Ep 62 How to repair relationships with students that misbehave

It’s hard to get past someone who annoys you – whether it’s a child or adult. And we tend to place blame on circumstances beyond our control, such as parent involvement or accountability, lack of consequences from the administration, the apathy of the student. But what did WE do to mitigate those circumstances? How have WE tried to repair the relationship in order to get a different outcome? In this episode, I discuss how to deal with that ONE student you’ve been battling with all year as well as how to be more proactive in the future so that you can deal with those types of students head-on.

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Welcome to the teachers need teachers podcast, a proud member of the Education Podcast Network. I am your host Kim Lepre, and this is the podcast for new and beginning teachers who don’t want to just survive their first few years but actually thrive.

Before I dive into Episode 62. I want to give you some updates on what I’m doing with the podcast.

First, this coming weekend, June 1 will be my one year anniversary of this podcast, can you believe it? I definitely didn’t expect that. I’d make it this long. And as you may know, from listening to some of my other episodes, I’m super reflective. And I started thinking about what I want to do differently this year. I feel like the podcast, in general, is very successful. And I’m super happy with it.

But I want to give you more, you know that I already like to share everything I know not only on the podcast, but also you know, like my end of the year Sanity Saver course. And so I was wondering what else I can do and how I can do it in a sustainable way. That doesn’t burn me out.

So one thing I decided to add is more content, more behind the scenes of not only the podcast but what it’s like in my future classrooms. And I say future classrooms plural because if you remember from the last episode, I gave up my classroom to become a traveling teacher. So I wanted to let you in on that process of checking out my new classroom and the storage and moving in and dealing with that the traveling part, how I get ready for back to school and planning lessons and all of that stuff.

And I think that it would help you to let you in on my thought process and be really meta about it. And when I’ve worked with mentees in the past, this has really been helpful for them because it’s just the way that I approach a lesson and the thought process from beginning to end. I also do this when I’m teaching my students writing and very meta about where I start and what I’m thinking about. I also wanted to do a lot of all of this stuff where I teach you my processes via video.

So some of you may remember me mentioning that I’m not really comfortable on video, but I decided that I want to let you get to know me a little bit better. And so I better just suck it up and do it. So I’ve started a page where I’ll be posting my videos, and it’s not a YouTube channel. Mainly because that’s a little too public for me. But it’s on a Patreon page. So if you head over to need teachersneedteachers.com/updates, you can find my upcoming reflections and videos there. It’s almost like a mix of a blog and a vlog. I guess that’s a word right vlog. And so while you’re there if you’re loving this podcast, and you come week after week faithfully, and you feel compelled to support me and the podcast, and maybe you’d consider becoming an awesome supporter on this page.

So at the time of this recording, it’s the end of the year, some teachers are already done with teaching and others are like myself are wrapping up. And so as you know, I mentioned this already in the introduction I like to reflect. And so I want us to reflect on how our interactions with our students have been. And from reading different Facebook groups, you know, it’s definitely a mixed bag. And some of us are really struggling and are having some really negative interactions with either you know that one student or maybe a group of students.

So something that I want you to think about, what’s the ratio of exacerbation to inspiration? It’s important to be honest about why you’ve been exasperated this year. Could it be maybe a misunderstanding with one student or maybe that one student has a group of friends? And there’s multiple of those students, and I don’t have many teachers who will peg a student as a troublemaker, and never give them a chance for the rest of the school year. And they see that student through tainted lenses, and therefore the student can do nothing, right. And guess what, at that point, the student knows this and sees no reason to improve their behavior, it basically becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

And I’m not gonna lie, it’s hard to get past someone who annoys you, whether it’s a child or an adult. And we tend to place blame on circumstances beyond our control, such as parent involvement or accountability, lack of consequences, maybe from your administration, when you send them to the office, you know, apathy of the student. But what did we do to mitigate those circumstances? How have we tried to repair the relationship in order to get a different outcome?

So you may be thinking, all right, everyone was tough on me growing up, and I turned out, okay. Be that as it may, not everyone will have the grit to get past that, like you. Many will continue to live life feeling like a failure, being overly defensive, blaming everyone else for their problems. And a lot of times using unhealthy ways to cope with what their life has become.

