Getting Control of a Very Difficult Class

Getting Control of a Very Difficult Class

Have you ever had a class that just tried your patience day after day? Have you ever felt like you could walk away from teaching forever tomorrow, and be fine with it? This year, I have one of the most challenging classes I have ever had. I am still working on training them to do what I want them to do, but I know that in the end, I will win! Meanwhile, we are spending a LOT of time on classroom management, modeling routines and procedures often. Here is a list of some classroom management tips and techniques that I have used successfully in Kindergarten, but I think that they would probably work in most any elementary grade classroom.  I hope that some of them will work for you, too!


Have a (Naughty) Child Model the Correct Behavior
One thing that seems to work well, is having a very difficult child in class model the correct behavior. I usually start with a reliably good kid to model the behavior, and then switch to a naughtier one. Then you know that he or she DOES understand. The Daily Five book has a wonderful explanation of this technique. If you don’t have that book, I would get it and read at least the first chapter or two on training your class to read silently. The training method works for other activities as well as silent reading.

Ask Parents for “Advice”
In this day and age, talking to parents about their child’s misbehavior and expecting them to back you up can often backfire.  All too often, parents see their role as the person that is there to defend their child, rather than to discipline their child and help the teacher.  Therefore, I have changed my approach when I call parents of misbehaving children, especially the FIRST time I call.  I ask them if they can help me by giving me advice on the best way to get their child to cooperate with my instructions.

This is the basic technique.
1. Before I call, I think of a couple of nice things to say about the child.  (This is very important, because as soon as parents hear that the teacher is on the phone, they tend to feel defensive.)
2. THEN, I tell them that I am calling them for advice, since they are the experts on their child, and I’m SURE the child behaves at home.  (Ummm… not always!  But a little white lie won’t hurt too much!)
3. Can the parent give me any tips for getting the child to ______?
4. Then I thank the parent profusely for their help, and let them know that if they can think of anything else that will help to let me know.
5. I encourage them to also speak to their child and encourage good behavior at school.
6. I ask him or her if they have any concerns or questions, and if they would like a follow up phone call, note, or email to let them know how the child is doing.
7. Get a notebook or clipboard and write it down whenever you make a phone call or leave a message.  Keep a log of parent contacts, if at all possible.  If you leave it by the phone, it won’t be too much of a burden.  My phone log has absolutely SAVED me now and then!

Getting Control of a Very Difficult Class

Start with the parents of the ringleaders, if you can identify them. When kids are naughty, I start talking to parents after the first week or two of the school year. I prefer to wait until two weeks have passed if I can, but sometimes I can’t wait. As soon as I have to put someone in time out or discipline a child in any way, I grab my notepad and write it down so that I don’t forget what child did. I do tell the child that I will have to speak to his parents later, if I intend to do so.

Put the Child on the Phone with Mom or Dad (Immediately)
This technique can stop a very insistent rule-breaking or defiant child in his or her tracks; but be sure that it does not turn into a “public shaming” type of thing.  The phone call should be done in a corner of the room while the rest of the class is busy with something else.

Talking to a parent about their misbehavior often leaves a Kindergartner in tears.  I don’t enjoy watching a child cry, but when a child is defiant and rude, and I KNOW that the parent will back me up, this works immediately.  In my experience, it works better than calling the office and asking them to come pick up the child for a talk with the principal.

This is what I do:  I just stop what I’m doing and take the child to the phone. Then I have them listen while I call their parents and tell them what their child was doing. Then I put the child on the phone and have that child explain. This is usually VERY effective, but you need to have a pretty good working relationship with the parent. If you think you might need to do this, you might want to let the parent know that if the need arises, you will be calling them during the day for help, and get permission to do this if necessary.  And I would like to reiterate that the phone call should be done in as private a place as is possible.

If you need the parents help right away but never asked them for prior permission, you can try calling and ask for advice on how to handle the child.  Usually, in my experience, the parent will ask to speak to the child, and that is the end of that!

Have Children Earn Chips for Good Behavior in Teams
Something else I have done in the past is have the kids work in teams to get the most chips for good behavior. They each have a bowl and I add chips when kids in their row are listening, etc. I like to count them and weigh them in front of the kids with a balance scale, too! The kids like that.

We used to put one chip in front of the child while they were working at the table. If the child got out of control at a center, I quietly came up and simply removed the chip, usually without saying a single word!  If the child asks my why he lost the chip, I tell him that we are working now, and I will explain it later.  I sometimes ask the child to think about it and see if he or she can figure it out.  Usually, they do already KNOW.  Then at the end of that rotation, whoever still has a chip gets to put it in their group’s bowl.  As they put each chip in, I quickly praise each child for a great job.

When Kids Respond Only to Their Parents, Sometimes They Respect the Video that Their Parents May See
Here’s another one. Get out a video camera and put it on a tripod or a countertop. It doesn’t even have to be ON, as long as they think it is on.  (Of course, sometimes in my classroom the video camera IS on, ha ha!)  Let them know that their parents will get to see it if necessary. Now that’s pretty tricky, and I wouldn’t do it unless I absolutely had to. I do, however, get a permission to photograph paper signed and take pictures of the inappropriate behavior, just to show the parents and principal. It can be destroyed after that.  Please note that any photography of a child can only be done with parental consent or it is a violation of COPPA.

Sometimes, it is the only way to make a point.  However, even just asking the child if their mom or dad would like what they saw on that video tape is enough to make the behavior stop.  Just remember that if you are bluffing on taping the child, he’ll figure it out before too long.

Try Teaching the Classroom Management Routines and Rules with Music, Stories, and Puppets
I always try to keep things positive whenever I possibly can, and having kids learn rules and routines with songs and motions is one of the best ways I know how.  Here are some clips from my Classroom Management DVD.  It also comes on CD.


This song about tattling is a sure fire winner!  It is TOTALLY effective in my classroom!  The kids really get the point:  nobody likes a tattletale!


