How to be Kind to Unkind Students

Sunday, April 19, 2015
Be kind to unkind people. They need it the most. – Ashleigh Brilliant

Hello, I’m Mr. B, and I’m a middle school science teacher. For years I struggled with rude and unkind students. I would begin my lesson and soon be interrupted by a rude student. I would calmly ask the student to stop interrupting the lesson and then go back to teaching. The rude student would soon interrupt the lesson again. I would ask them to stop, and they would continue to ignore me. I would begin to feel my blood pressure rise, and anger would begin to creep into my thoughts. I would become angry and sometimes yell at this student. I hated the feeling of becoming angry in class and allowing a rude student to impede the learning of others. By using trial and error, I learned how to be kind to unkind students, and fifteen years later I still enjoy teaching young adults. Here are the six strategies I learned, and how you can become kind to unkind students.

Strategy One:  Use please and thank you

be kind by saying thank you

Kindness can easily be shown to students by using “please” and “thank you.” Each time you ask a student to complete a task for you, add “please.”  Also, when a student does something for you just include a, “thank you.” This simple little gesture will help set the tone of your class, and your students will return the kindness.

Strategy Two: Fight fire with water

be kind to unkind students

One of the first insights I learned as a teacher is that students like to argue, and they are good at it. Arguments have the potential of escalating into an ugly situation. The easiest way to avoid this is to never argue with a student. On the first day of school, I begin teaching my students that the polite way to answer an adult in most situations is with a kind “yes”. For example, in the past, a typical request went like this,

Mr. B   “John, please stop talking during the lesson”

John “It wasn’t me, it was Bob”

Mr. B "Yes it was you, please stop"

John   " Why, it wasn’t me? "

Mr. B   "Just stop, talking!!! "

Fighting fire with water method 

Mr. B   " John please stop talking during the lesson"

John   "It wasn’t me it was Bob."

Mr. B   "Excuse me, please answer me politely."

John   "Yes"

Mr. B   "Thank you"

It really can become this simple if you set the expectation, and tell your students that you expect them to answer you politely. This simple method has eliminated arguments with students.

Strategy Three: Employ your rude students

cutting grass

Allow rude and unkind students to help you with classroom jobs. Most students like to help their teachers. The jobs students help you with may be as simple as handing out papers or collecting classroom items, but it helps create a positive bond with your students. I work with a teacher who is the master of classroom management. Her class runs smoothly, students love her class, and she never has to raise her voice in class. One of her secrets is that she has classroom jobs. Each month she assigns new jobs to students and rewards the students completing the jobs with a jolly rancher each week. She has found the students enjoy the jobs, and it helps her build a positive rapport with her students.

Strategy Four: Remember birthdays

remember birthdays

Everyone enjoys being recognized on their birthday. You can greatly increase your rapport with your students by having a small gift for them on their birthday. At the beginning of the year take a little time, and mark your student’s birthdays on your calendar.  Each day quickly glance at your calendar and give them a small gift. The gift can be as small as a jolly rancher, and a homework pass. You will find that this simple gesture will be reciprocated by your students. Furthermore, your unkind students will be more likely to behave positively for you.

Strategy Five: Attend events

attend students events

Attend your student’s concerts, sporting events, and other functions.  Attending these events will reinforce to your students that you care for them, and you want to help them. One year I had a student who was challenged in class. He would interrupt, talk, laugh, and was rude when I called him down. In addition, his parents would email me weekly. I had to try something different to improve his behavior. I knew he played a sport so I asked him the date of his next game. I attended his next game and made sure to talk to his parents. This small gesture was a turning point for him in my class. After this gesture, his behavior wasn’t perfect, but he wasn’t as rude to me, and the emails from his parents stopped.

Strategy Six: Give out awards

give out awards

When I was in high school my chemistry would write your name on the board if you scored a 95 or greater on a test. He would write “These people achieved greatness,” and would write your name underneath. This was 35 years ago for me and I still remember this.
My goal that year was to have my name on the board. Your students will reciprocate your kindness when you start showing them kindness with classroom awards. The awards can be simple and are easy to print on your computer, or purchased inexpensively. Some examples of awards can be,

Raising your grade 10 points

100 on Homework

Best Behaved

Star Student

Great attitude

Students love recognition and will strive to win an award. Encourage your rude and unkind students to work towards an award. When you recognize these students you will see their behavior change for the positive. In addition, you can email parents telling them their child won an award, and take pictures.

If you start practicing these six strategies you will find that the atmosphere of your class will change and students will not be as rude. They will return your kindness, in their words and actions.

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