One Way to Handle Defiant Students

“Raise your hand if you believe that social promotion is the problem with education in this country and should be stopped immediately?”

I reluctantly started to raise my hand, as did about a hundred or so other teachers in the room.

“Then why do we do it every 47 minutes every time a bell rings? DING! And students move to the next class on their schedule whether they learned the days objective or not, whether they did the assignment to the best of their ability or ignored it completely. We promote them.”

And with that, a light bulb went off above my head as the little teacher inside me shouted “Eureka!” and began frantically writing in my notebook and texting my principal about my latest and greatest idea to motivate reluctant learners.

To be fair, it wasn’t my idea. The speaker was Jack Berkmeyer, an absolutely HILLARIOUS individual not to mention one of the most inspiring and informative educational consultants I’ve ever heard speak. He's highly entertaining as you can see on this YouTube clip, and he'll be one of the Keynote speakers at this year's AMLE National Conference in Portland, OR (where you can also check out fellow Edunator Kista River presenting on how to "Teach Like the Terminator", cheap plug!) He went on to explain how he and his teaching team used to implement the plan my colleagues and I adopted last semester at our Middle School.

Educational Consultant and Humorist Jack BerckemeyerEducational consultant and humorist Jack Berckemeyer will be they Keynote speaker at the 39th Annual Conference for Middle Level Education in Portland, Oregon. For more info check out or

Let’s say I have a student refuse to do his classwork. I take pause for a second and consider the reasons. It couldn’t POSSIBLY be because my assignment is boring as all hell. No, no, all of my assignments are completely engaging, exciting to every teenage mind. </sarcasm>

Furthermore, there is NO WAY the student is refusing to complete the assignment because he lacks the necessary skills to do so. There’s also NOT A CHANCE that the student’s home and social life has left him feeling SO POWERLESS that his under-developed  pubescent brain has enacted a defense mechanism designed to quickly gain him control over ANY situation he can, as quickly as he can.

Or maybe he’s just hungry.

Having ruled out those potential causes for this inexcusable act of defiance, I conclude “This kid must just be a jerk” or “kids today are different…I blame heavy metal music” and proceed with the following.

“Hey, you, back there with your hoodie pulled over your head. Stop texting under your desk.”


“Jesus isn’t here right now, don’t call him unless you really need him. And if he was, he’d want you to do your Social Studies assignment.”

“Dude, whatever, this assignment’s gay.”

“My name’s not ‘Dude’ and I doubt very seriously your assignment likes members of the opposite sex, now get to work.”

“Huh? What! Whatever this is stupid!”

“Yep, and it’s going to get more stupid when you’re sitting here next hour working on the same thing.”

“But…I have Science next hour…”

“Not if you don’t learn what I need you to learn today. You’ll be sitting here with me all day.”

“Well, I’ve got Math the next hour, and you won’t make me miss that.”

“Sure I will, I talked to your Math teacher in our Team meeting. She’s doing the same thing with kids who might be coming to my class. Eventually, you’ll all learn.”

“Well, I’ll just sit here all day.”

“Cool, I’ll be here anyway.”

“Whatever. I’m still getting on the bus and going home.”BoredStudentSometimes all it really takes to get through to a defiant student is to not let them leave the room until the work is completed. It's a strategy that takes some communication and can't be abused, but it's effective in moderation.

“Since you’ll be sitting here during my plan period, you can help me call home and ask them if you can stay after school with me to get your work done.”

“You can’t do that! Only the principal can give detention!”

“What do you think she’ll say if we ask her?”


“C’mon man, get your work done. Want me to help?”

“No! I don’t need help! I know how to do it, it’s just stupid!”

“Then you need to stop disrupting the other students in my room who are trying to learn. So you can sit there all day and do your work eventually or you’ll sit there all year. Or you can, continue to cause a disruption and prevent them from learning at which point it’ll be an office referral, you’ll get ISS, and do your work there. Or, you can get it done now, and go to science class when the bell rings.”


“Need some help?”


So why do treat our students like Pavlov’s dog? The bell rang, so we must send them to the next stop? Yes, other teachers may not care for it, that’s why it’s important to discuss this with them (preferably before hand) and encourage them to do the same with students going to your class. Will principals get angry? Maybe, but if they’re not on board after you explain it to them then you need to find a new place to work. Will parents get angry? Usually the kids who pull this stunt don’t have parents making too many appearances at school, but I guess if you have one of those lethal combinations of a defiant student and an enabling parent, you’ll need to try and use some honey instead of vinegar to catch this fly (which you probably should have been trying anyway).

Honestly, it only takes once or twice and most students get the message. I’ve never had a student go longer than a couple hours before they snap and just do the work. If they did, I’d have to make good on my threats, call my wife and tell her I’ll be coming home late that night. As for all the kids stuck in the room listening to that conversation, and not working? Yeah, it’s a disruption. Once. Then word travels fast and I never have to have that conversation again. When the bell rings, I just say “Hey Tommy, stick around, you’ll be here next hour.”

I’ll let you fill in how the rest of that conversation goes from there.

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