Back Up and Try it Again
Now my class this year is very difficult! But they are improving in baby steps. Every time someone blurts out something without raising a hand, I stop, and back up. I say, “Okay, we’re going to try that again. I’m going to read that page again, and let’s see if you can all be quiet. Don’t say a word! Here we go, let’s try it.” Then I say it or read it again, etc., and see if they do better. The kids get so tired of my repeating that routine, that they pretty much give up on it after a while and will ask the naughty ones to quit.  The teacher can WIN just by persistence.  

This also means that I get to say “Good job!” rather than “Go to time out” more often. For the kid that keeps blurting after that, THEN I send him or her to time out. It helps us from spiraling down to the negative so much.  Keeping things positive can be pretty hard with a very difficult class, but this is one way to get there.

Reading Books About Behavior (Social Stories!)
Another great technique is by reading the children stories about rules, etc.  These are known as “social stories” and they are a commonly used tool by counselors, therapists, teachers, psychologists, and many other professionals.  I love to tell social stories with books and puppets because the children see it as a treat rather than a lesson!  Little kids sit up and listen when a puppet talks!  If you do a search for “social stories,” you will come up with MANY, and tons of them are printable and free!   Here are a few books from my collection (both of the puppets were purchase on Amazon, though):

Wiggles Books and Puppet
We read one of these Wiggles books nearly every day as a way of teaching and reviewing the procedures and rules.


Sittles Learns to Join In; A Book About Class Participation

The Little Sittles book teaches about the importance of active participation in the learning process. Kids don’t usually learn a lot when they just SIT there and watch! They need to get up and MOVE!


Give them STRUCTURE- and LOTS OF IT!
Children that come from homes where there is not a lot of discipline seem to need a lot of STRUCTURE and BOUNDARIES. They cannot be left on the floor to play with unifix cubes in a group of five. They will go nuts! They do better in chairs. Whenever I give them boundaries, they do better.  So try to figure out how your class functions the most successfully and go from there.  Whatever works- do more of that.

For example, I have a carpet with colored sections for each child to sit in. We have a seating chart. I may move children a couple of times a week if needed. Some groups need to sit in certain spots at the tables at group time. Certain kids can never sit together. I cannot give them a single inch, or they will take a mile. Hopefully, we will get them all trained and they will be perfect little angels by Thanksgiving, and then I will be able to relax with them a little bit. They do have their wonderfully sweet moments!

Here are some examples of structure and boundaries that can be tried:
– Each child can be given a certain spot to sit in on the rug- even without a colored carpet with squares!
– Try for a cheaper alternative to the big colored carpet with squares. (FYI, I do get commissions for the SitSpot links mentioned in this post!)

Sit Spots Shape Seats

– Have children enter the classroom and take a seat just five or six at a time, praising them as they walk in nicely.
– Have children move from one center to another just one group at a time as you all watch, and cheer for them as they follow instructions.
– Let children play with a certain manipulative within the boundaries of a rug or even a jump rope spread out in a circle.  The toys and the kids playing with them must stay in the circle.
– Assign seats at the tables where you teach small groups so that children don’t have to run to sit next to their friends, etc.  You can always reward good behavior with letting them sit anywhere on a certain day.
– If there is a certain toy that everyone wants to play with, make a check-off sheet and rotate kids through so that there is no fighting over it.  If you know that only four kids can play with it at a time without a problem, then only allow four.  I worked with a teacher that made “toy passes” for certain toys and passed them out at the beginning of playtime.  If a child left the toy, they had to give it back to her and she would decide whose turn it was next.
– If kids cannot line up without pushing and shoving, try taping down names on the floor (or even sight words) and assign kids spots to line up on.  Those that tend to push, etc., cannot stand near each other.  SitSpots also make great line up spots, and can help space kids out.
– If kids fight over the “best” pencils or other supplies, put names on them and have them find their own.  You could also put sight words or numbers on them and have them find their assigned one!  Be sure to assign a word or number to the struggling children that they really NEED to learn!  (Might as well kill two birds with one stone!)
– Make special arrangements for any child that cannot transition without pushing, fighting, etc., to simply not line up (or whatever) with the others EVER.  I did this with one little boy who had decided that he just HAD to be first in line everyday, and would fight his way up to get there.  So I told him that he never was to get in line.  I made a chalk circle about five feet away from the line, and told him that was his spot.  He HATED this- but later he earned the right to rejoin the class.

These techniques are TIGHT controls on the class’s every move.  BUT… once you get them under control, you can start to gradually release them, one behavior at a time and then teach them methodically how you want them to behave, with more freedom.  And if they can’t handle it?  You can always go right back to the way it was before and try again in a month.

One thing to remember is that all of these little classroom management “fixes” do take extra TIME out of your day.  That’s just the way it is.  There’s nothing that you can do about that.  So it’s likely that with a class like that, you won’t get to cover as much as you do with the kind of nice, cooperative class that we all would like to have!  So remember that, gather up all of the patience you can muster, and take a deep breathe.  Let it out slowwwly and then just let it go.

And remember this:  once you master teaching a class like this, you will have learned that you can do and teach just about ANYTHING, if you try!  When you’re done, you’ll have so many tricks up your sleeve, you’ll be the expert that everyone goes to for advice.  So cheer up!  It’s not all bad!

Think About WHY the Struggles Are Happening- and See if Any Can Be Eliminated
It is true that children often have a reason for their misbehavior.  I am no child psychologist, that’s for sure!  But I have read a lot of great books on the subject, (here’s my favorite by Ronald Mah) and I know that many of the behaviors that appear to be designed to make a teacher’s life miserable are actually a cry for help from the child.


Difficult Behavior in Early Childhood

This is my favorite book on behavior management, by Ronald Mah. ALL of his books are EXCELLENT. I especially like listening to him speak in person! Come to the CKA Conference each January to hear him live.

This is my favorite book on behavior management, by Ronald Mah. ALL of his books are EXCELLENT. I especially like listening to him speak in person! Come to the CKA Conference in January to hear him live.  He is usually a speaker there.

The question is, is it possible for the teacher to help the child resolve the problem?  For more on this topic, see this outstanding blog, Teaching Through Turbulence, written by a teacher named Heather who has taught classes for emotionally disturbed special needs children for MANY years.  This blog is GOLD!  Here are some of my favorite posts:

Recognizing Triggers

Behavior Management Linky  (Recognizing the Functions of Behavior)


Functions of Behavior

This chart is from the blog Teaching Through Turbulence, and is an excellent example of how you can look for the function or cause of the behavior and try to fix the problem THAT way. It’s perfect, if you can manage it!

