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How to deal with unpleasant "smart-****" students?

Discussion in 'Behaviour' started by omega-squared, Jul 11, 2017.

  1. omega-squared

    omega-squared New commenter

    I am wondering if anyone can suggest any strategies for dealing with students who are particularly unpleasant - as in, will often go out of their own way to try and knock you down a peg as a teacher and make it appear as though you don't know what you are talking about.

    I teach in an FE college and I had a student who needed to do a level 3 maths course (despite getting an E grade in AS Maths and thus already having a level 3 qualification) which I presume he needed to do as he was only doing two A-levels and an enrichment programme, so that he could continue at college. It was my first year teaching this course (as well as teaching full stop) and it also a very new course, which has meant that I have had to try and improvise more and rely on the limited resources available. This student was frequently badly behaved, and sent me a sassy email when I emailed his tutor about it. In class he often made cutting remarks, tried to insinuate that I didn't know what I was talking about, deliberately ask awkward questions to try and trip me up, tried pointing out flaws in points I made and claim on more than one occasion that I said something inappropriate (even though the things I did say were more meant as light-hearted jokes). He also used his phone rather a lot in lessons once he had completed the work (classroom management is really not one of my strong points). Overall, he was a nuisance to teach, partly because he was actually completing all the work, never missed a lesson (and so I couldn't think of any plausible reason to punish him other than him being a general ****) and he came up with some good points in lessons which I genuinely liked. He is on course to achieve an A grade in that course. I just didn't like him or the way he said things in such an abrasive way. He even called me an awful teacher at the end of the year (although attempted to be subtle about it by pretending to go back into the classroom to pick something that was left behind). I wish I had taken a more firm line with this student earlier on in the year but I just kept telling myself it wouldn't be long before I'd no longer need to teach him again (not a good approach).

    Teaching in my first year alone has been a very daunting and emotionally challenging experience, and having to deal with this student has further had a negative effect on my confidence. I am aware that as a first year teacher I will have gotten a lot of things wrong (and I don't feel I did the course justice) but this sort of low-level disruption does not help. However, I am aware that this sort of student is a standard affair and I need to devise some strategies for dealing with this sort of behaviour. What can you suggest?
  2. frustum

    frustum Star commenter

    It sounds as if the main problem was that he was being made to do an inappropriate course; it wasn't providing any challenge, so he was spending his time trying to outsmart you instead. Failing any way of moving him to a more appropriate group, I think I might have been inclined to look at providing him with something more appropriate to work towards within the class. He might not have wanted to do a harder qualification, of course, but pointing out that if he's stuck in the lessons he might as well get something extra for his CV might have worked.
    BlindHopeful and pepper5 like this.
  3. omega-squared

    omega-squared New commenter

    Well, the frustrating thing was, I think maybe he would have much preferred to keep going on to A2 Maths, but he didn't do well enough in AS to be able to progress. I did provide him with some problems from an A-level textbook to look at on one or two occasions but he didn't really engage with them. So I think he was just angry at himself for not doing well enough on what would have been the next up maths course available to him, and he was looking for someone to channel his anger towards.
    pepper5 likes this.
  4. pepper5

    pepper5 Star commenter

    Some of what you can try will depend on various things like how old your students are and whether or not the college has any systems or behaviour policies in place. For example, is there a college wide behaviour policy in place? Are you able to set some basic rules at the start of your classes so everyone knows how to conduct themselves? I would ban mobile phones during instruction time if the college supports that while students can use phones during breaks.

    If your students are under 18 then you can involve the parents. If they are over 18 then they are adults and you can't get parents involved.

    You must have some system in place in your lessons where if disruption occurs, you have steps to deal with it. He was disrupting the lessons, so he should have received some warnings and sanctions. The problem you have is whether or not the colleges will support you.

    I can recommend a book called Taking Care of Behaviour by Paul Dix and Pivotal Education web site for advice on behaviour management.

    You are just starting out, so you are learning how to deal with many different behaviours.

    Start with this book, read the college's behaviour policy if they have one, and think about some basic class rules you can use next year. Students can't do what they want in your lessons.

    Rule number one is to never take any of what students say personally. The students who are insecure will say 'you are boring', younare a **** teacher, you are useless., etc... Of course NONE of it is true and they are doing it mainly because they are immature and also insecure.

    Next year if you possibly can ban mobiles in your lessons if the college will support you.

    Have some basic rules in place that are on your wall.

    At the first sign of rudeness or disruption, follow the college's behaviour policy

    Stay calm when dealing with this type of student and remember that the negative comments aimed at you are not true.
    galerider123 likes this.
  5. Flere-Imsaho

    Flere-Imsaho Star commenter

    Deal with the behaviour not the attitude. It's too easy to get bogged down in arguments if you focus on attitude because students can argue that your perception of it is mistaken.

