroom management techniques, including establishing specific behavior guidelines and assigning seats, can help you manage disruptive students and maintain a positive learning environment.

Developing goals for your classroom environment, brainstorming classroom management strategies and creating clear classroom rules to explain at the beginning of the year will result in more positive behavior. Be sure to address the whole class with these expectations, but it may become necessary to address specific student needs as the year progresses.

1 Elementary-Age Students

Students in elementary school exhibit misbehaviors such as losing their assignments, tattling on their peers and complaining about assignments they think are too difficult. Teachers can deal with irresponsibility by assigning bins for homework and labeling classroom resources, such as tubs for manipulatives and art supplies. You might manage excessive tattling by seating troublemakers near your desk or in the front row and by creating avenues for healthy interactions, such as educational group projects.

Deal with assignment complaints by breaking tasks into smaller, manageable tasks, suggests Polly Matyorauta, program coordinator at the Center for Excellence in Education at Central Michigan University. Oftentimes at the elementary level, students may lack good behavior because they haven’t been taught it at home, so it’s mostly a learning experience for them at this age.

2 Middle School and High School Students

Some middle school and high school students exhibit irritating and disruptive behaviors, such as tardiness, cell phone usage during class and apathy. Address tardiness by talking to parents about the problem to make sure it isn't the parents' fault. Explain guidelines about tardiness to students and parents, so students know they'll receive an after-school detention if they accumulate more than three tardies per quarter and 10 points will be deducted from late assignments. Outlining all of your expectations and consequences to behavior issues in your syllabus will let students know your expectations.

Manage cell phone usage by discussing your expectations at the beginning of the school year -- that inappropriate behavior in regards to cell phones will result in confiscation, and parents must accompany students to retrieve their cell phones. The best way to deal with apathy is to build relationships and present engaging material. The more students feel a connection to you and to their classmates, the more likely they'll take an interest in the class, according to Eberly Center, the education center at Carnegie Mellon University.

3 College-Age Students

Address poor college-level behavior by treating students as adults. Use reason to deal with disrespectful attitudes, confrontational behaviors and laziness. College students should be expected to read school handbooks and classroom guidelines in order to respond accordingly with appropriate behavior. Displaying effective classroom management in a college classroom can be difficult when doing it for the first time, but it just takes a different approach to be successful.

If students have complaints about the grades they earned on papers, ask them to articulate them in writing and submit them to you, or schedule an appointment with you during office hours to discuss the grade. This forces students to think through their arguments and verbalize them in appropriate ways, while also maintaining professional student conduct. Use silence to control disruptive conversations during class time; students will feel uncomfortable once they notice you've stopped talking.

In a college classroom, it can also be beneficial to split students up into small groups to focus more intently on work and self regulate alongside their classmates. Older students need to feel respected in this level of education, which will lead to a less disruptive classroom.

4 General Guidelines

Teachers of all ages can deal with annoying behaviors by exhibiting fairness, firmness and consistency throughout the year or semester. Learning de escalation tactics for every level of education will also prove beneficial. Students need parameters and must be reminded of those expectations on the first day of class and throughout the year.

Don't tolerate disrespect from an "A+" student and punish a "C" student for similar disregard. Address poor behavior by meeting with students individually to discuss troublesome behavior. Praise students, or the class as a whole, when they create a healthy environment for learning. Encourage cooperation, teamwork and friendliness to defuse annoying behavior and keep the class focused on learning. Whether you work in public schools or private schools throughout your career, you will find each group of students requires different strategies to maintain positive behavior and create excellent learners, but you can do it!

5 Bonus: Student Behavior Tip

Eye Contact: As a former instructor, eye contact was my initial method to silently stop the disruption. My last resort was to interrupt my lesson plans to let the rest of the class witness the poor classroom behavior and let the student leave.

As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.