5 testing students every teacher has in their class

24th June 2017 at 10:02
You'll be hard pressed to find a class of 30 angels in any school – but variety, as they say, is the spice of life. Here's one teacher on how to deal with 'those' students

The Sulker

The sulker will crease up their face and their bottom lip will rise to resemble Puss in Boots from Shrek. Expect the extreme slouch, slowly moving their body further and further down their chair while simultaneously resting their head on their hand.

Other students will ask them if they are ok. They will either ignore them or start to create a few pearly teardrops that will slowly emerge from one eye. All this because you delivered a rather simple instruction in an assertive way.

At this point, other students will raise the alarm – “Sir, Steven is crying”. With most students now distracted by the sulker, your options are to continue to ignore it while trying to keep your cool and focus on delivering the lesson, ask him to step outside (which sulkers will notoriously refuse to do) or start to shower them with additional attention and praise to try and “cheer them up and make them feel better”. The latter would be the option favoured by Neville Chamberlain, if he were around.

The Solution

I don’t think there’s a definitive answer here. Sulkers will emerge from the sulk when they wish.

Usually, they will have a particular member of the support staff wrapped around their little finger who will almost telepathically arrive during your lesson to whisk them away for some therapeutic talk about what they are planning to do on the weekend.

Miraculously, sulkers usually recover much quicker when away from you and a classroom.

The Plate Smasher

It's the "I hate you" scene from Kevin and Perry: the huff, the puff and the act of melodrama has been repeated daily in classrooms globally ever since, well, teenagers came into existence.

Previously physically stopped from leaving a classroom and caned on the bottom, students now storm past said teacher to the classroom door, sometimes punching it or the wall on exit, muttering an expletive-ridden expose or simply shouting inaudible collections of half-human, half-neanderthal like grunts.

The “blow up” probably occurred because said student woke up on the wrong side of the bed or you asked them to do something they didn’t want to, usually involving work. The plate smasher may continue to escalate their tirade at off guard senior leaders who happen to be passing through.

Parents will arrive at school soon after to be told that their son or daughter had suffered a bout of plate smashing. Some might clip them around the ear in front of the headteacher, others will look for excuses.

Solution

Don’t stop them, don’t confront them, don’t get angry. It's almost always never personal. It's certainly not about your teaching, despite what some might try to imply.

Try to exude a “business as normal” attitude. You don’t have to ignore it but always keep in mind there will be 30 other eyes on you. If you blow a fuse, it might send a message that you have lost control. Also, if you try to stop the student, you risk a much more serious incident.

Let them leave the room but follow up with sanctions. Expect support from the senior leadership team. Be prepared to accept an apology but not an excuse.

The Blanker

Seemingly calm and cool, all appears well until you ask a cursory question and are met with a wall of silence and not even so much as a flinch.

It turns out that detention you dished out last week didn’t go down very well and unlike the plate smasher, this predicament may not be a temporary arrangement. This will take some care and foresight to deal with.

Solution

Refusal to complete work runs counter to school policy. Use the sanctions system you have in place. Don’t allow said student to dictate how you teach.

Don’t let them become more important than other students in the class. Treat them like any other, until they start to comply. You have to win in the end.

The Joker

Usually takes every opportunity to speak. Can be genuinely amusing, can also be just plain annoying. He/she will no doubt push the boundaries with humour on the borderline of acceptability.

They want to know what they can get away with. They will be squarely looking at you when delivering the one-liner – they want to see how you will react.

Solution

“I do the humour in here” was a humorous yet telling retort I used in my first few years of teaching. Although this is an exaggeration and tinged with comedy value, it is perhaps important to remember that you need to dictate who says and does what in your classroom.

A joker will try to use their six lessons in a day as a comedy tour and will fully expect your one hour to be a sell-out success. No doubt this will seemingly go down well with some other classmates, but if it goes down well with you too, it’s a problem.

Shut the laughs down quickly. Avoid trying to fight fire with fire by competing for the stage. You’re the teacher, not a rival comedian. Although this has worked for some in the past, it’s a high-risk strategy: if you crack the wrong joke or say the wrong thing, it can make you look like a complete idiot.

It’s better to keep things as professional as possible. You decide when the humorous moments are going to happen and when they are not. You’re the adult and you’re the boss.

The puppy dog

The student who requires endless attention and recognition. Usually far more intelligent than they give themselves credit for and rarely a sign of them on any register for additional learning support, they prefer to drain the life out of you through a slow and painful insistence that they need you to clarify every single part of the lesson three times.

Classic – “Did you say turn to page 236?” or “Did you say to underline the date and title?” or “Do we need to write down the learning objectives?”. No, no, really just no!

Solution

Only praise when appropriate. Emphasise the importance of being able to work independently. Avoid sanctioning where possible – this student usually just wants to do well.

Remind the student there are a number of other students in the class with a lesser ability level to them and it's not a one-to-one lesson.

Think about your seating plan – is it actually better to have this student sat at the front? Who are they sat next to? A friend or a positive peer? 

Thomas Rogers is a teacher who runs rogershistory.com and tweets @RogersHistory

For more columns by Tom, view his back catalogue

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