Dealing with Difficult Students–What to do When Nothing Works

How do you deal with a difficult student at the secondary level? We don't do cute behavior incentives in high school, and other behavior interventions haven't been effective. Therefore, I'm sharing the behavior contract I created that I used with a couple of particularly difficult students. Click through to read about the contract and download it!

If you think I have the answers here, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. I’m far from having any answers.

I’m not superhuman–none of us are (although it seems at times that everybody expects us to be). I’ve been in the classroom for 14 years, and I still have students I have no idea how to help.

I create engaging lessons, I get to know them, we play games, I call their parents, I (gasp) write referrals, but nothing works.

Case in point–“Thomas” is constantly out of his seat. He bothers everyone around him. He talks to other students all the way across the room. When you correct him, he argues. One second, he’s on task and talking (always talking) about how much he loves your class. The next second (after you tell him to knock the volume down a couple of notches) he’s talking about how much he hates the class–out of his seat again, texting (a scene when you take his phone–he insists it was his mom)–he stares at his phone in “phone jail” and points and shouts, “She has her phone out,” “He’s on his phone!”

“Man, stop bein’ a snitch,” the other kids say.

I am, of course, speaking from experience. This particular student is like a tidal wave of chaos everywhere he goes.

But he’s not a bad kid. He’s even quite lovable, really.

But I cannot let him be a force of disruption in my classroom. That’s not fair to everybody else (and everybody else in this particular class has an enormous capacity for disruption, as well).

So, what do I do?

Well, here’s what I’ve done:

1. Sent him to my quiet area. This is an opportunity for him to get away and reflect. You can download the poster and handout for free HERE to see what I’m talking about. He totally missed the point. Instead of completing a reflection sheet, he completed a page from one of my fourth grade son’s math workbooks (I keep one on the shelf at the back of my room so he can practice on teacher workdays). I had to work really hard not to laugh when he handed that one to me because, really, that was funny.

2. Called home. (No change evident–his parents are doing their best–I truly believe this–I also believe that free will exists and that humans are not robots to be programmed–he has to decide to do the right thing. Yes, they can make it unpleasant for him, but that doesn’t guarantee that he’ll change.)

3. Told his coaches (apparently, running laps doesn’t phase him).

4. Wrote an office referral. He really didn’t care about this, and he complained that I was picking on him.

What do I do next? I teach high school, after all. I see a large number of students everyday. We don’t do cute behavior incentives–we just don’t. But maybe we should?

I also don’t want to start the flurry of office referrals. I’d like to teach this student (but I can’t at the expense of everybody else).

So, I’m going to try something that I’ve only done once before in 14 years–a behavior contract.

I’ve watched him, and I know what his issues are, so I’ll fill out this baby I made five years ago, meet with his parents and an administrator, and have everybody sign so that we’re all on the same page. The ball’s in his court now (theoretically, anyway).

I’ll put a tally mark in each category each time that the undesired behavior is displayed.

How do you deal with a difficult student at the secondary level? We don't do cute behavior incentives in high school, and other behavior interventions haven't been effective. Therefore, I'm sharing the behavior contract I created that I used with a couple of particularly difficult students. Click through to read about the contract and download it!
Download it Now!

The behavior is the responsibility of the student–not the parents and not the teacher. Here’s an example of one filled out:

How do you deal with a difficult student at the secondary level? We don't do cute behavior incentives in high school, and other behavior interventions haven't been effective. Therefore, I'm sharing the behavior contract I created that I used with a couple of particularly difficult students. Click through to read about the contract and download it!

I’ll make sure that there’s a goal to work toward and a reward for achieving it. It could be an ice cream at lunch, or getting to leave with the seniors on Friday (they are dismissed five minutes early at my school [careful with something like that, though :)]). Homework passes, an extra restroom pass, etc….

How do you deal with difficult students? Leave a comment below to let me know.

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