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How to Handle When Students Question Authority

February 28, 2019

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Jeff Hersh


In a perfect world, students come to class ready to learn and ready to respect the teacher and their peers. Alas, the world isn’t perfect, which is why teachers need to be ready for students who act out and even at times question their authority. When students display this kind of disruptive response and behavior, the teacher needs the right tools to respond in ways that help the student and the class return to task and learn why they need to respect the teacher’s authority. Here are a few steps to help ensure you’re ready in the event you have students who lose their focus and understanding of the expected behavior in the classroom.




Before students can begin to question the teacher’s authority, they need to have the time and space to set upon this path. If they are not focused, challenged, or engaged by the day’s lesson and assignment, they may see reason to question their teacher’s intentions. A lesson plan that continually engages the students as well as gives them opportunities to practice and feel like they are reaching new achievements will help them keep from questioning authority.




When a student questions you or shows disrespect, they are looking to challenge you, get you to react negatively and disrupt what you’re trying to accomplish. Whether their reason for disruption is boredom or outside anger and frustrations, they want to prove their hypothesis that you aren’t in control of them. It’s crucial that your response remains positive, calm and understanding. They are seeking to disrupt, while you are seeking to educate, engage and comfort. Your authority will remain intact to the other students, even if this one has doubts. Your resolve to remain on task and respectful to the student’s concerns will be the path to showing them the error of their ways.




While student outbursts may be sudden, the key is to respond to the student’s questioning as quickly as possible. You don’t want to seem unprepared for their accusation, rather you want to continue to show them there is a place for questions within your classroom. By responding positively, patiently, and respectfully, you are modeling back to the student your expectations for them.




The truth is, when a student disrupts your class and questions your rules and expectations, it can be jarring and uncomfortable. Teachers are human and have emotions tied to their own expectations, classroom rules and management policies. So when a student defies you, it’s okay to feel the negativity, but you must wait to process it after the situation descends and you have to time to reflect. One interaction will probably not solve the student’s issue. It will take monitoring and engagement over time. By modeling the respect you expect from the student to them and their issue, you will get closer to winning them back.




Most importantly, remember you don’t have to work through these issues on your own. Lean on the advice from your fellow educators, work with your administrators and the student’s parents to best help the student understand the purpose of your class rules and expectations. Students will become frustrated for reasons beyond your control, but it doesn’t mean you can’t help lead your team of allies to help the student return to their track towards success.


Prepare students for computer based testing.



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