    Record and punish clear and verifiable instances of poor behaviour, writing down exactly what was said in speech marks so that there is no wiggle room.

    If they start to argue about how or what you are teaching, don't get involved in it then and there. Be serene, show no waver in your confidence and invite them to stay back at the end of the lesson where they can explain in detail and with reference to the course specification exactly where they feel there is a problem. Then redirect back to the work at hand and deal with any further comments using the stuck record approach - we can discuss that after the lesson but now I have asked you to continue with...
  6. lauriemck

    lauriemck New commenter

    It is not acceptable for him to treat you like this - you need to be clear about this in your own mind. You are trying your best to do a good job and deserve polite and respectful behaviour in exchange. Don't be tempted to feel guilty or make excuses for him. He is old enough to behave in a pleasant manner.
    I couldn't tell whether you are still teaching this boy or just looking for advice for the future. My advice would be that the next time a pupil makes an impolite comment you take them to one side - after the lesson if needs be - and calmly but firmly explain that their comment was unnecessary and you will not tolerate it in your classroom. Does your school / college policy allow mobile phones? Can you implement a rule banning phones in your classroom?
    I am a fairly new teacher myself and have only recently started challenging bad attitude properly after observing other colleagues who were much firmer than me. At first I worried I was being OTT but the kids quickly learned that I would not tolerate rudeness and most of my classes are now much more pleasant places as a result. You are a good person doing your best with a difficult job and do not deserve to be met with rudeness or apathy.
    pepper5 likes this.
  7. pepper5

    pepper5 Star commenter

    Very wellnsaid Laurie

    I have worked as a supply teacher for a long time and have to address a lot of rudeness from students. This year I resolved to address it more quickly in lessons and as a result as you say the result is much more pleasant.
  8. electricsheep

    electricsheep New commenter

    If this student continues to be rude and insulting, quite simply tell him to get a new teacher and refuse to teach him. This is a last resort of course but it sounds to me like this student thinks he can get away with it. Nobody should put up with disrespectful attitudes if you are doing the best job you can, especially at this age.
    pepper5 likes this.
  9. omega-squared

    omega-squared New commenter

    I should point out I no longer teach this student (thankfully) and he got an A in the course, but unfortunately he got under my skin so much that I keep remembering back to things he said or did in my head when I am trying to focus on other things (I do have anxiety as well). I do find myself getting upset because this is one student who psychologically affected me quite a lot, took advantage of my conflict-averse nature and knocked my confidence in my ability to teach. I tell myself that one day his disrespectful behaviour will bite him in the backside, e.g. it might get him fired from a job, he might get involved in a break-up or someone might simply smack him in the mouth. I also tell myself that whatever he thought of my teaching, the fact he was so disrespectful is an reflection of him and not me (although the memories repeat themselves).

    I am taking a much firmer line with students this year, got them to set their own expectations of behaviour at the start of the year, being more on top of phone usage and pulling students aside if they behave in a disruptive way. So far I haven't encountered any really rude students - but if I come across this sort of behaviour I will challenge it straight away and inform the student's tutor.

    What I would also appreciate is how to stop certain students from getting under your skin and affecting you on a psychological level.
    sabrinakat and pepper5 like this.
  10. Hels_SX

    Hels_SX New commenter

    You've definitely got to keep your cool, which is easier said than done a lot of the time. I'm a teaching assistant with younger pupils, but they can get pretty mouthy at times. There's different ways to manage different kids, but with really difficult ones, the best way is to set firm rules and to show clear punishments and consequences.
    pepper5 likes this.
  11. pepper5

    pepper5 Star commenter

    Well done for taking amfirmer approach this year. This will make your life a lot easier and classes will go more smoothly since you won't be exhausting yourself by taking up so much time dealing with disruption.

    Some students are immature, some haven't been taught basic manners at home, some are just annoying or insecure. Don't spend too much time over analysing or take any of it personally.

    What type of behaviours get under your skin?
  12. omega-squared

    omega-squared New commenter

    Well it's just any sort of behaviour that attempts to challenge me or make me out to look like I don't know what I am talking about. In this case this student made me feel uncomfortable during my teaching and made me dread teaching the class. I was experiencing similar emotions in my head to those I had when I was bullied/teased as a kid, but I still didn't feel confident in dealing with it.
    pepper5 likes this.
  13. pepper5

    pepper5 Star commenter

    You recognise what is happening and that is an excellent place to be since you can respond in a preplanned manner.

    The very best thing is to have preplanned scripts of what you are going to say.
    sabrinakat likes this.

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