Classroom Management Part 2: Shutting Down Back-talk

“It takes one fool to talk back.  It takes two fools to have a conversation. – Fred Jones Tools for Teachers

In Part 1, I discuss the easiest, least time-consuming method for stopping unwanted behavior in a classroom.  It’s always the step that I start with, and my students know “the look” very well.  However, it doesn’t always work.  There are those students who want attention, and in some cases, even negative attention will do for them.  You know those kids.  They are argumentative, hot tempered, and sometimes quite rude.

Some people enjoy arguing.  Some thrive on it.  That’s why we have lawyers and politicians, after all.  It’s also where philosophy comes from and it is a healthy part of teaching and learning. But when you’re pulled into an argument with a student that ends up in you getting angry, you are actually slowly losing control of the situation one syllable at a time.

Many teachers feel threatened by students who argue with them in front of a class.  I’ve had teachers who didn’t like to be questioned or corrected.  That’s a personality trait that I don’t possess.  It isn’t fun, of course, but I’ve never been upset about admitting when I’m wrong about something.  Our students learn more from us than just the material we teach in class.  They learn from our actions and reactions, our body language, and they learn our triggers.  We’ve all known people who can push our buttons easily, and students are no exception.

Is the teacher always right?

So how do you avoid losing control to students who talk back in class?  There’s not really an easy answer, but the first thing you have to remember is that confrontational students generally want one thing: for you to lose your cool.  They are trying to upset you, and getting pulled into the argument is usually giving them what they want.  They also want you to get off topic so they don’t have to do any work.

Here are some things to think about:

  • Don’t be afraid to be wrong, and admit it when you are.  It’s a humbling experience to stand in front of a roomful of students, write the wrong answer on the board, and then have to go back and correct it when a student points out that it’s wrong.  There’s nothing wrong with humility.  Just because you’re the teacher doesn’t mean you’re incapable of making mistakes.  When we learn that, we realize that we can learn as much from our students as they can from us.  Sometimes a new perspective can make us better teachers.
  • Don’t lose your cool.  If you maintain a cool, collected attitude at all times, students will soon figure out that they can’t ruffle your feathers.  That doesn’t mean that they will stop trying, but eventually your calm attitude will become habit and you will notice that you feel less stress and have more patience in all areas of your life as well.
  • Be extra friendly with the argumentative students.  Engage them in friendly debates during appropriate times, and allow them to express themselves when they are doing so in a controlled and reasonable way.  If it becomes a disruption to the class, it should end.
  • Allow time for class debate, and teach appropriate debate techniques.  The “When you… I feel…” method is used in counseling for people who struggle with appropriately expressing themselves.  It can easily be transferred to a classroom setting and can be set as an expectation in order for students to speak in class.
  • Students, especially those in urban settings, often struggle with appropriate communication and negotiation techniques.  These are skills we learn from our parents and other adults at a very young age.  They are skills that teachers should model and reinforce throughout childhood.  Make it part of your curriculum.  It will help maintain bullying as well!

How do you handle argumentative students in your classroom?

Until next time!

Word Count: 3685

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