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Dealing With The Difficult

Ainslie Hunter is the creator of Study Skills Mentor. She can make you smarter.  This guest post should be particularly helpful for anyone, but I think there are takeaways for everyone.  Enjoy!

Have you ever come across an aggressive child in your classroom?

Have you witnessed the aftermath from a student so mad at the world that he looks like a lion in a cage?

I have. He was 8. And he was in Jan’s class.

When I arrived at the class a boy was hiding under a table, snorting. The room was strewn with Lego and another box was ready to be pegged at any intruder. Jan was at her desk, hunched over.

Sometimes the best laid plans don’t work

This class had it all. Trust me! Jan was a dynamic teacher. The teacher everyone wanted. Firm but fair, with such joy in everything she did. Jan did everything a great teacher would do in regards to behaviour: modelled care and dignity, rules and consequences and positive classroom management strategies.

Lunch was about to finish. 24 eight year olds were starting to line up. These kids had witnessed the violent act. They needed Ms J, an ordered classroom and time to discuss the incident. This was not the time to be judging the student or the child, or think about consequences.

So here is what I did:

  • Sat with Jan and listened.
  • Gave Jan the power to leave. She thought she needed stay. Wanted desperately to know the key to helping the child. She was scared but didn’t waver. But she needed to go and look after herself.
  • Sat with child. It took 10 minutes to get close to him. I didn’t engage. I just kept saying “You pick up 5 blocks, I pick up 5 blocks.” We finally picked up all the blocks.
  • Choice: Office, my classroom or library.
  • Safe Ground: At the library he was given paper to make aeroplanes.
  • I looked and listened and waited for the calm. It came. And then we talked.

“At the Center of non-violence stands the principle of Love” (Martin Luther King)

On the 18th January we celebrateded Martin Luther King’s Birthday. It was a day where we could reflect on his life and honor his teachings. Dr King said that there were 3 ways to face oppression and I think they also apply to dealing with difficult children.

1. Do nothing, be defeated.
2. Be violent and full of hate.
3. Active, Nonviolent Resistance.

Jan did not wipe her hands of that child. She did not take him on with useless threats cast through anger. She actively protected her class, herself and her child. She stayed until further help arrived.

And for the rest of the year Jan supported that boy with grace. There were good and bad days. But less bad days.

Behavior Management is difficult, especially when dealing with physically aggressive students. But it is also simple when you realize that the foundation of real behavior management is … LOVE.

How do you show love to even the most difficult people?

About The Author:

Please visit Ainslie Hunter at Study Skills Mentor where she writes about “The things you need to know.”

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jaky Astik February 6, 2010, 12:55 am

    The most simple key to behavioral management is honesty and balanced equality among your thoughts. Behavioral management starts with how you reach to people. Once you turn it best, you are done. Love also plays a lot of part in this, yes of course, but honesty comes first.

    • Ainslie Hunter February 6, 2010, 3:48 pm

      Jaky, so true. And I feel that many teachers aren’t honest with how they feel when dealing with difficult behaviour management cases.

  • Mick Morris February 6, 2010, 3:21 am

    What a great application of active, non violent resistance, thanks for sharing this story.

    I’ll be reflecting on the patience that it takes to achieve this..

    • Ainslie Hunter February 6, 2010, 3:49 pm

      Mick, Patience is easy for me in the classroom, a little more difficult when I deal with adults. I need to work on being patient in all areas of my life.

  • Iskandar February 6, 2010, 9:23 am

    Ainslie, your post reminds me of this teaching quote:

    “If you need a reason for having sweet dreams, think of your best student. But if you need to get out of the bed in the morning, think of your worst one.”

    How true.

    • Ainslie Hunter February 7, 2010, 4:39 am


      Great quote – never heard it before. I must admit I am a fan of the naughty kids – they make you work for it.

  • Heather February 6, 2010, 10:09 am

    Thanks, Ainslie, for this, and thanks, Josh, for having her over! Firm but fair. Jan sounds like my kind of gal! I also think it was good that the little boy was allowed to go make some paper airplanes. Sometimes that is enough to get a kid to calm down. Great post!

    • Ainslie Hunter February 6, 2010, 3:52 pm

      Heather, I am a big believer in giving students an outlet for their frustration, and for this little boy it was planes.


  • Janette Hanagarne February 6, 2010, 2:05 pm

    I recently read The Last Lecture and the takeaway for me was his line about waiting for people. They will eventually surprise and impress you if you give them time. I’m trying to apply that to my interactions with others. Waiting patiently on some, and basking in what others are teaching me.

    I loved this post. I will have lots of chances to apply it to my two-year-old.

  • Andrew February 6, 2010, 3:29 pm

    Quick post, but I liked it. I agree that love is where it is at… a little cliché perhaps, but some things are cliché for a good reason.


  • Ainslie Hunter February 6, 2010, 3:53 pm

    Janette, must check out The Last Lecture, sounds interesting. Now that I also have a two year old I am constantly trying out my behaviour management strategies. These two year olds are way more tougher than the teenagers I have taught.


  • Mary February 6, 2010, 5:17 pm

    Great Post! I need to remember this when dealing with my own son, who can be quite defiant himself sometimes.

  • Debra February 7, 2010, 11:41 am

    I was very moved by this post. I stumbled here while looking at others.

    I went through 14 years of trying to understand my child when he would go through things. He would be hard and rough if he felt he wasn’t liked by the teacher or something unfair or wrong had occurred. When he was 14 having surgery for Marfans, we read an article in the waiting room about Aspergers. It made a lot of sense to us and him.

    I would have given anything for a teacher in his young years to have know how to talk with him and be with him. Like what I just read in this post. The comments about being honest, loving and there for the difficult child. It seemed that was all he really needed from all his teachers.

    It brought tears to my eyes knowing there really are teachers and people out there who care.

    He is now 22 and great, knows about his differences, and maybe not knowing when he was young has caused him to be more with the main stream than would have happened had we known.

    Thanks for writing this.

  • Ivan Walsh February 10, 2010, 7:44 pm

    It’s his parents you really need to talk to.