Dealing With Problematic Students

Dealing with problematic students

It could be argued that the single most important aspect of teaching is classroom management. As a teacher you can't successfully teach your students if you are not in control. This is also a concern of your head teacher and of your students' parents. Unfortunately, it is a fact that many teachers have lost their jobs due to poor classroom management or faced disciplinary procedures.

There are numerous reasons why discipline can be a problem in the classroom. It could be down to you and your teaching style! If you aren't engaging every one of your students with exciting teaching resources, they can become bored, disinterested, restless and unruly. It can also then lead to the real problem of distracting others who are working well. Ensuring that your teaching resources are vast and varied and cater for a number of favoured learning styles is a must for any teacher.

Students who suffer from personal problems are not isolated to urban areas. The trials and tribulations of family life can lead to students in all corners of the world taking their frustrations out at school. The have an audience and often like to have the attention that they may not be receiving at home.

However, do you deal with unruly students with a positive or a negative emphasis? In other words, do you actively look for positive behaviour and reward it as a priority over and above punishing poor behaviour... or vice versa?

It goes without saying that you cannot offer to take any information from a student in confidence as all potential cases of abuse you discover must be reported to the proper authorities. In most schools or colleges, there will be a designated welfare officer who should be informed of any untoward information you hear or receive.


Reinforcement of behaviour tends to take three forms:

  1. Positive reinforcement involves the teacher looking for good behavior and rewarding it when it happens
  2. Negative reinforcement involves punishing bad behaviour. However, when good behaviour occurs, do not give any punishment, thus making the student aware that such behaviour is not punished
  3. Punishment involves punishing bad behaviour immediately

Putting ideas into practice: Reward!

A reward system is important for good discipline. How the rewards are provided will undoubtedly depend upon what age of student you are dealing with. Sticker systems seem to work well with younger children whereas older children may require points for a ‘house system’ or more grown up privileges such as additional free time. The main point however, is do you actively look for positive behaviour before negative behaviour? Try to ‘catch’ good behaviour and reward it!

There is some evidence to suggest that a positive approach reinforces good behaviour and enables such good behaviour to prevail. The key is to find out what the students actually value as a positive reinforcer? It may well be rewarding them by using a teaching resource that they particularly like?


  • Look for good behaviour
  • When it occurs reward it immediately in an appropriate manner
  • Place emphasis on such behaviour
  • Wait for it to happen again

Putting ideas into practice: Punishment!

It could be regarded as a more negative method to use but many teachers believe that ground rules should be set early and any unacceptable behaviour should be punished swiftly and in a manner that is long lasting. Some teachers have a hierarchical system of punishment such as:

  • Punishment for bad behaviour followed by a threat of more severe punishment if it occurs again
  • Punishment is given for repeated behaviour followed by a further increased threat of punishment etc

The type of punishment given will depend on what is available to you. It may be isolation, a punishment piece of work or possibly limiting use of resources available to the class.

The Golden Rules

In conclusion we have devised five golden rules which may help you:

  1. Ensure that you have clearly stated rules and procedures with established consequences/ punishments that are expected and reviewed regularly. All students must know the rules, routines and expectations.
  2. Try to ‘catch’ your students using appropriate behaviour and praise/reward them.
  3. Try to use varied and exciting resources to engage all learning types. Help Me Teach is obviously a good starting point!
  4. Try to get your students to buy into a learning contract- thus accepting the rules of your classroom
  5. Above all else, whether you are positively-minded or negative… be consistent!
Posted by Help Me Teach on 11 January 2019 at 21:43.

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User Comments

I always try to be positive with my classes, but some times they just don't let you!!! I find that I have fewer trouble makers when my lessons are interesting for them and fun, so the 3rd point above is good. It works for me!!
Posted by sarah on 15 January 2012 at 21:29.

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