This chart is from the blog Teaching Through Turbulence, and is an excellent example of how you can look for the function or cause of the behavior and try to fix the problem THAT way. It’s perfect, if you can manage it!


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Heidi Butkus

About Heidi Butkus

Heidi Butkus has been teaching in California public schools since 1985. She has somehow managed to stay in Kindergarten all of those years, with the exception of five years in first grade, and also taught a parent participation preschool for a short while! Combining a strong knowledge of brain research with practical experience, Heidi has created a wealth of fun and engaging teaching techniques that work well with diverse populations. She has presented at conferences nationwide, and is the owner and founder of Heidi has also created fourteen original CD's and DVD's for teaching beginning reading and math skills, three musical plays designed especially for young performers, and has written some picture books and many other teaching resources. Heidi's multimedia workshops are filled with fun and motivational educational activities that have been classroom tested and revised for effectiveness with all types of learners.
  1. a daily stamp or sticker on a calendar might work with the notebook. Kids wouldn’t lose them and parents would be aware of their child’s behavior on a daily basis. A quick note in the box could explain what the kid did. Hopefully parents would work with you in improving their child’s behavior. It could also serve as documentation for an SST or meeting with principal. Parents could sign it at the end of each week. Just an idea…

  2. Good idea! The only thing is that I probably wouldn’t want to try to update it for every child, just the ones that have issues. That is definitely a good way to keep things documented for SST.

  3. I use the two hand rule for questions. They put on hand on their mouth to remember to keep quiet and one hand up to let me know they have something to say. If they speak out of turn, I remind my friends (not directly to that student) that I can only hear my friends are using their two hands and I call their names…they want to be heard and quickly go back to our two hand rule and wait their turn to speak. It's easy to keep everyone on track in a positive way. -Tonya

  4. These are some of the best suggestions I’ve seen for managing difficult behaviors in class! I will be ordering the sit spots ASAP! Even though I’ve assigned line order, my second graders still struggle with not pushing and giving personal space when they get in line. I’ve debated about video taping behaviors before, but worry about how to do it in a way that produces a positive outcome. How do you handle your meetings? Thanks for all the great advice!

    • Wow, what a nice compliment, Stacy! Thank you so much!
      Handling parent conference meetings? That sounds like a GREAT topic! I wish that I could say that I did it super successfully ALL the time, but I did not. I’m working on a blog post now on handling an AGGRESSIVE class, and in that post I talk about how I conference with parents about those types of issues. Look for that soon.
      Meanwhile, I’ll give some thought to how I have most successfully done parent conferences!
      Thank you so much!

  5. This couldn’t have come at a better time! I am also having one of the most difficult classes of my career. I have left school at the end of the day physically and emotionally exhausted and have wondered if I still have what it takes in this profession. This blog has given me encouragement to continue on, as difficult as it may be and in the end there will be that “light at the end of the tunnel” moment with my kiddos.

  6. This is good advice, and I have used a few these. However, I work with an EL population where all of the teachers don’t speak the 1st language of our students. Calling the parents immediately and putting their child on the phone wouldn’t work because of the language communication issues. Do you have any advice for this situation?

    • Hi, Claire!
      Well, that’s a good question. Sometimes parents leave a number of a person that can translate. If not, it might be a good practice to try to somehow get one at the beginning of the year, even if you have to use an app to translate the request to provide the number of a person that can translate when needed. There will be times when communication with the parents is necessary, after all.

    • I have this issue as well with about half of my class. I’ve been told by those that speak Spanish that Google translate is a good tool. Not that you always have time to type a note, translate it and print it. But if it were something important, or if you have a printer in your classroom, it might be a way to solve that. I have parents write their name and the kids bring it back, so I know it was read.

  7. Heidi, you have some great ideas here! I just finished student teaching last Tuesday and have been asked to take over a kindergarten class for the rest of the year starting tomorrow. I am a nervous wreck because there are a lot of behavior issues going on in this class and the teacher they were supposed to have took a leave within the first three weeks of school. These kids have had no stability whatsoever, so my first order of business is to get the behaviors under control. I love a lot of what you had to say here, but can you give me any suggestions for a child that just runs around the classroom with absolutely no care about the consequences? His parents send him to school with pockets full of candy-I’m not kidding-so I’m guessing he is on a sugar high, but then he crashes before lunch, needing a nap and lacks the ability to concentrate. I think if I can get him to follow the classroom expectations, everyone else will be a piece of cake. Thanks for any ideas you have!

    • Wow! That’s really a tough one!
      I would start with the parents. Tell them that he can NOT come to school with his pockets stuffed with candy. I would have the principal sit in on a conference with you, to make sure that you get some support on this. Then I would make sure that he does not have candy with him first thing in the morning (yes, I would check and take it away if he has it. Double check with your administrators that this is okay. If not, have the school nurse or principal do it each day. It’s not a healthy practice.)

      Then I would start from the very beginning, teaching the class the rules. Pretend it’s the very first day of school and start teaching procedures, one at a time. Make sure you are very consistent!
      Good luck!

  8. Thank you for all your amazing and practical strategies. I LOVE hearing about success stories.
    A quick question for you. I am interested in knowing a bit more about your idea for using chips as good behaviour in a group. First, what do u do with the one child that ALWAYS sabotizes the effort? And second, what happens because of the earned chips?
    Thank you,

    • Hi, Allison!
      If there is one child that continually ruins things for the others in the group, then I can put him on a separate contract so that his behavior doesn’t count towards the rest of the group’s “score.” And usually in that case, he or she is already on some kind of “plan!” I know what you mean, though! I’ve certainly had that happen, too! It’s very frustrating. Sometimes, I encourage the rest of the group to ask him or her to join them in earning the reward.
      And what did they earn? For us, usually it was just lining up first for recess or lunch! My class almost always just enjoyed being “the winners!” But the key is to find out what the class wants to work towards. Sometimes children want to be the first ones to choose the balls or jump ropes at recess, or the first ones to choose the toys at play time, etc.

