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Handling Students with Difficult Behaviors

By Colleen Palat

We’d all like to think the students we tutor love to learn just as much as we do. As a tutor, I’ve just assumed that education is as important to my students as it is to me. Unfortunately, though, that isn’t always the case. Have you been there? I’m sure we all have stories of a student or two who gave us a run for our money and made our day “spirited”.

Dealing with students with difficult behaviors can be draining, can’t they? Thankfully, though, there are some things we can do as tutors to help our students while maintaining our sanity in the process. Below, I’ve compiled some tips that will be helpful when tutoring the difficult student:

1. Be patient. This is the most important thing you can do. Take a deep breath, and, if necessary, excuse yourself for a few minutes to calm down. You don’t want your student to see you mad or to engage in a power struggle with them. Keep your cool and model how to behave in such a situation.

2. Make your lessons interesting and fun. When students become bored, they’ll sometimes act out as a way of entertaining themselves. Make your lessons and conversations interesting to them and be creative. Find out what peaks their interest and find a way to implement their interests into your lessons. And above all, have fun with them!

3. Give your student choices. Sometimes kids just want to know they have some control over their situation. Give them choices. “OK, Johnny. We can work on your math assignment or prepare for your spelling test. Which one would you like to start with?” Being able to make choices will not only help them to stay to focused, but will also start to instill in them a responsibility for their education.

4. Praise your student. This can be hard with a difficult student. I once had a class where there was one little boy who loved to act up; let’s call him “Michael”. Michael’s behavior was awful and everyone in the class knew it. One day, I came into my classroom and started a “Super Student” list on the board. When my students did something good, their name was written on the list and at the end of the day they received a small little reward. I was determined that Michael would be on that list, so as my students entered the classroom, I immediately said, “I like how Michael walked into the classroom. He’s a Super Student.” The other students turned quickly and looked at him with such a surprised look on their face! As the day went on, every time I saw Michael behaving, I put a star by his name. To make a long story short, Michael behaved beautifully all day! It was the best day he had with me, all because of some positive reinforcement.

5. Don’t be bossy or controlling. Kids don’t like to be bullied or bossed around. Build a positive rapport with your student and let them know you want a good relationship with them. Listen to their ideas and make sure you address and include them in your tutoring plans.

6. Accept your student. Let your student know you accept and like them. Everyone likes to feel like they belong, so give that assurance to your student.

7. Stay positive. Nobody likes to remain in a negative situation so whatever your student throws at you, respond appropriately. End on a positive note and your students will respect you more because of it.

Above all, remember that you are a role model. Model to your students how to behave and appropriately respond to situations, and they’ll develop the skills needed to exceed not just in school, but also in life.

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