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How I Turned the Most Difficult Student into One of My Favorites

4 min readnovember 2, 2020


I once vowed that everything that happens in fourth period stays in fourth period. Those times of sheer torture were valuable lessons worth sharing and reflecting on. As we were running out the door for Christmas break, a colleague laughed, “you’re getting the worst kid ever in January!” Sure enough, he was right. Or was he?

Meeting Samuel

As I slipped into my classroom, I saw a wiry student perched high on my window sill. When our gazes met he shouted, “I bet you regret me being in your class already?” I sassed back, “I’ll regret you breaking your neck and getting me fired.” He jumped down, and I knew he was testing me.
How I responded would set the tone for the rest of the semester. But, I had no idea how to respond. Fourth period was already a motley crew of misfits who tested this first-year teacher, daily. Teachers must plan tests and warn students, but students can test us whenever and how often they want.

Standoff With Samuel

Samuel was a showman! When he sauntered into class 20 minutes late, he made a big production and disrupted the entire class. He told the class all about his cafeteria adventures.
Admonishing Samuel backfired, only making him angry. A standoff between me and a student would put the entire class on the edge of mutiny.

Ignoring Samuel

Next step: ignore him. “He wants a big reaction, so I won’t give it to him,” I thought. I started timing the class based on Samuel, and I made sure that my direct instruction was quick and over by the time he made his grand entrance. I would say, “Thanks for coming to class. Join a group or work independently.”
I thought my new tactic was working. Unfortunately, when Samuel was not getting the reaction that he needed, he turned it up a notch! He entered the room and said, “see what I’m eating” as he pulled a burger out of his pants.
I could feel 30 little faces staring at me, wondering what I was going to do. “Gross, sit down, you have a lot of work that you’re not going to do,” was all I could mutter.

Learning To Live With Samuel

Then, something sort of funny started to happen (if you have a pre-teen sense of humor). About five minutes after eating his burger, or chicken fried leather sandwich, he started farting. The hard plastic chairs amplified the sound. Samuel would start laughing and turn and wink at me. What was I supposed to do? I can’t punish a student for passing gas and I can’t laugh because I’m the teacher.
When this didn’t get a big enough rise out of me, Samuel would start singing, “Bubble guts, bubble guts, bubble guts. . . Can I go to the restroom?” Now instruction only happened while Samuel was at lunch or in the restroom. I felt like a failure. Samuel was eating my lunch! He knew it, the other students knew it, and so did I.

Eureka!

One day, I commented on Samuel’s Randy Rogers t-shirt. A million questions spewed from Samuel about country music, rodeos, trucks, and everything country. I was going through an alternative music phase, but anyone born in Texas can wax on about music, trucks, and more.
Suddenly, Samuel only spent 5 minutes at lunch. He continued to eat his burgers in class but he also assigned himself the position of Sergeant at Arms. He would yell, “Everybody shut up, class is starting!” Did I just get a teacher’s pet? Samuel was far less disruptive and the class functioned better. What was the trick?

The Lesson

All I did was take an interest in Samuel. I asked him if he liked Randy Rogers, and he had a plethora of interests that he was eagerly waiting to share with me. I realized that Samuel needed to know that I cared about him. Our conversations connected us.
I took this hard-earned lesson to heart. Every year, on the second day of school, I assign an easy group work activity and I spend the entire day traveling from group to group chatting with my students. I get to know them early, remember or jot down their interests, and check in with them throughout the year.
Teaching is all about building relationships. Some relationships come naturally, but with others, you have to work at. Some students will make you work for it, but you will be glad you did. I have honestly never had another difficult student in my class. Showing the wild child that you care works every time.
If you have a challenging student, remember:
  • Ask the student about him/herself. Everyone loves to talk about themselves.
  • Show that you care by listening and being patient, not punishing.
  • Follow up, and keep showing an interest even when his/her behavior is good.
⚡ Watch: Health & Wellness – Establishing Routines: Stress and Time Management
Photo CreditStudyClerk.com

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