If you've spent any time teaching, you've had problem students. They are kids who, despite your desperate pleas, refuse to submit their homework, stay seated in their desks, or even show up to class. Each semester, you hope you won't have them, but despite your hopes and prayers, they show up. Ready to throw out your lessons, disrupt your flow, and try your sanity. Ironically, I usually like these problem kids. Their sly tricks and cunning ways remind me of what it must have been like to teach Zach Morris in "Saved by the Bell." The naked truth is that they wouldn't be so disruptive to other students if they weren't so magnetic.
So what do we do with these problem students? How do we champion progress and learning in our classrooms if we have at least one who has set his will on dismantling our grand plans?
I have three pieces of advice for handling problem students.
1) Be fierce. Do not let your Zach Morris run your class. Use an appropriately strong tone when dealing with disruption, and don't delay in quelling a storm. Your students will appreciate that someone is in control of their class.
2) Deal individually. No one deserves to be humiliated in public. When you have a stern word or grave concern to speak with the student about, do it privately. You are much more likely to get honest answers, and are sure to command that student's attention when it's just the two of you.
3) Speak a positive identity. Nine times out of ten, your problem student has been told continuously that he or she is disruptive and rebellious. To some level, they have agreed with those negative identities that others have heaped on them. That's why it takes one brave soul (you) to search out that student's positive attributes and affirm that individual with that new identity. If I have a student who is dramatic, emotional, and explosive, I pull her aside and tell her what a great gift of passion she has. I tell her that she was made to be a great catalyst for change because only truly passionate people can challenge pervasive mindsets.