More Unsurpassed Antidotes for Disruptive Students

by Guy E. White on 3 February, 2015

How many detentions will fix this problem?

Every so often as a teacher, you meet a student that requires more attention than 25 other students combined. How do you work with such a student? More importantly, how do you work so interventions are less and less needed?

I remember meeting my first “problem student” in my first year teaching. From the moment he walked in the door to the moment he walked out, the battle was constant. Each afternoon afterwards would include a massive headache while various questions ran through my brain: How can I get this guy to stay in his seat? How can I keep giving this guy detentions (there are only so many hours of detention a week)? Is this how things are going to be for the next nine months?

Over the years, I have met many students that require massive amounts of personal and emotional energy. Fortunately, I have learned a cache of ninja moves to help thwart the onslaught of high blood pressure and wrinkled foreheads. Here are some of those moves:

Antidote #1: Remove “Problem” From My Vocab

How many times have I seen students as a “problem”? Not many. However, if I’m not careful with the words I associate with students, I can become biased quite quickly. If my mood swings to the negative the second I see a student, then the battle is already started and lost.


Instead, I began seeing moments where things were not running smoothly as moments that required my training and reinforcement. Since becoming a parent of a two-year-old, I recognize the pattern of testing, reinforcement, and affirmation that is required in moments such as these: students that misbehave are just like my two-year-old – but six-feet tall.

Antidote #2: “Touch” First

One of my martial arts teachers taught his students to be the first person to bring order to a situation in need of it. This has stuck with me since.

When students are running a pattern of disruption over many days, I make it a point to stand at the door, wait for them, and shake their hand as they come in.

It’s the first interaction of the day, and perhaps the most calm and orderly one we can hope for. It makes for a great start.

Antidote #3: Monitor My Heart Rate

I’ve learned over the years that my pulse is often a great indicator of my ability to address misbehavior in the best ways possible. If my pulse is raised, I know that it may be time to put an end to the behavior, but not have a prolonged conversation about it.

Instead, I wait until my heart rate has returned to normal before I have a potentially difficult conversation.

Ultimately, I have found that detentions do very little to solve misbehavior in my classroom. What changes behavior is building a relationship of respect. How do you build this with your students?

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