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Classroom management tips: How to deal with inappropriate comments from students.

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Inappropriate and abusive comments are an increasingly prevalent issue for teachers today, meaning having an effective technique to deal with these comments is critical for your classroom management strategy.

There are always going to be students who try to make us teachers feel uncomfortable by asking increasingly personal, inappropriate, silly questions. This is especially common when we get a new class to teach – whether it’s the start of term or a cover lesson and it is a scenario which must be dealt with swiftly – otherwise your control over the class can be severely eroded.

“Why are you late Sir?”

“Were you out last night Sir?”

“Where did you go Sir?”

“Do you drink Sir?”

“Were you drinking last night Sir?”

“Is that why you’re late Sir?” 

“Did you pull Sir?”

“Does your wife know Sir?”

“Have you got a wife Sir?”

“Is she nice looking Sir?”

 …and so on.

Students do this to gain attention, hold up lessons and look good in front of their friends; to try and find our weaknesses, to embarrass us and ultimately wind us up. Sometimes they try to shock us in front of their peers as a way of displaying or increasing their status and sometimes they just want to have a laugh. Other times it may be because they feel they have known us long enough to warrant being over-familiar. 

Such situations, harmless as they may first seem, need to be cut early before they get out of hand. If you go along with the first few questions more and more students will get drawn in, and once that happens the comments get worse; becoming sillier, ruder and more personal until the situation becomes very difficult to control. 

The result is, at best, a very annoyed and embarrassed teacher, a loss of respect, damaged relationships and a class of very excited students – some of whom are likely to be given sanctions they will consider unfair and that could have been avoided. 

One effective classroom management strategy to deal with this type of questioning is to take the attention away from the child as soon as possible. The following techniques are excellent for doing that and should be used whenever you are faced with inappropriate questions or insults from a student:

1) Calmly state that the conversation is inappropriate and must stop: 

“That comment is inappropriate/unacceptable. You need to think before saying things like that.”

“We’ll talk about these comments later.”

Make the statement without emotion and then move on with the lesson. It should be a complete brush off.  Don’t get drawn into a conversation with this person and don’t answer any more of their comments – you’ve dealt with them and they deserve no more of your attention.

2) Create a diversion such as a quick demonstration, introducing a new topic/game etc. 

“Look this way everyone please, I set this up earlier.”

“OK, for this game you need a blue pen and a piece of scrap paper…”

Once again, the secret is to move on from their questions straight away and change the focus of attention. In order to be able to do this on your toes and not get caught out trying to think of suitable alternative activities, you really should have a teaching resource file (either in your head or hard copy) of interesting and engaging games and fill-in activities. If you’re stuck for ideas, I have lots of engaging resources available here! 

3) Take out a pen and paper and say:

“I’m writing your comments down; I’m recording what you say so that I don’t make a mistake when I explain your behaviour to other people.”

4) Use Humour:

While you should avoid hitting out with sarcasm and personal slights, stealing the attention with the correct use of humour can be a nice way of diverting attention. 

“Do you believe in freedom, because if you keep making comments like that you’re going to lose yours at break-time.”

”Three simple instructions … Shut Up, Sit Down and Hold your breath until you are a uniform shade of red.”

There we have it: 4 easy-to-implement classroom management techniques to support teachers who receive abusive comments from students. Hopefully at least one of these ideas will be useful for you. If you’d like more help with managing student behaviour and student engagement, I offer three main resources for teachers:

  1. My range of books on Amazon: You can find them here or by entering ‘Rob Plevin classroom management’ in the Amazon search bar at www.amazon.com.
  1. My free classroom management tips service by email. You can sign up here!
  1. My Facebook page. Here you’ll find tips and strategies as well as questions and support from like-minded teachers. Come and join us here!