And you know, sure that student may have parents that also let them get away with everything I have a lot of students at the school that suffer from that. Or even worse, I think their parents are around to even pay attention to them. And so, therefore, they need it from you whether that attention is positive or negative.

Or and I’ve had several this, they’re being raised by elderly grandparents who don’t have the energy to discipline them. So there’s not really the boundaries that kids need in order to learn proper behaviors.

And maybe the student is a frequent flyer to the principal’s office. And it seems like they have detention every day, they show up to your class with nothing more than a bad attitude and is possibly an Instagram or of other bad behaviors from other students. This is sound familiar to you.

But the only way to really make a change, especially in your classroom, is to be the change. I know that that sounds cheesy. But it starts with you. You have to be different than every other adult that has branded that student as less than worthy. And you have to prove it with your actions, not just your words.

This means that when they screw up time and time again, you need to forgive them, you need to ditch the judgmental and disappointed tone or looks at them, you’re not going to humiliate them in front of the whole class. And any consequences that will be given are going to be very Matter of fact, but also are going to be followed up with a private discussion on why you had to do it.

So, for example, I have a student who has ADHD, and is a bit off the wall and can at times really test my patience. And I don’t know if I’m just a glutton for misery and pain, but I see the student right in front of me always. Now, it’s not always in the same seat. But I have three groups that are directly in front of me, and the student is always there.

And so past Kim, would be blowing up at the student every day, and would always assume that the student is doing wrong. But current Kim and wiser Kim knows better. So right from the start within the first week of school, I knew that the student was going to be a handful. And so I took it upon myself to really build relationships, or a relationship with that student, I knew that I had to have them on my side right away because I could see that the student could get really out of control could get other kids out of control.

Now in your situation, while you probably experienced microaggressions from students all day long, and especially from that student, the majority of kids still have far more negative reaction when they experience microaggressions from you.

At the very basic level, and I want you to think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which we learned in our teacher prep programs. kids seem to feel safe and secure. How can they feel safe and secure in our class, if they’re always in fear of being yelled at, of being put in timeout of getting an angry look from you? How can that student give you their all if this is their reality, all day, every day, and you can bet that they’re probably getting something like this at home as well?

And if it’s at the secondary level to probably getting it from most of their teachers. And if you remember, with a higher gain, the next level up is the feeling of belonging. So when you single them out, you basically kill that sense of belonging. Those students are humiliated, ostracized, and they feel less worthy. And while their actions towards you may bring on anger, and humiliation, especially, if you’re not at the point where you’re thick-skinned, you gotta remember that you are the adult, and should know by now how to deal with those behaviors appropriately, especially as a teacher, that a child, they don’t have the agency or resilience or know how to properly react.

So what about those sneaky kids that seems to game the system? Who just love to see you upset? Can you imagine what happened to them in their life that brought them to this place? What kind of trauma have they experienced, where they’ve had to learn to lie and cheat and antagonize?

Now, I know it’s the end of the school year. And you’re probably thinking, Kim, why are you just telling me this? Now, I need to know about this stuff earlier in the year. Here’s the thing: it may be too late to repair those relationships with those students or that student. But it’s actually the perfect time to think about how you’ll handle it differently next year, because almost every year, you will have some version of that student, and sometimes several of them.

So let’s think about the interactions with the student. times they misbehave, the consequences you gave, how you reacted when they acted up during a lesson, the word you used when describing their behavior to their parents, like an email or a phone call, all of that, how could you have used those opportunities to repair or strengthen your relationship with that student.

I mean, sometimes we get in our mind that there’s nothing we can do, but survive this school year. And we allow ourselves to get an emotional response when we see them even walk into our room because we know they’re going to push our buttons. And they do. But remember, you’re the adult here. You don’t have to like the student, but you need to provide them with the same compassion and empathy, empathy that you do for the rest of your students. They deserve the same education in a safe environment. Your constant wrath is not that ideal environment, and whether or not you believe it, they deserve a chance every day to repair that broken relationship with you.

Okay, now, I’m going to fully admit guys that I used to let those students annoy the crap out of me, I’d see them come in. And I feel this sense of dread. Even before they came in, actually, it’d be like the third period, so and so is coming. And it would actually take my mood for the rest of the period. And that’s pretty unfair to the rest of the class, right? And my attitude towards that student didn’t improve the way that they acted towards me. If anything, they dug in their heels, even more, and became a constant problem. So it was like we’re eating off each other’s loathing. And who wants that? Who was that kind of negativity and microaggression, day after day?

