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How To Handle An Argumentative Student

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So you’re cruising along having a good day and a student pokes you with a stick.

“What you said isn’t true.”

“Shelby didn’t deserve a consequence.”

“My old teacher did it this way.

Statements like these, spoken with attitude, are meant to goad you into an argument. Why do students do this?

1. To test you.

2. To get you off track.

3. To wrest control of the classroom from you.

4. Just because.

It also works. After all, it’s only natural to defend yourself and want to prove your point. So you say your peace and they say theirs. Back and forth. Two equals having a petty disagreement.

—Which effectively gives license to every student in your class to do the same. Before you know it, you’re being challenged on all sides.

To avoid getting drawn into an argument takes responding in one of three ways.

1. Enforce

In order to get you to respond without thinking, a student will call out their argument starter without raising their hand.

This is very common.

In this case, it’s best not to address their comment at all. Simply enforce a consequence and move on. This is a powerful move that will almost always squash their challenge altogether—which is your goal.

Following through is also what you promised to your class.

2. Consider

If the student does raise their hand, you can just say, “Hmm, I’ll think about it. Thanks for your input.” Then immediately do it your way or continue on without another word.

Again, this sends the message that you’re in charge and make decisions that are best for the class.

You can also be more direct and say, “No thanks.” The key for both is to move on right away. Show no emotion. No sign of annoyance. No problema.

Let them assume that it’s such little consequence that you’ve already forgotten about it.

3. Listen.

If you’ve been teaching a long time, chances are slim that a student will know something about your job better than you.

But it happens. Mistakes are made. If a student does contradict you or challenge you on something you hadn’t considered, or that could be valid, ask them to explain further. Just listen and see if there is something there.

If not, go back to number two above. If so, welcome it. Say, “Hey, that’s a good idea” or “Let me get back to you.”

Make it quick, then move on. In this way, you avoid the argument but maintain your open-mindedness and respect for a student who may have a good idea.

No More Battles

If a student tries to get under your skin, you must never, ever respond in kind.

A pause helps. Don’t answer at first. Bite your tongue and wait a few awkward seconds. Let their argument starter hang in the air like a bad curve ball.

Once you’ve decided on either number one, two, or three, say your peace and then turn your attention back to what you were doing without a second thought.

Handling it this way will effectively remove all arguments and challenges from your classroom. No more battles or disagreements or feeling as if you’re losing control of your class.

Just you being a good leader.

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