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Fostering a Positive Student Relationship with a Problem Student

When it comes to being a teacher, no one enjoys dealing with problem students; but the biggest part of the problem is the title educators assign them - "problem." We shouldn't approach students like problems to be solved because they're kids. They are struggling, learning, and growing like the rest of the population.

Determine the "Problem"

Teachers can foster a positive relationship with students by establishing the type of disruptive behavior. These behaviors can manifest in three categories:

  1. Academic: Not completing homework or cheating.
  2. Social: Talking in class or being rude.
  3. Emotional: Lack of interest or interaction and being overly loud or distracting others.

Often students act out due to underlying issues outside of the classroom. These include:

  1. A difficult homelife
  2. Lack of sleep
  3. Physical and mental health issues
  4. Bullying

Aids for "Problem" Students

To mitigate these issues, teachers must adapt to the student's needs as much as they're expected to adapt to classroom guidelines. Here's how.

Be There

It's a teacher's responsibility to ensure their pupils feel comfortable enough that they're unafraid to try new things and answer difficult questions without shame of failure. Do your best to let the students know you as a person rather than just an authority figure. If they're relaxed with you, a feeling of trust can develop.

Try to find out who the student is as an individual, not just a name strategically placed on a seating chart. Consider their challenges. Is it classroom-related? Or home-related? Why are they misbehaving? Is it a cry for attention? Earn their trust as a person, so they're willing to level with you about what they're experiencing.

Speak with Parents

One of the best ways to understand a student is through their parents. One-on-one private meetings might give you more insight into the student's interests, strong and weak areas, and problems. Remember that the parents might be oblivious to their child's behavior outside the home. Getting to know the parents can become a two-way street to traversing stronger relationships in and out of the classroom.

Remember Privacy

Whatever happens in the classroom, don't make it public. Take the student aside during lunch, a break, or after school to have a heart-to-heart. It can cause extra stress to a student already having problems if they're reprimanded in front of others. 

If Harry is being bullied or facing an abusive parent at home, yelling at him in class will only fuel the fire. Losing your temper can easily disrupt other kids as well.

Set Rules

No one likes rules, but most people follow them to avoid consequences or reap the rewards. Making them aware of the consequences of their actions will often stop them from breaking the rules. Implement a warning system, then adhere to it. Hold students accountable. Cultivate an environment of critical thinking.

Rules, of course, will be broken. In that case, ensure that the punishment fits the crime. Talking out of turn shouldn't result in suspension. The suspension isn't unreasonable if they've received three warnings and already served three detentions. Approach students with a mindset of fairness but firmness.

Use Rewards

Praise all good behavior. Don't go overboard, but make it clear that students are accountable for their actions and reward good with good. Sometimes pointing out the negative only gratifies the problem student's needs: attention. Watch them with other classmates. When a student is being problematic, they're not alone. There will be friends who support him and will be waiting for your reaction.

Instead of lashing out, focus on their positive attributes or comment on another student's good behavior. If your problem student isn't reprimanded, their peers won't notice them, and they might change their tune to receive attention.

Speak with Colleagues

Consult with other teachers that the student has classes or contact with. Do they have the same problems you do? What do they do to stop or curtail the disruptiveness? Be patient and explore all avenues of communication available. Perhaps the kid excels in math or another subject but has no interest in Latin-Greek roots. See if there's any way you can bring the student's interests into your lesson. Again, be there for your students but try to understand them outside the realm of academia.

Final Thoughts

When students can freely express their feelings and fears, you can do the same. You can help them see how their behavior is causing problems for you and the rest of the class. You can begin fostering a positive student-teacher relationship through open communication, inclusion, and rewarding positive behavior.

Written by Cathy Bailot
Education World Contributor
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