We’ve all had students who were challenging in one way or another. Perhaps they’re a bright child who feels bored in the classroom or someone at the other end of the scale who struggles to keep up. Maybe a child has trouble paying attention or just likes being the class clown. Whatever the reason, challenging students are a fact of life for teachers all over the world. 

Here are a few top tips to enable you to teach well, even to the most challenging of classrooms.

  • Breathe. This is always the number one rule for challenging students. Whatever the situation is, breathe.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions. If an altercation arises between two students, don’t automatically assume it’s the ‘troublemaker’ who’s in the wrong. All too often, a ‘naughty’ student who is trying to change their ways will continue to be the scapegoat, which only discourages them from behaving better.
  • Listen well. All students, even challenging ones, want to know that their opinions are valid and matter. Listening to your students will promote good behaviour across the board.
  • Don’t punish harshly. If bad behaviour needs punishing, take your time rather than acting rashly. Waiting until the end of the class can sometimes be more effective than immediately dealing out punishments.
  • Give the student an opportunity to correct what they’ve done. Rather than saying ‘you emptied the bin all over the floor, now you’ll have a detention’ you could say ‘would you please pick up that rubbish you threw on the floor and then we can move on’.
  • A new day is a clean slate. Just because a student displayed challenging behaviour before doesn’t mean that you should have your guard up and expect it in the next class. Give students the chance to genuinely turn over a new leaf.
  • Watch your words. Rather than telling a ‘bad’ student to be more like the ‘good’ classmate, tell your ‘disruptive’ student that they should mimic their classmates ‘positive’ work ethic.

(You can also get more on general classroom management here.)


If a student persistently displays challenging behaviour, seek advice from your supervisor. Perhaps this student has something stressful going on at home, or an underlying issue which needs to be addressed. There are numerous ways to deal with challenging behaviour, but the most important thing is for you to breathe, remain calm, stay professional and not to give up.

Do you want more articles like this? Be sure to visit our Teaching Tips blog.

About the Author

Celia Jenkins is a TEFL teacher and freelance writer living in the UK. She spent five years teaching English in China and Japan and now teaches Skype lessons to students around the world. She writes pedagogical articles, travel guides, and stories for children.

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