3 Proven Strategies for Dealing With Difficult Students

dealing with difficult students

For both inexperienced teachers, and those with many years under their belt, there is NO greater challenge than dealing with a difficult student. Even worse when that same student is influential among his peers and previously well behaved students start testing the boundaries.

Rather than run away, you need to learn how to deal with the situation.  Though is ‘dealing’ with the situation an effect strategy?  Short term probably yes, but long term, you may be missing out on an opportunity to make a real difference in that student’s live, and a chance to get a satisfaction high

So here are THREE Strategies that can be applied by P.E. teachers in ‘dealing’ with a difficult student

USE the Stereotype

The Stereotype of a difficult student usually surrounds poor academic results. Either the student’s socio-economic upbringing has been the mitigating factor or they have never been skilled academically.   But Guess what?  This is Physical Education, and the Stereotype also says that these students are physically gifted. This is THEIR chance to show what they can do. As a PE Teacher you have a unique chance here to bond with this student in an area where their true aptitude lies.

  • Make an effort to get to know them, even if they aren’t initially receptive
  • Don’t give up on them early or label them ‘difficult’. They’ve likely faced this all through their schooling which is probably why they are ‘difficult’. DON’T BE THAT TEACHER
  • Share a story with the class that is not aimed at the student. Any story where an underachieving student was able to excel and grow through Sport.  The whole Level Playing field analogy “We’re not in the class room here”
  • Frustration Fuels – Some of the greatest advances in human civilisation have been borne out of frustration. Try to harness that frustration in the student and make it positive.

Stay Cool, Calm and Collected

As a Teacher you should never be prone to emotional outbursts.  Facing a student who is being emotional or being difficult you need to remember that it is rarely personal, just circumstantial.

Whatever form the difficulty of the student presents itself, you need to remain calm and unflustered, and never react emotionally, loudly, or aggressively. Perhaps the worst thing you can do in this circumstance is challenge them in the class or try to discipline them in front of people. It won’t win you points and it won’t calm the situation.

In fact, the way you handle this situation CAN set you apart from everyone else in that child’s life who has either yelled at them, walked away from them, or called them useless.  You may just surprise the child with your calmness and this could be your FIRST and ONLY opportunity to turn the student around.

Unlike other teachers who are confined to a classroom, you have the option of setting tasks for the other students to perform in open spaces and create some quiet one on one time with the difficult student.  Talk honestly, openly and avoid patronising comments either intended or not.

Don’t expect big changes straight away. Being a good role model takes time and so does breaking down someone’s barriers.  You need to earn both their trust and their respect before you can make a difference. Don’t be drawn into conversations with other students about that student, and especially be sure to stay away from any negative comments.   If you do hear other well behaved students talking negatively about the difficult student, nip it in the bud and move the subject along.

Find out ONE thing about them

This can be a real good strategy to adopt.   Firstly, you may be able to use what you learn and include that in your class.   You may see the student down at the park one day, alone, practising his ball juggling skills with the soccer ball

You can approach the student calmly and start up a conversation about soccer. Questions about how he learnt the skills and if he plays the game at all.  Don’t overstay your welcome, but even that brief encounter will help your relationship during class.

Note: This should only be done where you are 100% sure that there is no risk physically to yourself.

You may also want to adapt your PE schedule to try and work that activity into your lessons.  You know he is good at that and if you can just get even a little bit of buy-in from him the perception that other students hold of him can change once they see his skills. If you can just get that initial buy-in, improvements will happen and will continue while-ever you have the respect and trust of that student.

There is no shortage of strategies out there to help you deal with difficult students and this can largely be attributed by the fact that all individuals are different, and there is no magic answer.  If the 3 strategies above don’t work for you, then move on and find one that does.  You might try 50 before you find one that works.   The key is to never stop trying to find one.  The moment you give up on the student, the student gives up on you

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