Handling Disrespectful Students

Author: Chris Maxwell

Create a Healthy Learning Environment

Educators smile seeing a classroom of students who enjoy learning. But disrespectful students can change the mood. How can teachers handle rude students and create a healthy learning environment? How can professors learn from them instead of fighting for attention?

Disrespecting the teacher

Psychologist Beverly Oxley often encountered disrespectful students when she taught special needs children in the public schools. “My approach was to have a private conversation with them about their family, hobbies, favorite musicians, etc., and about the importance of respecting everyone, not just me. When I showed genuine interest in them, demonstrated respect in my voice, and looked them in the eye, it never failed to win them over.”

Remember why you teach
Dr. Oxley’s approach accomplished more than only enduring disruptive students. She learned from them. They welcomed a climate of care she created. She was genuinely interested in her students, hoping each would succeed. She remembered the why as she crafted the how.

Create a healthy environment
Remembering the why can create a climate of community rather than conflict. Many students have not been taught to be respectful. They lash out at authority. Rather than waiting for students to respect them, what if teachers choose to respect students? Rather than raising their voices, what if teachers lowered their tone?

Listen to their stories
Many students come from condemning and judgmental environments. What is their home life like? Are they yelled at? Alone? Desperate for attention? Are there emotional, physical, psychological, relational, or mental reasons for their behavior?

Dr. Tracy Reynolds has taught students of many ages. He says, “Remember there is always a story behind the story. Lead with your ears by asking good questions.” Before forcing an agenda, listen to their stories. Learn from them. Teaching them better is possible when their stories are known.

Apply instructions that connect with students
College student Abigail Schlebecker remembers when learning was difficult. Battling dyslexia, ADHD, ADD, and generalized anxiety, Abigail says, “Living with my learning disability has always felt like I am one step behind. Teachers would teach too quickly or explain concepts in a way that didn’t work with my brain.”

What changed? How did her learning improve? The teachers who learned her story were the ones who helped Abigail learn the best.

She concludes, “I needed teachers to explain the same thing but in different ways. It helped when teachers would use all of the learning styles—auditory, visual, and tactile.”

Learning the latest methods of connecting with students helps. Those who are disrespectful might just need you to try a new way to teach. Shift the pace. Redesign the classroom. Play soft music. Find the value of repetition. Remember the importance of fun.

In each of these areas, teachers can still provide healthy boundaries. The students’ moods should not control the climate. Their disrespect should not cause unneeded disruptions. By applying these principles and others found in our article “What To Do When Parents Blame Teachers” students might find more joy in learning and you will smile more often.

About the Author

Chris Maxwell

Chris Maxwell connects with a variety of audiences through words written and words spoken. He is the author of eleven books, editor of more than forty, and has written over 1,000 articles. Chris speaks around the world in conventions and schools, works in student life at a college, and is the co-host of Next Step Leadership podcast. Chris and his wife have three married sons and nine grandchildren.

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