  9. I thought the video one was great. First time I heard that. I bet it works too. You know so many shops use cameras and have signs that say “smile:) you’re on camera.” I bet it lowers theft and in this case students acting up.

    People act differently when they know they are on camera.

  10. A couple of simple things that I have been using that seem to be successful: (mind you the class is difficult also!!!) like most, my group tables are by color. I call them to the carpet and they sit on the square that is the same color as their table. Also I have a “table captain” everyday. 1 child per table is responsible for the table duties per day. They must put away centers, bring pencils for sharpening, collect their table’s papers, pass out papers, etc. It cuts down on traffic during clean up time with only 4 “table captains” up in the classroom. At each seat is a color sticker, pink, orange, green and yellow. Everyday on our calendar board I write a color word. The person who sits at that color dot, is the captain. Also on the calendar board is a name. We go in alphabetical order and I assign a line leader daily. They know where to look for line leader and table captain everyday. There are no arguments and that part runs smoothly. Plus they learn to recognize color words, we discuss alphabetical order and they also have to learn some patience!!! These seem like small things but they seem to help manage…

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  12. Just some advice on the calling parents and putting the child on the phone. Make sure you do it out of the class room and not in front of the other children. I had a teacher do this to my chlid this year. She has never been a behavior issue before. She is high functioning Autistic and a rule follower to the letter of the law. She kept forgetting a young girls name and this offended the girl and upset her that she kept having to remind my daughter of her name. The teacher a very young one thought that my daughter was doing it on purpose and decided that it as on purpose decided that it was such awful behavior that I needed to be called about it. Instead of sending a note home or taking my daughter out of the room to talk to me she called me in front of all the other children which greatly upset my daughter that she would be in any trouble because she could not understand why she was in trouble. My daughter began sobbing which caused other children in the class to point at her and laugh and it turned into a public shaming spectacle. It was horrible for a child with HFA. The teacher did not see what she did was wrong even after we talked to the Asst Principal and now she feels we are over sensitive. I am a first to defend the teacher type of parent but in this case I could not defend the teacher. I think kids today get away with too much in the class room but we still need to be careful about doing things just to embarrass them into being good.

    • Thank you, Kelsey- that’s a really good point. That sounds like it was a very unfortunate situation for all concerned!
      When I have put a child on the phone in the past, it has always been in a (relatively) quiet corner since that is where the phone is. I would never recommend making it a public shaming spectacle.
      Thank you so much for your input; it’s a good reminder to be sensitive and good advice. I just edited the post to include that.

    • Hello,
      I am not relying on parents to handle my discipline problems. I am asking parents to back me up and assist in teaching their child self control and responsibility. After all, the child is mine for only a few hours a day, for ten months of one year. But the parents have been responsible for their child since birth and will continue to be until the child is at least 18 years old. In some cases, parents are even held legally responsible for their child’s actions! So, the parents really ought to have much more motivation to help their child succeed socially, academically, and emotionally than anyone else.

      • you are using a phone call to parents as a threat and / or punishment. I feel a teacher is in charge of managing the behaviors in their classroom. You suggested not making this a “public shaming.” Is it a private shaming? Why shame a child when there are so many positive ways to build them up?

        • Geri,
          The phone call is not meant to be “a shaming” at all. It is meant to let the child know that his or her behavior is not acceptable to his parents, whom he will have probably bonded with better than the teacher. That bond is what helps the child comply with the directions, because children usually want to please their parents. They need to know that their parents and teachers are communicating and are on the same page. One of the fathers of a student I had told me that just as soon as his son understood that we were communicating daily, EVERYTHING changed! I had to agree! I don’t know why some children are like this, but some of them are. Maybe they feel that “the cat is away, so it’s time to play?” Maybe if we had more playtime at school, we wouldn’t be having so many discipline problems?

          I agree that the positives are incredibly important and should be used first! I try MANY of them before I ever get to this point, which is truly a last resort. I would bet that ANY teacher would much prefer to pile on the praise (me included) than dole out punishments and discipline. But when that doesn’t work, this blog post offers up some other things to try.

          • I believe in involving the parent. I taught a child this past school year that wouldn’t do a thing for me. As soon as I talked to the parent, with the child present, I had a different child in my classroom. The child actually became one of my better behaved students.

            I think it just depends on the child, some children want to do everything in their power to defy their parent. I also had one of these in my classroom this past year. He didn’t want to disappoint me. I began communicating with his father about his positive behaviors in the classroom and his father called a meeting with the three of us.
            We worked out a system to where the father would notify me whenever the child misbehaved at home. Because the child knew that I would be disappointed, he started behaving better at home as well.

            With all of this being said, I couldn’t agree with you more. Parent communication is they key to a child’s behavior and success.

      • How can you manage behave and inculcate values if nobody back them up at home? This reminds me a 6th grader teacher in my School: teachers provide knowdlege, give advices about respect and being an example, but is the parents dutty educate their kids

        • I agree, Estela! Unfortunately, it is always so much easier for everyone to blame another person. Many parents believe that it is the teachers job to do all of these things, and they don’t see it as their responsibility at all.
          We can only do our best. Once the children go home to their parents, it is out of our hands. The following year, they will go on to the next teacher and continue on with the only constant thing in their lives being their parents and family. They spend more hours with them than with us. My advice to you is to pray about it, educate yourself as thoroughly as possible, do your very best, and then release it to the Lord.
          Always remember that each year is different, so try not to get discouraged. If one class is very difficult, the next year’s class may be the complete opposite. So don’t give up! I’ve been there and done that; it gets better!

  13. Thank you so much for this! I’m an english teacher in México and de are having HUGE problems with a preeschool class, they keep fighting, misbehaving, being rude each others and two of them STEAL the materiales! We (the clases Teacher and me, ’cause I’m only 30minutes daily un the classroom) are desperate! I’ll show her this amazing post and try it on, hopping de can get something good con the next 4 months

    • Hi again, Esthela!
      You may want to read this book by Ronald Mah: Difficult Behavior in Early Childhood. This is a great book that helps teachers and caregivers explore the reasons behind misbehavior in early childhood, and offers some very practical solutions for it. Another book by the same author is called The One Minute Temper Tantrum Solution. Both of these books talk a lot about figuring out what is really CAUSING the behavior, and trying to find solutions that will fix those problems. He also helps you identify what the set the child off, or the “triggers.” If one thing in particular caused the child to start hitting, kicking, etc., then perhaps you can figure out a way to help the child either avoid the triggers or learn how to communicate the frustration in a better way, other than physically, etc.

