Tips for dealing with persistent bad behavior from pupils and interventions to help you manage pupils who continually disrupt lessons


It is perhaps worthwhile at the outset to define, with clarity, what is actually meant by “chronic misbehavior”, although for many teachers managing chronic misbehavior in the teaching and learning environment, it is probably all too apparent! Dictionary definitions of the term “chronic” include phrases such as:

a) Persisting for a long time.

b) Constantly recurring.
c) Having a particularly bad habit.
d) Difficult to eradicate. I am sure that many readers will already have an individual student in mind linked to the above definitions! It is important to avoid any confusion with what might be described as “acute misbehavior.”

Definitions relating to “acute” misbehavior would list quite different criteria:

a) A bad, difficult or unwelcome situation.

b) Short in duration but, generally, severe. While many teachers do in fact suffer with “one off” acute behavior from individual students, for the purpose of this article we shall be discussing practical tips to manage the student, or groups of students who regularly, or chronically, display unacceptable behavior in the teaching and learning environment. Major outbursts can be upsetting but thankfully occur less frequently than the daily hassles, in most teachers’ experiences. However, it is the cumulative effect of relatively minor disruptions which interferes with the learning process of the entire group. Teachers can be worn down by the problem of a daily round of minor incidents. Such incidents impair teaching and learning and are often the springboard for more acute and serious behavior difficulties. The level of good behavior can be determined by two main principles:

1. Clarity in communicating what is acceptable to students, their parents and the whole school staff.

2. Creating conditions in which students are actively taught positive behavior strategies throughout their school careers, as part of classroom contexts designed for quality teaching and learning.

Despite all your best planning, design and positive approaches there will still be individual students who cause you continuing stress and concern because of their chronic misbehavior. Experienced teachers have favorite strategies for managing chronic misbehavior. The following tips may well confirm some of your own strategies and some may be new and will add to your toolbox.

Practical Tips

Everyday tactics include:

  • moving in close to individuals
  • lowering your voice or whispering directions/reminders to the target student
  • using eye contact to signal your awareness of what is going on
  • moving the student to another seat
  • stopping the whole group and making a general statement about behavior
  • acknowledging good behavior.

All of the above will assist in avoiding the triggers that can cause difficult behavior. However, for the student who chronically misbehaves, day in and day out, in spite of your best efforts, you need to extend your mode of intervention. The involvement of the student is critical to the success of any such intervention. Stage one in your proposed intervention must be to clearly identify the problem with the student’s behavior. Be very specific at this point. For example, do not describe the behavior as:

“He gets on my nerves, constantly disrupting and annoying everyone around him!”

A better description would be:

“He is turning round chatting to those around him and when I attempt to get him back on task he constantly answers back.”


“Constantly tapping on the desk and shouting out across the room.”

Once you have clearly identified the problem it is time to meet the student on a one-to-one basis. The meeting should be on your terms, with other student out of earshot. Your agenda should be pre-planned and your delivery style should be calm, firm and focused.

1. State the nature of the problem. “John, I can’t allow you to constantly distract the class with your chatting.” Or “John, your answering back is just not acceptable.”
2. The student will often reply with a denial to your points. Make sure that in your planning for the meeting you have included up-to-date records of his/her behavior.

3. It is now time to work jointly with the student to come up with a possible solution/solutions to the problems.
4. Agree how you will remind the student about his/her behavior (target sheet, verbal reminder, private signal etc).
5. Agree the appropriate behavior you wish to see from the student.
6. Agree acceptable rewards and sanctions which will be used when he/she chooses to follow or not follow the agreed patterns of behavior.
7. An important aspect of this type of agreement is the inevitability of the consequences. You must be consistent in your application of the agreement.
8. Monitor the progress and always agree dates/times for review meetings.

Don’t expect immediate changes in behavior and be aware there may be “blips” even when things are going well. For some students it has taken them a long time to establish poor patterns of behavior. It will take some time for them to start making better choices.

Find out more:

Articles on behavior management
Behavior management publications
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This e-bulletin issue was first published in February 2008

About the author: Dave Stott is the author of Behavior Matters. He has nearly 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years as a headteacher level. He has worked in mainstream, special and Local Authority Behavior Support Services, and is now a successful consultant and trainer.