To Help Respond to Disrespectful Behavior in the Classroom Get to the Root of the Behavior

Teacher Solving Problem Between Two School StudentsAccording to Public School Review, many public school teachers cite student attitudes, such as apathy and disrespect for teachers, as a significant problem facing schools today.1 What appears to be disrespect from students comes in many forms. As a teacher, you may see what you or others interpret as disrespectful behavior in your classroom. These behaviors may include eye-rolling, heavy sighing, or ignoring a direct request. While these are quiet forms of disrespectful behavior, there are more blatant forms of disrespect as well, such as talking back, inappropriate responses to questions and requests, and even offensive language. Not only can moments of disrespect disrupt a classroom, but a disrespectful behavior can also negatively influence other students and add stress and agitation to you and your day.

The key to managing disrespectful behavior is understanding that most times, disrespectful behavior is simply a symptom of an underlying problem or issue. It is essential to understand and accept that it’s not personal and probably has nothing to do with you or your approach to engaging your students. So, what can you do to help foster a happy and productive learning environment for all students? Start by following these best practices.

  1. Practice empathy. As a teacher you care deeply for your students. Remember that the time that you spend with your students is only a fraction of their whole day. Many students have a lot on their plates—and it’s not just school work. There can be things going on at home, trouble with friends, and other issues that can impact student behavior. Therefore, compassion and empathy can go a long way in helping you connect to your student and show him or her that you truly care for his or her well being.
  2. Get to the root of the issue. Pulling a student aside and asking privately, “What’s going on?” can help you determine what is going on and how you can help. Discuss your behavior concerns with the student one-on-one, rather than in front of the class. A one-on-one discussion allow greater candor and the ability to understand the underlying issues.
  3. Model respectful behavior. Everyone deserves respect and the best way to receive respect is to give respect. You cannot teach students the importance of treating others with courtesy without modeling respect for them as well. Listen actively, be kind, give grace, outline your expectations, and follow through.
  4. Create a classroom culture of respect. It is imperative that students not only respect you as an adult and their teacher, but that they respect one another. Here are some ideas to help you create a culture of respect:
  5. Co-create a list of class conduct rules or expectations with your students and put them in plain sight.
  6. Create a classroom where students can talk freely and where no idea is a bad idea.
  7. Create opportunities for students to work together. Mix up your students so that partners change and they have the opportunity to work with different people.
  8. Develop a year-long class project where students help others. For example, a random act of kindness contest. You can keep a log or student’s can keep a log of everything they do to help others. Share your stories with the class.
  9. Get parents involved. If you have a student who routinely disrespects you or others in your classroom, reach out to his or her parents to share your concerns and collaborate on how best to address the behavior. It may persist both at home and in the classroom, and together you can more effectively teach the student the benefits of mutual respect and how to deal with negative emotions without hurting others.

Your turn!

Do you have any tips to help other teachers? We’d love to hear your ideas. Simply comment below.


1. Chen, G. (2012, May 07). 10 Major Challenges Facing Public Schools. Retrieved February 5, 2019, from https://www.publicschoolreview.com/blog/10-major-challenges-facing-public-schools

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