  14. Dear Heidi,

    Keep up the good work! We cannot teach if students aren’t allowed to learn because of disruptions and interruptions. I teach middle school and have called parents during class. I usually have to do it once or twice, at the beginning of the school year; then we all can move forward.
    Parents MUST be involved with their children’s behavior and learning. They set the foundation of the child’s attitude towards learning, teachers, and peers.

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  17. Thank you for sharing such great ideas! I have taught for 24 years and always worry about classroom management. Each class is so different and I try to remember they come to me after 3 months at home with little boundaries. As teachers we sometimes get so caught up in the learning that we rush through the management piece for fear we won’t get all of the curriculum in by May. The beginning of the year is so important to the learning that will go on the rest of the year. SLOW DOWN in the first few weeks of school and you will get to the curriculum! Thank you!

  18. Heidi,
    Thank you for your post! I have been teaching kindergarten for 10 years and I am happy to say that I follow most of your ideas already! HOWEVER!!! This year I have kids who seem to not understand the concepts of listening and following directions, lining up, walking, raising their hands, etc. To say I am having a trying year is another story! I have had the years where I just want to go home at the end of the day and pass out, but this year I not only do I want to go home and have an adult beverage I also don’t want to go back the next day! I have even stated that this is my LAST year teaching. I am so disappointed in parents with their lack of “parenting” and expecting me to teach them how to be a parent when it comes to discipline, or them just assuming that I am the problem, not their little one.

    I guess my question to you is how do you hand all the parent attacks, not only on your ability to teach, but the attacks on your character. I am known as the “tough” teacher because I do run a very tight ship, and my students usually come out with VERY high scores at the end of the year, so I know my teaching is NOT the problem. I am feeling very very down, and cry a lot because I am feeling so overwhelmed by this class and the parents. (BTW I am NOT a crier or a complainer, I have had my fair share of “that” class, its just this year is doing me in and its only been 3 weeks!)

    I would greatly appreciate any advice that you may have, I am about to throw in the towel! ;(


    • Hi, Kinder Krazy!
      Oh, I am SO SORRY that you are having such a tough time! It sounds like a terribly difficult group of children AND parents! And I don’t blame you for any of your feelings or for wanting to do something else. You know, it’s one thing to have children in your class that are needy and difficult to deal with… but if the parents are supportive, it makes it so much easier! But if they are also attacking the teacher rather than dealing with their child’s misbehavior? Well, that’s even WORSE! I can’t imagine what goes through people’s minds sometimes. It’s just a completely different mindset than what I grew up with.
      I would like to post your question (anonymously) on my Facebook page and see what the rest of the teachers there say. Is that okay?

  19. I am in my 25th year of teaching pre K, K, year 1 and 2. Teaching is,( now was) my passion. The class I have this year ( and in a new school to boot) is the worst I have ever taught. I am seriously considering leaving. 7 girls and 21 boys and I am defeated! Nothing that I have tried is working

    • Irene,
      I’m so sorry that you are having such a terrible year! I can hardly believe that you have BOTH pre-K and K, and that you have seven girls and TWENTY-ONE BOYS! Good heavens! Where is your principal? Where are your teammates? Why is your class not being split up into a more manageable group?
      Please don’t blame yourself for having a hard time with this difficult situation! And I have to say that the fact that you are at a new school is probably also making things harder for you, too. I am at a new school as well this year, and even though I am in the same district as before, I’m just amazed at how different things can be from one school to another. Sometimes I feel like a brand new teacher all over again! It’s humbling and it can bring you down.

      Remember that every class you have will teach you more tricks that you can use in the future to your advantage. I think that for now, your unique situation calls for some unique solutions. You need ideas that reach BOYS, specifically! If I were you, I would research what makes little boys tick, and use that to your advantage. Meanwhile, how about if I post a generic question on my Facebook page for advice from others that have been through similar situations? I have heard several people say from time to time that they have classes made up of almost all boys, and they have had to approach things differently.
      For example, I believe that boys enjoy competitions more than girls do. So maybe a contest to see which group of kids behaves the best? Also, boys usually buy into things better if they understand WHY it’s important. I wish I knew more…
      I’ll post your question on Saturday afternoon. Hang in there!

  20. Hello ms heidi, im nisa from indonesia, im sorry my english not good, im very happy read your writing, you have support me to condition my class, thank you so much ms heidi

  21. Heidi,
    I am in my 3rd year of having a very difficult class. One of the biggest problems I am constantly trying to figure out is how to give the well-behaved students the time and teaching they deserve. Many of my students are not emotionally and mentally available to learn each day but I do have less than half of my class who come from relatively stable homes and show good self-regulation skills. Do you have any advice on how I can better meet the needs of these students so that their learning isn’t sacrificed due to the constant disruptions by the others. Thanks for any suggestions you may have.

    • Hi, Laura,
      Thank you for your question. This is really a TOUGH one, as I’m sure you know. I’ve been trying to think of some suggestions for you, and have only come up with a couple.

      1. Find a way to document what your disruptive students are doing as quickly as possible and with as little interruption to any lesson as you can, so that you don’t have to actually get up and leave the lesson to take care of it. For example, if you can wear an apron with pockets and keep a notepad on a small clipboard in one of the pockets, then perhaps you could make a quick note of what the child did and then move on with the lesson. Perhaps when you come to a natural stopping point in the lesson, you can choose to deal with the child during that time. I know that this will not always be possible, but perhaps sometimes it will be- and that will help you regain some of your instructional time back again.

      2. Develop some abbreviations that you always use when making notes on children’s behaviors, so that you don’t have to take much time to write down what is happening. For example, I always used “int.” for “interrupting,” and “tat.” for “tattling.” When two children were talking, I wrote both kids names (often abbreviated as well, if the names were long,) and then wrote “talk” afterwards.

