Defying my orders, the student plumped down in the corner—conducting a sit-in. My first test had come. Shock engulfed me. Panic followed.
So I phoned a friend. An assistant principal took the line.
"You need to tell him he has two minutes to make a decision: get up and go back to his desk, or stay seated, and I will come down there to get him."
A minute in, the student realized the cost. He reoccupied his desk.
Handling defiance is one of the most challenging tasks we face as teachers. But with the right plan in place, we can control such acts with wisdom and diligence.
What to Do with a Defiant Student
Here are a few things I've learned about managing noncompliance in my classroom:
1. Remove a defiant student's audience.
I learned in Classroom Management 101 that the essential first step is to remove the audience.
If possible, send the student out into the hallway. The stakes rise when a student knows all eyes are on them.
Without the attention, the student is less likely to continue their defiance.
You can still do your best to remove the audience even when a student refuses to leave the classroom. If a student anchors himself in the corner, delay the situation for a short time.
Encourage the rest of your class to continue working. Once they are focused, calmly approach the defiant student. Don't yell. You'll bring back the audience.
Whisper in the student's ear, "You have one minute to do what I am asking you to do, or you can stay put, and I call for a principal to come get you."
Presenting the order as a choice works well for some students. Give them a time limit to make their decision. Time, as you know, is precious, so make it reasonable. If they refuse to obey, make the call. Don't delay.
2. Have a plan and execute it.
Chances are if you have a student who is willing to test you once, they'll try again—unless they know you're prepared and mean business.
Once you've removed the audience, make sure the student knows that you will not tolerate defiance in your classroom.
Then let them know your next move. I later talked one-on-one with the student who ignored my orders. I let him know his mom's cell phone would light up with my name on it after school.
I also told him and his parents that the next time he blatantly disregarded my orders, he would receive a discipline referral.
A few weeks later, he conducted another sit-in. He went home with a referral.
3. Contact parents and share your plan with them.
Communicating with parents is key when dealing with a defiant student. Take the time to notify parents of the situation.
Reflect and take notes of the student’s behavior before you call or email a guardian. You’ll be able to relay what happened with precision.
Most parents will want to join in and help deter future defiance from their child.
They'll appreciate your effort to reach out and keep them informed. Plus, parents may have seen similar behavior from their child at home. They may give you some insight into what may be causing some of their student's noncompliance in class.
And while nothing can excuse the child's behavior, any information you receive from a guardian may help you better assess and correct future defiance.
4. Communicate with students and let them know you care.
Turns out, the student ignoring my orders had a ton on his mind. Recent events clouded his thoughts. After talking to his parents, I realized he needed me in his corner.
His defiance was a call for help. Sure, some students disobey out of spite. But teachers must attempt to communicate with a noncompliant student no matter what.
Ignoring a student who is ignoring you is a missed opportunity.
Let your defiant student know you hear them. Give them your time. Remind them they have people at school who love and care for them. Ask if they would like to speak with someone beside you.
Maybe they’ll open up to a counselor or a principal. You can later check in with those people.
Always have the student’s best interest at heart, and show that you notice them.
Ignoring a student who is ignoring you is a missed opportunity.
At recess, I spent time playing catch with the student who was acting out. We talked about his basketball team, his favorite cartoons, his favorite music—anything and everything that brought a smile to his face.
His attitude brightened. He stood taller. Instead of turning his back on me when he didn’t get his way, he began doing what I asked.
He knew I cared. So he cared. And he started minding my instructions.
There are many ways to communicate with your defiant students. You can eat lunch with them, write them a hand-written letter, or talk to them at recess.
Pay attention to them. Instead of plumping down in a corner, a student who feels your love and care might dive right into your lesson.
regain control of your classroom
Classroom Management 101 was so helpful for me in learning how to deal with defiant students - and so many other classroom issues.
This online course will guide you step-by-step through the process of developing & implementing a strong classroom management plan.
And not only that - it will give you the skills you need to start the school year RIGHT so you can avoid so many potential problems and teach effectively all year.
What about when the student enjoys going to the principal’s office and his parents don’t care about his behavior in class? I had a student who regularly defied my directions, refused to do his work, and frequently refused to participate. I usually would ignore his behavior until I could deal with it, but he became a danger to himself or others.
This was my year as well…….
wow just wow
I have about 8 in one of my rooms that don’t care- and frequently derail the class and refuse to leave. I have to ignore them just to get through the day.
Thanks for sharing your idea.
It is always a good idea to give students a choice.
But: how do you cope with a student if you cannot ask the principal to come and get him? Just leave him in class?
Haha! If only it could be that easy! The principal and the assistant principal could care less if a student is defiant and they sure don’t want you calling the office for a defiant student. Second if you can get a parent to answer your phone call they mostly say that’s your problem now and you take care of them when you are with them and don’t bother me at home. So you have no support from administration or from parents! Then what? You try to get on their side by getting to know them and they try to take advantage of you later with I thought you cared so that means I can do what I want. Sorry but this is not helpful!
We realize things are never simple. But you also cannot allow yourself to be disillusioned. Often results don’t show up for months or years. (I had a defiant student that I didn’t see results with for over a year and a half – but then they became one of my best students). Keep doing your best. Keep trying to reach students. Don’t give up.
You are spot on!!!!!!! My admin only made excuses for these idiot kids and their enabling parents. . . I failed them ALL and moved to a district with 600K homes and parents who actually care.
I have found that both versions are true. It is important to have the documentation that you have attempted to work with the parent and admin– even if they don’t support you as you had hoped. Some other things to try: For the mouthy, definant ones trying to assemble a team of adversarial classmates– “Speak and run, go have fun!” I tell them what to do and assume compliance–moving on before they respond. I make sure that the next thing the class is doing is engaging, fun or crazy so it is easier to choose paying attention to the lesson and give less attention to the student.
What do you do when the admin nor parents are of help with a defiant? Find a new school or work through it with your suggestions above eg. playing catch with them etc?
That’s a tough situation. Definitely do the best that you can, but I can’t tell you whether to switch schools or not. I’d encourage you to pray about it. Sometimes we are called to stay, sometimes we are called to go elsewhere.
Happens more often than many would think. You can find these students everywhere! Admin can be legitimately busy. Parents may not be accessible or may be unable to manage the behavior themselves. Sometimes peers can provide helpful pressure!
In my experience, it’s an unspoken expectation that the teacher handle these situations. Administration, nor parents step up to the plate more than once or twice..
I agree with removing the student’s audience, then giving the student a choice: “You can do this work now, or you can ___. I’ll give you two minutes to choose.” Then follow through. I rarely involve admin, unless a student is being physically harmful, so my choices are usually, “Do the work now, or do it at recess/any free time in class” (send out to playground with a clipboard, inform teacher on duty to not let the student play till it’s done) , or “Find a seat now, or I’ll choose one for you.”, etc. At times it’s been effective to offer a different choice for work completion: “Do you want to do the work at your desk, or ___ (on the rug, empty table, etc.). Still lets the student know they need to do the work, but it gives them a choice, or an “out” of a situation they’ve gotten themselves into. I always email/call the parent to inform them of what happened, and at the very least, that documents that I’m doing the best I can to help this student make good choices. Even in the most frustrating situations, I try not to think of my students as “idiot kids”…after all, I became a teacher so I could make a difference in kids’ lives.
YES! Got to give them an out!