So I decided to put on my big girl pants and force myself to be patient with them. I’d ask them nicely to start an assignment. And if they wouldn’t start, I’d say How about doing just number one; I’ll be back to check on you. I circulate and come back. And if they didn’t do it, I’d pull up a stool and sit with them and then prompt them to start. So here is an example of a conversation that I would have become.

T: Okay, so let’s do this first question. And it says that you need to write a simile about how cold it is. So what’s something that’s cold?
S: Oh, no, I don’t get cold.
T: Oh, good for you. You know what? I’m actually always warm too. So I love the cold. So it’s something that’s usually cold.
S: Nothing.
T: Really. You ever had ice cream before?
S: Yeah.
T: Was it warm and melted when presented to you?
S: No.
T: So was it cold?
S: Yeah.
T: So, there you go. So what could be as cold as ice cream?
S: I don’t know.
T: All right. So here’s what I want you to write down. I want you to write down, “The sun is as cold as ice cream.” (And at this point, the student is looking at me and saying, no, really?) Right there. Right down. The sun is as cold as ice cream. Let’s go, start writing.
S: Well, the sun isn’t cold. It’s hot.
T: Whoops. Okay, well, then what’s this cold as ice cream?
S: Snow?
T: Hmm, well, snow is basically flavorless ice cream. What’s the place that people complain about? And says that it’s cold?
S: (sigh) Mr. G’s classroom.
T: Okay, that’s perfect. Okay, so we’re gonna go with that, hey, we’re going to write that down. So what are you going to write?
S: Mr. G’s class?
T: Well, what about it?
S: Mr. G’s class is as cold as ice cream.
T: You are freaking awesome. Yes. Write that down. Right now. (And at this point, the student is begrudgingly writing this down.) Sweet. So you’ve got nine to go. Do you want me to sit here and help?
S: I don’t know.
T: I’m going to sit here. I’m going to watch you. Because staring is carrying?
S: No, I’ll work.

Alright, so that’s like, a basic conversation that I have with a student that doesn’t like me, like to act up doesn’t want to do any work? I know, it’s a little bit weird, that I’m so happy with them. And I think giving them wrong answers. But psychologically, I’m making them feel like I’m making it easier for them. So like, Okay, I’m going to give you an answer. I’m going to tell you what to write down. And it’s not that the students are stupid. Because the student knows what the right answer is. But I just want to make it so nonsensical and forced them to write it that they’re going to think, no, because they want to prove me wrong. Or sometimes they’ll write it, they would have written, the sun is as cold as ice cream. And I’d say awesome. And then we’d move on. And I would keep doing that until they got tired of it, and started to correct me. And they did it correctly. And then I would go away.

And how is this repairing the relationship? You may be wondering? Well, here’s the thing I didn’t give up on the student. And I wasn’t mean to that student. If anything, it was annoyingly nice to them. And annoyingly helpful, right? And so it’s really hard for them to keep being mad at you, and hating you.

If you’re always nice to them, they just they almost can’t help it deep down inside that student wants to be respected and accepted and loved. And they want to feel safe in this classroom. But in their past experience, they haven’t felt that way. And so this is just how they’ve learned to cope unit, you need to throw them off guard, you need to prove them wrong about what they think about teachers. And the way that you do that is with patience and empathy.

So I want you to think back of a conversation that you’ve had with a student like that, that maybe you could have turned it around, you could have started to prepare and rebuild that relationship, and especially earlier in the year. And I suggest that when you do get that student and you’ll know within the first couple of weeks, if you have that student or these students that you make a concerted effort to not be the adult that thinks that they’re going to be a troublemaker, but instead you’re the adult, that’s going to give them a second chance.

Now I’m not saying that they’re not allowed to have consequences. No, no, no, no, no, these students still need consequences. But they’re going to be very Matter of fact.

