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My Most Challenging Student

December 22, 2016 in 2016 - London - No Comments

My Most Challenging Student

December 22, 2016 in 2016 - London - No Comments

This is the seventeenth part of my Reflection Series – a self-reflection of my year teaching in the UK.

Who was your most challenging student? Why?

Oh my, what a loaded question. It brings up so many negative emotions that I’m finding it hard to write about. Let me put on some angry music and we can get started.

There is one student who immediately jumps to mind, let’s call him Bob. Obviously not his real name. He was in my class all year, and he was a, what’s the term, ‘happy little classroom challenge’.

He started out ok, we butted heads a few times but nothing too major. I could see he was a trouble student, one who would take a lot of work to get on side. As the year went on he just got worse for me. I know he was the same in the other science classes (remember we had split junior science classes), but not sure how he went in other subjects.

He would sit in class and refuse to do the work. Not in a nice, calm, non-disruptive way. No, he would actively lash out at people, throw things, throw his work, have little tantrums, complain loudly how bored he was.  He was argue back with everything I said or did half the time, saying things like ‘I don’t have to listen to you’, ‘Shut up’ and ‘I’m not doing this stupid work anyway so just go away’.

He was part of the physical intimidation incident, one who was yelling the loudest at me and standing over me. He would look at me with outright loathing in the playground, push past me in the corridors, and do everything he possibly could to make me angry. In class he would talk over the top of me, outright refuse when I asked him to do anything, and rile up the the students.

I had never had such an outright rude, horrible student before, and still haven’t. It was a level of disrespect and antagonisation I didn’t think was possible in a student toward a teacher. I have taught my fair share of naughty boys, some of them pretty damn bad, but this was a whole different level of nastiness.

I don’t know if it was me that made him that way. We felt like there was some sexism in there, but that couldn’t be the whole story. I don’t know if I did something to set him off on that path or if he just was actually an ass.

I tried every behaviour management strategy I could think of, and none of it worked. I tried being calm, I tried being amused, I tried being disappointed, I tried being angry. I gave him detentions that he didn’t come to, sent him out of the room (to his great pleasure), had multiple behaviour conversations with him, referred him on to the behaviour specialists of the school, even tried being outright nice to him.

No matter what I did, I couldn’t get this boy on side, and it hurt. Even the other boys involved in that incident, or ones that were just as bad in class, eventually came around in the end. It takes a hell of a lot work to find out the right approach for each individual student, mostly because I refuse to give up on them. I do what I need to to get them on side because that is the key to controlling their behaviour and getting them engaged in the work. But with him I just couldn’t do it. In the end I didn’t even want to. I worked around him in lessons as much as possible, ignoring a lot of the behaviour or sending him out. Everyone in the class was as fed up as I was, and followed my cues on how to respond to him.

You might be wondering what the outcome was at the end of the year? There wasn’t one. He was still a pain, being as horrible to me as possible right up until the last lesson. He was such a piece of work I actually wanted nothing to do with him any more, and it was such a relief to have that last lesson and know I was never going to see him again. Blergh.


Emily is a secondary science and math teacher in Australia. She enjoys sharing the real and human teacher life, facilitating the ‘light bulb’ moment in her students, and drinking tea and wine.

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