      3. I like to give my children that are well behaved extra play time (or free time, for the older kids) so that I can deal with my misbehaving children during that time. That is when we discuss what the correct behavior would have been, and what they should do next time. That way, my well behaved children are rewarded, and don’t have to sit and get bored while all of the attention in the room is focused on a couple of misbehaving children. This only reinforces the wrong behavior anyway, right?

      4. I’m not sure what grade you teach, but some teachers make kids that are able to write fill out a form that tells what rule they broke, what the consequences of their behavior were, and what they will do differently next time. Some teachers actually have the children fill out a cause and effect flow chart so that the children will really have to recognize that they actually were the original cause of whatever consequence they received! If your children are able to do something like this, you might want to put a misbehaving child right on it, because it would immediately stop and redirect the behavior you don’t want anyway (hopefully, anyway!) If the child is too angry or upset to do it, then he or she will have to just wait until later to fill it out. But the child would not be able to participate in any fun activities that the class has, (such as recess,) until the form is filled out.

      5. Remember that some children misbehave in order to get attention. So make sure that whatever you are doing when you deal with their behavior is not the way that they get this need for attention met! Try to deal with the child out of the view or earshot of the rest of the class if at all possible. Let the class play “The Quiet Game” or read a book, etc., while you deal with the child, if necessary. Whatever you do, DON’T give the child MORE attention for breaking the rules than he would have gotten for being good, or it can be a vicious circle!

      6. If you feel that a disruptive child is really not “emotionally or mentally available” to learn on a given day, I would try to distract and redirect the child to a different activity that does not disrupt everyone else’s learning. I once had a child that was like that sometimes, and on those days I would let her read her “Social Story” book and then color a page in it. She did this rather than participate in any instructional activity we were doing. Now I know- she was losing some instructional time. But let’s face it- she wasn’t learning anything at all when she was in that kind of mood, and she was making DARN sure that nobody else was, either! So if I gave her something else to do, at least the REST OF THE CLASS was able to LEARN! It worked for me! You can read all about it here.

      I hope that this helped a little!

  22. Hi Heidi.. thanks for this lost it is soooo useful because it is my first year at teaching and I’ve had some troubles with class management. However, I need you help with something else. The thing is I’m from Syria and the class I’m teaching is kindersspeaking foreign language and I can’t find the correct way to teach them blending,rhyming, segmenting or even THE ALOHABET. I swear t tried eveything from songs and games but they still can’t get it. What do you think I should do ? I really need your help on this. Thank you a lot ♡

  23. Great ideas! What do you do with a student that does not respond to any positive rewards only to negative and they do not like structure and show no emotion?

    • Hi, Jennifer!
      This might be a good question to post to the group on my Facebook page! I have encountered children that only seem to respond to negatives. It’s almost as if they have no experience with positive rewards at home, and the positives don’t seem to make any sense to them. I have seen children that only respond to me if I actually sound like I am angry and yelling- (which I really never want to do, but as an experiment I have tried it once to find out if that is the key!)
      As for not liking structure? Well, since structure is the thing that “forces” kids to follow directions and rules, I can imagine that a disobedient child probably wouldn’t like structure. As for showing no emotion? Well, if you put all of these things together, I would say that your child is crying for help! Do you have a school counselor? That child needs a good talk and a good cry, if you ask me! There’s something WRONG! Find out what it is, and perhaps you’ll be on your way to solving the problem.
      Good luck!

  24. This was very helpful to me! This is my first year teaching. I have 20 lively first graders and I have learned so much this year already. I still have a long way to go! Quick question: When you have your student who has trouble lining up stand in the circle while the others line up, when and where does he or she get in line when walking to lunch or recess?

    • Hi, Jessica!
      I’m so glad it helped! The child that stood in a circle apart from the others went into the classroom before the other children and simply sat down in a chair and waited until everyone was safely inside before I allowed him to get up from the chair and join the others. He wanted to be first very badly, so I let him be first! He hated it though. He had to earn the right to enter with the rest of the children. When he started pushing again, he had to go back to the circle.
      He could just as easily have gone in last, though! You can make this work any way you like. The child in question had a parent that was a little sensitive to the way I was handling things. So, I reassured them that I was giving their child what he wanted, which was to be first, but in a safe way. I knew that they were still very upset, but there really wasn’t much they could say about it at that point!

  25. Thanks for writing this! I have always taught high school, and just found out I’m being thrown into preschool (ESL students, no less!) for a few half-hour sessions a week. Thanks for the ideas! 🙂

  26. Heidi,
    I teach a very noisy 3rd grade. How can you get kids to use indoor quiet voices, stay in their seats and listen? I use many attention getters which the kids respond to but as soon as I start giving directions they start talking again. I also have a few students that cannot stay in their seats. Any advice?

    • Hi,
      I’m sorry that you are going through that. My second graders this year are sometimes this way, too. I started by telling the children that when we do the attention getters, that means that EVERYONE must STOP talking immediately and wait for instructions. Then I told them what the consequences would be for the children that did not. The thing that the kids have in their favor is that it is hard to identify who is talking and who is not. So I just started immediately putting names up on my “sad board” for the kids that I definitely KNEW were talking. Once they saw that I was not afraid to begin dispensing consequences for the kids that were not following the rules (even if I couldn’t catch ALL of them) more of them started to comply. But they need to KNOW that you will follow through with your consequences every single time, or a difficult class will not bother to stop their conversations for you. It is extremely disrespectful, but that is the truth. So many children are not taught to respect the adults in their lives these days….

