Teaching is a very rewarding career. You have the opportunity to change the lives of your students on a daily basis, and to help them learn all the things they need to know to succeed in life.

What happens, though, when a certain student isn’t as receptive to your efforts? What happens if he or she frequently disrupts class or has disciplinary problems?

The problem student and how to help

The “problem student” is a term that is not unfamiliar to teachers. There is usually at least one or two students per year who have issues following instructions or behaving in class. Luckily, though, there are ways to get through to them. Here are seven ways to help your problem student and make the learning process go more smoothly.

1. Don’t think of them as just a problem

A student is a person, not a problem. There is usually a reason why a student is acting out, and as a teacher, it is in your best interest to at least attempt to find out what that reason is. Don’t think of the student as merely a “troublemaker” and write them off – use your empathizing skills to try to see things from their side and to help them, not just discipline them. There is usually a deeper reason for a student’s negativity, so try to find out what it is.

2. Find the right way to discipline

That being said, some sort of discipline is still necessary. You can’t expect a student’s behavior to change if they don’t believe there are consequences to their actions. Discipline them as necessary using the school’s disciplinary code – but make sure to do it at the right time.

According to teachhub.com, disciplining a student in front of the class or in front of his or her friends can actually end up causing more problems because it embarrasses the student. If possible, try to speak with them in private and explain your concerns and their punishment (if applicable).

3. Keep classroom rules simple

Any student can be a problem student if they don’t understand the rules of the classroom. To avoid misunderstandings, edweek.org recommends keeping rules short, simple, and easy to follow/remember. That way, students don’t have to struggle to remember them – and don’t have an excuse for forgetting.

You can even get the whole class in on the rule-making process early in the semester by having students help you to come up with the rules. This makes them feel as if they have some control, which could be useful in and of itself, because sometimes all a problem student needs is to feel that he or she is heard and respected.

4. Don’t get into a power struggle

Some problem students will test their teacher by pulling them into a power struggle. They will repeatedly talk during quiet study time or call attention to themselves during the normal lesson. The key here is to not give in and compete with them. Give all students two options: study quietly and turn their work in on time, or face consequences such as missing out on a fun activity.

5. Don’t be argumentative or defensive

If you become defensive or argumentative yourself when a student is distracting the class or acting out, you will have lost the battle right off the bat. It is important to stay calm and maintain your air of authority: do not sink to the level of a student as you try to get your point across.

You are the authority figure, you are in charge. If possible, ask the student to stay after class and explain to them how their behavior affects you, your teaching, and the rest of the class.

6. Consider a peer tutoring program

Peer tutoring can be a great way to get the problem student (and the other students) more invested in the class. You can pair up the problem student with a peer tutor for a certain subject, or you can make the problem student the peer tutor. This system creates a bond between students, and can help to keep the problem student from acting out because they have a deeper connection to the class and the materials.

7. Never give up on any student

The last but most important rule when it comes to dealing with problem students is to never give up on them. Yes, they may test your patience on a daily basis, and yes, sometimes it might feel as if you will never get through to them. But don’t give up.

There is always a way to connect with someone, and problem students are just as deserving of your support and attention as the rest of your students. Their acting out may be a sign of a deeper problem, and getting to the root of this could help turn things around. Keep the lines of communication open and never stop believing that there is hope for even the most stubborn of your students.