Remember, you are in control of the classroom. The calmer you are, the better equipped you will be to handle the situation. While the impulse may be to raise your voice, this is seldom effective. The classroom is not a place to stage a contest for dominance, so take a deep breath and allow yourself a moment to process the situation and how best to address it rationally. Above all, never take the child's behavior personally, and never resort to belittling or ridiculing the student. It is often best to address the situation directly in private, after you and the student have had some time to cool off.
Don't Make It Personal
Similarly, always make sure that the student understands that it is their behavior you dislike, not them. Statements like "I don't like your behavior" or "your behavior is disrespectful" places the fault on the behavior, not the student. If you are working with very young children, they may not yet have the ability to empathize. So statements like "you are making me angry" will be ineffective because they haven't yet learned to empathize with your frustration. Instead, use statements like "your behavior is unacceptable" or "if you keep disrupting the class you will be put in time out".
Keep The Student Close
A wise man once said, "keep your friends close and your enemies closer". While we don't want to think of a challenging student as our enemy, the saying's underlying point may have some value. If possible, keep the student near you, or stay close to him/her. A seating chart is a great way to not only keep challenging students close to you but also to keep students who may be disruptive away from each other.
Reward Positive Behavior
The impulse to punish negative behavior often leads educators to ignore positive behavior, or at least avoid rewarding it. But studies show that rewarding positive behavior is more effective than punishing negative behavior in younger children. This doesn't mean that negative behavior should never be punished, but rewarding positive behavior, especially in students who have been challenging in the past, is more effective long-term and will give the students a goal to reach for, instead of consequences to avoid.
Try To Empathize
Although it may be difficult, taking a second to evaluate and think rationally about the situation may help you understand where a challenging student is coming from. Try to remain aware of any personal issues that may be going on in the student's home or personal life. Teachers should also remain mindful of cultural differences that might be perceived as disrespectful. Not making eye contact, for example, may be perceived as rude in Western culture, but many cultures teach children that making direct eye contact with authority figures is a sign of disrespect. Some cultures also frown upon asking questions, as it is seen as rude or implying that the teacher did not teach well. Remaining sensitive to cultural differences can help minimize misunderstandings in the classroom. Students may also have experienced some form of trauma, and if that is the case they will require special attention.
Utilize Your Students
Peers can be a tremendous influence on students, and oftentimes a student learns by the example set by his/her peers. Consider pairing a challenging student with a student whose behavior is more positive. That student can serve as a model and tutor, and possibly a mentor for the challenging student.
Find Common Ground
The more you know about your challenging student, the more chances you'll have to find common ground and reach an understanding. Does he/she like sports? What's his/her favorite music? Finding ways to relate can help humanize you and disarm the student.
Set Expectations Early
Students should know from day one what you expect of them, what the rules of your classroom are, and what the consequences are for breaking those rules. Consider making a poster or a chart explaining the rules of the class. A visual aid offers something you can refer to each time a challenging student causes a disruption.
Insist That Students Take Responsibility
Young students are notorious for "passing the buck" and finding something or someone to blame their behavior on. When students are disruptive or otherwise misbehave, remind them that they and they alone are responsible for their actions. Not allowing students to pass blame reinforces that you will not allow them a free pass for their behavior. It is also a valuable life lesson.
Oftentimes, it isn't enough to say, "your behavior is unacceptable". Clearly lay out for the student what specific action(s) are unacceptable, why they are unacceptable, and what the consequences will be if they continue.
The kneejerk reaction is often to issue punishment for disruptive behavior. Instead, consider using poor behavior as an opportunity to dialogue with the student. Ask the student why he/she chose to behave the way he/she did, and if they understand the consequences. You may uncover an underlying cause for the disruption that can then be addressed.
Involve the Parents
Often times the student's parents can provide support and perhaps information that can be helpful in contextualizing and correcting a challenging student. Parents rely on teachers to communicate with them if there are behavioral issues in the classroom that they are unaware of. A phone call or an email to the student's parents explaining the disruptive behavior can give you some reinforcement and might initiate a dialogue about underlying issues the child is facing.
Model Good Behavior
Young children often need behavior to be modeled for them before they can truly understand what is expected of them. If you expect students to speak to each other with respect, for example, model it for them by speaking to them as you expect them to speak to you. You may also consider providing some examples of how students should not behave, though always make sure that students clearly understand that you are modeling what not to do. Role-playing is also a great option and can lead to a helpful dialogue about why certain behaviors are unacceptable.
Every teacher will face his/her share of challenging students. There is no ultimate how-to guide in handling the unique situations that you will encounter in your classrooms. But these time-tested strategies can help diffuse situations when they arise and might make for valuable teaching moments in the classroom as well.