So here’s an example. If a student keeps talking out of turn, and they’re looking around, you know what I mean, the kind of student who wants to be the troublemaker, but they want to double check that they have an audience. You’re going to ignore them, and you’re going to look at them, give them the Teacher Look, you better practice that Teacher Look, you’re going to tell them that they need to stop, you’re going to pivot so that the students are going to work on something or have a think pair share in that lesson. At that point, we’re going to pull aside the student or going to go up to them, and you’re going to crouch down, and you’re going to tell them that this behavior is not acceptable and that they know better, you’re gonna say like, I know that you can do better than that. And I’m not really sure what’s going on. But I really need you to be on task and not talk out of turn so that I can get through this material. Because here’s the problem, the longer it takes for me to get through this, the more likely you’re going to have homework. And also, I’m already going to be emailing home or calling your parents to talk about this. And not because you’re necessarily in trouble. But because I think that we need to work together with your parents and I so that you can be successful in school, maybe they need to come in and watch you so they can see just what an awesome student you’re in my class. You see that?

So you don’t want to humiliate them in front of the entire class. What you want to do is pull them over and tell them consequences. Matter of fact, I would tell them, you know, I have to email your parents because this is becoming a problem. And I feel like they should know how their student is doing in my class. Or if they have detention, okay? Let’s say that they’ve done this several times, and you pull them aside again, or you crouch down, you say, you know, you’ve been kind of having a problem with this. Remember how I talked to you every day this week, to this point, because it’s excessive, you know that it’s time that you have to have lunch detention. And they’re going to blow up and say, what why that’s not fair, I’ll do better, I promise. And you can tell them, You know what, I totally believe you that next time, you’re going to do better. But unfortunately, today, you’re going to have to have detention.

So I didn’t get mad at them, I didn’t blow up, I didn’t make a big scene in front of everyone making them feel like they just lost face. It was, this is how it is, these are the consequences. I’m not mad at you about it. This is just what happens when you repeat that behavior over and over again. So when you do that, and I’m thinking, especially with this one student that I have this year, when you do that, they don’t feel attacked, they just feel like oh, this is what happens. Like when I fall a scrape my knee, when I talk too much on several days in a week I get detention, and it makes them think about the cause and effect of their behavior.

So again, we’re repairing the relationship, or maybe you don’t even need repair. If you do this, right from the start, that’s the goal. That’s the ultimate goal, where you have the students on your side, from the very beginning so that you don’t have to spend so much time repairing relationships.

But if you do have to repair because maybe you’ve spent the whole first semester having kind of this battle with this student, second semester, even if it just kind of stuff, and it kind of is annoying that they’re acting this way towards you, and you’re trying so hard to be nice. You’re going to try to start repairing. And you can even tell them, you can have a talk with them and say, Look, I know that this first semester, we had a really rough start. And I feel really bad about that. You’re you are an awesome student. And I think that sometimes you make poor choices with your behavior. But that doesn’t mean that you deserve the way that I treated you. So I’d like to start all over again. And I’m hoping that you know, you’d be willing to give me a chance to, you know, show you that I don’t think that you’re a bad student or something along those lines.

And again, for some of us, we can be very prideful, like I was when I first started teaching English where I didn’t want the student to think that I had to fix the relationship. They’re the ones who should fix it. They’re the ones screwing up. Remember, you’re the adult in the room.

So I don’t know if this is going to make you feel like happy about this past year. But what I’m hoping is that it’s going to make you feel hopeful for next year, so that we can move forward and you can keep on working on having positive relationships with our students.

And if you have an instance of this past year that you’d like to share with me go ahead and email me at Kim@teachersneedteachers.com. And I’d love to hear your story and how you dealt with it good or bad. I’m not going to judge you because trust me, I’ve been there. And maybe we can talk about how to you know do it better next year, there’s always room for improvement. And again, if you want to see the video of this particular episode, as well as other video updates, you can head over to need teachersneedteachers.com/support. And I hope that you’ll consider being an awesome supporter of the podcast. Thanks for hanging out with me today, you guys and have a fabulous week.

2 comments on “Ep 62 How to repair relationships with students that misbehave
  1. Lidia says:

    I loved this episode! Teaching at an urban setting I had to learn how to approach my students who at age 8 already have faced trauma.

    What resonated the most is to remember we are the adults. Some days are harder than others, but definitely being the kind of adult they do not know, is a game changer.

    1. Kim Lepre says:


      You’re right – when we disarm them by showing them that SOMEONE believes in them and that not all adults are the same, we break through their wall!


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