      As far as kids that do not stay in their seats, first you need to establish if there is a medical reason that is causing this, such as ADHD. I have several posts on helping children with this issue, if that is the problem. You can also ask the children’s previous teachers if they stayed in their seats last year; that should give you an idea if the child is capable. If the child is able to stay put in his or her spot, but WON’T, that’s a totally different thing. In this case, I would either motivate the children to stay in their spots, or give them consequences for getting up without permission. With some kids, consequences work. With others, the consequences don’t work at all, but challenging them to see if they can stay there for a certain amount of time DOES.
      For example, this year I had one child that was constantly all over the room, no matter what I said or did. So I put up some plastic “traffic cones” that I got at the dollar store around his chair and desk. That gave him about a square yard to move around in, but I told him that if he left that area, he would be in trouble. This gave him room to move, but also gave him some defined boundaries. Later in the year when he simply would NOT stop talking, I told him that I wanted to see if he could be completely silent for three whole minutes. He said, “Three minutes? Piece of cake!” I set a timer, and he closed his mouth, and I didn’t hear a peep out of him for three minutes. The timer went off, and I gave him a red and yellow counter to put in his pocket. Then I challenged him to be silent for four minutes! He said, “OKAY!!!!” He was really liking this new game, and to tell you the truth, so was I! He managed to be silent for quite a few rounds of this, but then when he started talking again, I asked him to give me back one of the counters in his pocket.
      In any case, we established that he COULD be quiet- and in fact, SILENT for long stretches of time. He just needed to have a little motivation. In his case, silencing him required motivation, but keeping him in his chair took disciplinary consequences. You’ll have to experiment with each child to see what it takes to get each kid to comply.
      Unfortunately, with a very difficult class, you can hardly relax with them. You have to always be ready to give rewards, take those rewards away, implement consequences, and save time for ALL of that. They will likely take advantage of you each time that they can, which is unfortunate- especially for the ones that are really good. Just remind yourself that by making the class a better place for teaching, you are making it a better place for those good ones that deserve a good classroom, too.

  27. Good ideas! I taught for over 30 years & one thing that worked was I left a stuffed dog watching the class as I took a reading circle in the back of the class. (I had K & first graders) I would ask the dog what went on & who was very good! The dog whispered to me & I pretended to hear what he said. It was so funny but they responded. I never said anything just listened! I have been retired now for almost 20 years & still dream that I have a class that doesn’t mind! Walking around with a furry stuffed animal & asking what the child thinks is his best writing or math or work page works too. Sometimes I would say Fluffy likes this part or praise something the child was doing well.

  28. One of my favorite teachers suggested calling every parent ASAP at the beginning of the year, before problems start. Yes it takes time, but it establishes a positive relationship right off the bat. Better than having your first contact be negative.

  29. I like your article; gave me a lot of insight on how to deal with some of the problems I’ve been facing!

    One thing about the video camera though, if you don’t have parental consent to be taking pictures/video of their child, you are definitely violating COPPA if that ever ends up online, regardless of behavior. Just a reminder for anybody else!

  30. What if you have a principal or a superintendent who is not supportive, doesn’t give you time alone to bond with your students (you know, the ones who spend hours in your classroom taking notes on their laptops fooling themselves into thinking they’re invisible to the 38 ten year-olds he’s given you)? The kind that blame you for all the ills of the school, even though you only set foot in the school 2-3 weeks earlier? Me, I BAILED! This happened to me 3 frigging times in 3 frigging states! The school districts are hiring ex-military who know NOTHING about how to educate children and EVERYTHING about trying unsuccessfully to get teachers, students and parents alike to follow blindly. No thanks. Life is way too short to work for people like that!

    • I am so sorry that this has happened to you! I know that circumstances vary greatly, but please know that not ALL of the schools and districts are like that! For the most part, I’ve been blessed to work with principals that I’ve gotten along with well, with just one exception in 26 years. And that’s not bad! But I did learn something valuable from working with each one of them.
      It does take some time to heal from a bad experience in any job, though. I hope you find a place to heal and another chance to enjoy teaching in a good situation.
      God bless you,

  31. I have been teaching for over twenty years. Last week I was moved into a classroom with children displaying very difficult behaviors. These children are 4 turning 5 and all will go to kindergarten next year. What do you do with a child who will not cooperate at all? During the day yesterday, 4 of the 11 children refused to cooperate when told to stop doing something such as running in the classroom, hurting another child, or talking over the teacher during group time. Each child would continue the activity and/or would walk or run away from the teacher. I would try to get close enough, get down on their level, make eye contact and talk in a calm, but firm manner. The children would laugh or cry or scream and do anything to get away from me. If I tried to hold their hand they would twist and pull away. If I did nothing to keep them next to me, they would move away and run across the room. They are too big for me to pick them up and carry them someplace. Another one of these 11 children can be just as difficult, but he had a good day yesterday. Two or three of the others can have moderate behavior issues, but they are more likely to cooperate. There is another teacher in the class who has been with them since the beginning of the school year. They behave this way with her. I was shocked at the behaviors I saw. I don’t even know which child to start with or if it is possible to concentrate on one child. When one starts misbehaving, others quickly follow.

    • To Becky,
      Oh, you poor thing! Is this a class of children with special needs?
      You will need administrative support for sure, and it sounds like there hasn’t been much for a while.
      One thing that helped me SO MUCH this year is using Class Dojo. I did not start out using it, but I had 7-8 boys in my second grade class that would just feed off of one another and go crazy. One would start yelling and another would join in, and then another. They took any chance at all to run all over and chase. TOGETHER they had me outnumbered and beaten, and they knew it. There were too many to discipline at once.
      Class Dojo alllowed me to just start naming names and I take away points, while giving points to those who were being good. I implemented rewards that the children really WANTED and then things started to turn around.
      I will try to write a blog post on this soon. But I would say, get in touch with parents. Ask them to come in and observe. Get them on your side. Then start working towards both individual and class rewards. Figure out what they ALL want to work towards and then follow through. My class worked towards a walking field trip to the park and then a class lesson in making slime.
      When it came to the slime, I excluded three boys that refused to raise their hands to speak during lessons. So those three had to just watch. While it was hard to follow through, I was confident that they did not earn the reward while the rest of the class did.
      In order to make slime, they had to get 20 marbles in a jar. Each marble represented ten minutes of direct instruction time with NO INTERRUPTIONS. Nobody yelling things out, etc., just a good lesson with good behavior from everyone. I set a timer, and each time someone yelled out, I reset it for ten minutes.
      This really worked for us, but it seriously took THREE WEEKS to get 20 marbles in the jar!
      Good luck!

