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Ask Dr. Lynch: Handling Challenging Behavior Problems

EducationWorld Q&A columnist Dr. Matthew Lynch is an associate professor of education at Langston University. Dr. Lynch provides expert advice on everything from classroom management to differentiated instruction. Read all of his columns here, and be sure to submit your own question.

Dr. Matthew Lynch

This week, reader Rebecca H. asks:

I consider myself to be an effective classroom manager and disciplinarian. However, even though over 90% of my students are well behaved, I have three who have me at my wits’ end. I need to do something fast, because their misbehavior is starting to negatively affect my classroom’s dynamic. How do I handle these challenging students?


Rebecca, don’t worry, because things will get better. Every class has its share of challenging students. If you feel frustrated with the behavior issues that you have to handle, take comfort in the fact that you are not alone—handling behavior issues comes with the job description. Experienced teachers also have trouble managing talkative students, power struggles and disputes among students. Below, I have assembled a list of typical classroom behaviors and strategies for handling them. 

Talking in Class

The nonstop talking of a chatterbox can distract other students from concentrating on their work. This is something you can tackle by giving positive instructions and avoiding negative ones. Rather than using a “no talking” approach, direct instructions to specific students, and ask them to “remain quiet.” Follow this with a “thanks” to indicate that your request has been met. If the talking takes place while you are speaking, simply stop speaking. This works as a reminder to students that they are supposed to listen.

Power Struggle

Some students refuse to complete their work as a way to pull the teacher into a power struggle. Do not fall into this trap at any time. Give students choices with consequences attached. Let them know that if the work is not completed within a specified time, they will miss free time or face other consequences. This puts the responsibility of their behavior on them and teaches them to make choices at the same time. If they make the right choice, students should get a smile or a “thank you.”

Arguments Galore

Students who challenge everything the teacher says or does can distract the class. It might be difficult not to reprimand a defiant student, but getting defensive or adopting a hostile attitude is not likely to solve the problem. Remain assertive and civil and focus on the primary issue. Repeated instances like these may require an “after class” discussion with the student to explain how the behavior spoils the relationship with you and interferes with the learning time of peers.


Sulking behavior is also a distraction for the teacher. This is one behavior that needs to be nipped in the bud immediately. Have a private discussion with the student as soon as you observe this behavior. You might have to demonstrate the student’s behavior and mannerisms in order to explain what you mean by “sulking.” More often than not, brooding students are unable to understand that they are being rude or socially unacceptable.


A student who requests assistance all the time may be doing so out of a need for attention, or s/he may genuinely not be able to accomplish the task independently.  Assess the reason behind the clinging habit before you address it. Try ignoring the persistent calls to look at the work for a while, and when he/she waits patiently, reward the student by looking at the work enthusiastically. Another strategy is to have students ask their peers before they speak to you for clarification.

Given that these are the five most persistent and frustrating issues most teachers face, adopting the right strategy for handling them should ensure that you have a class that is well behaved.


About Dr. Lynch

Dr. Matthew Lynch is a Chair and Associate Professor of Education at Langston University and a blogger for the Huffington Post. Dr. Lynch also is the author of the newly released book It’s Time for a Change: School Reform for the Next Decade and A Guide to Effective School Leadership Theories. Please visit his Web site for more information.

If you have a question for “Ask Dr. Lynch,” submit it here. Topics can be anything education-related, from classroom management to differentiated instruction.

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