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Reaching Difficult Students

Never give up on “that kid.” You can reach them.
Published: 06/19/2020

First semester you got your feet wet. You have everything set up and running smoothly. The students are all learning. Except for “that kid.”

We all know “that kid.” We've fought to get him to work—any work. We've struggled to get her to stay on task and in her seat. We've ordered him not to throw pencils, paper, or erasers at others. We've battled to help her find success, even when she doesn't seem to want it. Oh yeah, every teacher knows “that kid.”

What can you do about “that kid”? First, don't take it personally. Start each day fresh, no grudges. I know this is the most difficult aspect of this situation. You care about your students and have put enormous effort into their learning; it is extremely challenging to realize their behavior is not always about you. “That kid” is rebelling against life, not you. Take a deep breath and relax.

The next step is to determine what causes these behaviors. This is not a job for you alone. Talk to counselors and administrators, they may already know something that you don't about this child's life. Often this information is not something they will email to you, but a quick conversation can give you all kinds of insight.

You also can talk to parents about the behavior, but I would urge you to find out as much as possible prior to this conversation. Most parents want to help their child, but sometimes they are the issue, so be cautious with your approach. All of this information makes it easier to understand “that kid” and to create a better relationship with them.

And that’s the key—you need to create a relationship with “that kid.” Talk to him or her, one on one, face to face, but not when either or both of you are frustrated or upset. A simple “I feel like you are struggling to sit through class, what can I do to help?” can start a meaningful conversation. And don't leave it at just one conversation. Later, ask follow-up questions (“Is this helping?”).

“That kid” struggles with relationships; the more you can do to build one, the more you are helping them long term.

Looking for More Advice?

Join the Classroom Management group on NEA's edCommunities and connect with educators from around the country as they share practical resources and tips for the classroom. Registration is required but the group is free and open to all. Sign up today.

Hilary Richardson, a member of the Jefferson County Education Association, has taught U.S. history and government at Bear Creek High School in Jefferson County, Colo., since 2004.

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