  32. I think labeling a child “naughty” (even if it is only in your mind) is a mistake. If a child is non-compliant, he/she needs to be viewed as merely lacking a skill. Viewing children positively/neutrally will help you avoid a power struggle by keeping you out of the lower centers of your brain. You will be able to respond rather than react. If are going to give out “team chips,” once you give a chip, taking it away has many implications and is a form of public shaming. Interactions and relationships are the foundation of learning. Significant learning cannot happen unless there is a significant relationship. If a child does not feel safe, he will not learn. I know the academic demands put on teacher, may make this approach next to impossible, but maybe our system needs to be radically revised. Check out I do not represent this company, but I think this is the answer if we can get everyone on board.

    • Thank you for your comments. I have indeed read about Conscious Discipline and tried much of it. There is no one system that works for every class, unfortunately! There are many different factors that cause different reactions and results with each group of children. And you are right- the academic demands are one of the factors at play. The system has to be reasonable and possible for the teacher to implement and still continue to teach. I think that the best thing is to have as many different tools in the toolbox as possible.

    • Hi,
      That is one thing that we do not do, simply because we cannot give any type of legal advice. Permission to photograph forms should come from your own district.
      Thank you,

  33. I am a music teacher of K-2 students. I taught K-6 music for many years before changing to my current position. Sadly, poverty, addiction abuse and neglect are a large part of the lives of many of my current students. Many students are hurting and angry. I am encountering behavior issues that are a challenge and would like some tips. I use the Kodaly music method which means I meet them at the door and we are active and singing from the moment the kids enter the room. We change activities every 4-5 minutes so I do not think they are not bored:) I only see the kids once a week for 40 minutes. Most of my kids are engaged and learning. However, I have a few in every grade whose behavior is very disruptive. Some kinders will come in and within a few minutes start screaming, climbing on risers/ chairs and running and jumping off, abusing instruments, etc. The behavior is so loud that the others cannot hear me. Even though, classes are active and moving there are times when I am teaching from the board , reading music, sight singing, rhythm examples etc. and I need them to hear my example and I need to hear their responses. I have clearly defined boundaries and expectations. We earn rewards as a class and I also choose a star student at the end of each class. I try not to reward this negative behavior with attention, however, I do try various strategies. I try ignoring it, talking to them about what they are feeling, giving brief time outs, whispering in their ear about their choices, rewarding better efforts with special music activities, giving them jobs to do for me, sending them on errands, rewarding others who are behaving, etc. These are all things the principals and counselor have suggested. They are very supportive but are overrun with behavior issues each day. They say to call to have the child removed but often it is a long time until they arrive. How do I keep my class from being hijacked by one student when this happens? I feel very frustrated that the one time I see them, they are robbed of their lesson. I know the best way to stop this extreme behavior is to not let it start to begin with:) However, sometimes certain kids will arrive “hot” and primed to blow and I have no time to try to calm them. Many teachers will not bring these students if they are already upset, but some will send them in to me. I feel very frustrated that the time is limited and then not productive when this happens. It is especially hard when we are preparing a musical and the lesson is taken over by a student. I really appreciate any advice you can give!

    • Hi, Ruth!
      Wow, it seems like you really have a big challenge there! I wish I could tell you a magic formula, but it sounds terribly difficult and you have already named the things that I would have told you to try! It’s too bad that so many of them come “hot” and ready to blow when they arrive. What about a few minutes to calm down with some soft music and some mindfulness activities before you begin? Keep in mind that with children that have so many issues and challenges, you will probably not get as much done as you might like. So take it in stride, and give yourself permission to give them what they need. I don’t think that ANYONE would fault you for that!

      Also, it sounds like your music curriculum is fabulous, but is not working for your group. I would adjust your music so that it includes selections that they can relate to and enjoy! You’ll probably get more cooperation if you use music that they REALLY like! Maybe you can do the same activities and lessons with music that is meaningful to them? Ask them what music and artists they like. See if they can help you plan some activities. Perhaps if they have some ownership in their lessons, they will be more invested in them.

      Let them spend some time talking about what is bothering them. I know that you are supposed to be teaching music, but if their emotional needs are not being met, are they going to learn anything anyway? Also, maybe they could write a rap or new lyrics to an existing song to express the situation that they are in. Or, perhaps you can find some songs that address the problems they are experiencing?

      I had an extremely difficult class when I taught second grade last year, and I tried (what seemed like) a HUNDRED positive things to help them behave. Nothing worked, until I finally put my foot down and became “Mrs. Meanie.” I kept a list of names on my white board and just started putting tally marks next to each name when they misbehaved. Each tally mark represented a minute of recess lost. I really HATED to do it, but it was really the only thing that they cared about! And guess what? It worked!

      The kids in my difficult class stopped “ganging up on me” just as soon as I was able to hold them individually accountable for their behavior in a way that was meaningful to them. And I really do believe that the group was much HAPPIER because the class was calmer. Kids know that they are not supposed to be in charge. Kids like rules, and they like them to be enforced, because then they all feel safer. They all know exactly what will happen every day.
      I recommend that you find SOMETHING that they like and save it for the last five minutes of your class. Make a poster for each class with names so that you don’t have to write them down to keep track of who is misbehaving, because that takes too long. Laminate it, and then start making tally marks next to names with a dry erase marker. It could be a favorite music activity or a treat of some kind, etc. Be strict and relenttless about who loses this time so that you are totally consistent, or it will not work.

      When it was time for my kids to give me that time that they “owed,” they had to sit quietly for that minute or I would not erase that tally mark. I just set a timer for one minute and then erased one tally mark by each name for each minute that passed, provided that the kids were behaving. Then, in order to get up and join the group, they had to tell me what they had done wrong, or they could NOT go.

      I hope that this has been helpful to you! I’m going to turn this into a blog post because it is such a good question and such a common problem. But, I will not publish your name with the question. Hope that is okay!
      Good luck!

  34. Dear Heidi, I completely agree with your comment about not letting a child leave the situation until they have told you what they did that was wrong. It is vital that they articulate their choice out loud, and it helps even impulsive children begin to recognize behavior choices in advance (not always, but at least they begin to be aware – and that’s a great start!). It is a process I have used to great effect. Thank you for this important discussion!

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