Thursday, February 27, 2014

Behaviorally Challenged: How to Address Difficult and Challenging Behavior in the Classroom

by Eve Pearce

An alarming survey conducted in recent years in the UK suggested that 4 in 10 teachers quit their jobs after only 2 years in the profession. It’s a sad fact that many teachers, most of them excellent at what they do, are deterred from teaching at the very start of their careers, and find themselves in a position where the only viable option is to hand in their notice. The most common reason cited in the UK, and indeed, on a worldwide level, is behavioral issues in the classroom. Of the teachers asked, many said that they felt helpless whilst teaching, unable to control their students, and in some regrettable cases, unsupported by their school. Though it’s undoubtedly the issue that many teachers dread, it is useful to know that it may not be the unsolvable problem that it initially appears to be. Challenging behavior in the classroom can raise feelings of inadequacy, panic and lack of control, but with a few useful tips, the situation can be turned around.

Challenging Behavior: Some Basic Tips

As with any problem in the workplace, it’s a good idea to attempt to get to the root of it, to locate the problem at its source and address it from there. However, in the classroom scenario, when you are also dealing with many other students, this isn’t always initially a viable option. Here are a few useful tips to keep in mind when dealing with difficult behaviour.
  • Don’t ignore it. How you want to address the behavior depends very much of the nature of the act. But, whether an act of open defiance or a muttered comment, it’s important to let the student in question know that you have registered the gesture and that you are in control of the situation.
  • Don’t over-react. It can be particularly difficult, especially for newly qualified teachers, to not over react to certain behavior. The stress of the job, combined with nerves, can often result in an overblown reaction, which can occasionally serve to undermine your authority in class. Try to keep a level head, take a few deep breaths and then address the situation.
  • If possible, avoid confrontation. Confrontation in the classroom rarely ends with a positive result. At best, it results in an upset child, at worst, a completely disrupted classroom. It’s a good idea to attempt to have a quiet word with the student in question alone, or when the class are engaged in other activities.

Getting to the Root of the Problem

One important thing to always keep in mind is that students are human too. They too may be having a bad day, or may have problems at home to contend with, that are unknown to the school. Or they may simply feel unengaged and unmotivated with the subject, and not necessarily through any fault of your own. Addressing engagement in the classroom can be a good place to start though. Think about how you can go about encouraging more active engagement, whether it’s through using multimedia materials, creating an exciting project or taking the class on a visit to a relevant location. It can be very tricky, if you suspect that there is a rare more serious underlying problem, to know how to address the issue. An excellent place to start is to check with other staff, to see if you can find out any information about the student’s life at home. If anything has occurred in the past, it will be in the child’s records. With older students, be vigilant for tell-tale signs of substance abuse or other drug related issues, and for all students, be aware of evidence of other types of abuse or even a school related problem, such as bullying (though thankfully, bullying is now reportedly on the decline in Israeli schools).

Be Informed and Have Confidence in Your Ability to Cope

As a teacher, you will inevitably face some level of challenging behavior in your lessons at some point or another. It is, regrettably, inevitable. However, the key to coping lies firmly in your hands. Be aware of any potential issues in your classroom, take the time to get to know your students, and above all else, remember to keep the situation in perspective. Dealing with challenging behavior is not pleasant, but it is manageable. With the right approach, you can turn the situation around.


  1. Shalom from Canada! I am a behavior specialist in the lower mainland of British Columbia Canada. One great resource is a web based learning site called ""
    Whilst working in an inner city some years ago observing behaviorally challenged students for the purpose of strategic support, I observed the K teacher have complete control over excessive behaviors -- for the whole class! I asked her what she did and how can I learn these great strategies. She said, "whole brain teaching dot net." I said, " please show me." She said, "whole brain teaching dot net." And so I went home and looked up the site. I was hooked and have used Chris Biffle's strategies since while teaching social and emotional learning (SEL) to classrooms with the enthusiasm of new/experienced teachers who have not "seen, heard, or known" of this practice before. They too want to learn how to manage the class and make it fun. I have used these strategies along with "How to confront the purposeful behavior challenged student(s)." Please pass this on to your collegues. Shalom alechem.

  2. Correction:

  3. Very informative read!!

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