5 Ways of Dealing with Students who Push Your Buttons

ALT KEY WORDSAfter dealing with students for the past 40 years, I am NEVER going to name any of my children Cameron. Or Justin. Or Clive. And there are another 20 other kid’s names that won’t be used in my family.

These are the kids who caused me untold grief and pain while teaching.

I should be politically correct. Dealing with students like these challenged my emotional state.

I am throwing myself on the mercy of the court now. Dealing with students like these just pushed my buttons. I recognised very early that the very presence of these kids in my classroom (or my office) raised my blood pressure. I couldn’t help it. I separated from my body and floated above the classroom (or office).

I always maintained my professionalism – or so I thought!

I would do anything to support their learning – but I didn’t have to like them. In fact sometimes I couldn’t even stand them.

I know there are those who chose teaching because they love children blah! blah! (cue the background music) but I am NOT one of them.

I chose teaching because I enjoyed the challenge of the classroom and the community of the school. After 40 years, I can honestly look back with pride in my choice of careers. But I don’t hold any deeply romantic view of teaching. If I had my choice of fishing or teaching, I would choose fishing every time.

I REALLY did enjoy my teaching career and am glad I chose teaching.

As long as Clive, Justin or Cameron were NOT in my class. Dealing with students like these really upset my apple cart.

If you have ever had a child in your class who manages to get under your skin and ruffle your feathers then this article is for you. 

If you are a teacher who loves all children equally (cue the background music again) then turn away now and read no more.

There is an irrationality about Dealing with Students who push your buttons.

I recognise that it is totally irrational. Other students can behave the same way and it doesn’t seem to faze you. But these little terrors of the chalkface only have to look sideways and you feel your blood boil.

Totally irrational.

They are like car crashes. You know there is a risk of seeing something awful but your eyes seem to have a mind of their own and look in their direction. Sure enough. You see horrors.

It is just like a moth to a flame.

Totally irrational.

You start to doubt yourself. You start to question your professionalism. You know your behaviour towards these little saboteurs of sanity is unfounded. You just can’t help yourself.

Totally irrational.

They talk – you snap!

They ask – you snap!

They comment – you snap!

They interrupt – You snap!

They breathe – You snap!

You JUST want these little creatures of the classroom to submit. It would be nice to have them throw their hands in the air and call out. “I give in! You are the BOSS!”

But it is not going to happen.

Pushing your buttons is what these floggers of the festivities are good at. They are usually extremely good. It is just like they have practised the art of pushing teacher buttons. Which is exactly what they have done.

As soon as you try dealing with students like these with your obviously superior intellect, you can feel your authority being sucked out you faster than a hoover sucks dirt from the carpet.

These little gremlins of the system have a well-rehearsed comeback that puts you on the back foot with your shackles flapping around in the air.

They just don’t have …

… what’s the word again.


Exactly. They don’t have respect for your authority as a teacher. You start questioning whether YOU are the problem!

They just need, “a good talking to”. But that will never work. You secretly know that. You just can’t help yourself.

The trick is, you have to disengage yourself from this type of contact.

Be cool!

Dealing with Student who push your buttons.

Give them the same attention as you would everybody else in your classroom.

Don’t try extra behaviour management tricks. Reach into your behaviour management repertoire bag and pull out the same set of strategies you would for everyone else. I know that is easier said than done.

Here are 5 quick tips to help you dealing with students who push your buttons. (My apologies to all the Johnnys’ out there. For the purpose of this exercise my troublemaker is named Johnny.)

1. Talk to your little trouble maker about something unrelated to their behaviour first.

Let’s say they are chatting to the student beside them. Mention something about their handwriting. It doesn’t have to be positive or negative. But say something like, ”Johnny, your writing would be so much easier to read if you used pen rather than pencil.”

There is no reason for Johnny to respond, but even if he does you could then say, “I am sure Billy would appreciate if you stopped talking to him so that he could do his work.”

This tip begins your chat with Johnny as a conversation in a conversational voice rather than fire a salvo over his bow with a blast.

2. Talk to someone else before you focus on Johnny. Preferably someone pleasant who never misbehaves.

The conversation might go something like this. “Raymond and Geoffrey, you are really trying hard. I am pleased you are getting success with those quadratic equations. Well done. Johnny, I know Billy would appreciate it if you helped him get on with his work.”

You are less likely to bite Johnny’s head off with all that sweetness in your mouth right now.

3. Say something positive to Johnny first. You always catch more flies with honey than vinegar. If you can’t say something nice – LIE!

The conversation might go something like this. “Johnny I am pleased to see that you have all your gear on your desk ready to go. Billy, Now stop talking to Billy so he can start his work”

4. Focus for others rather than yourself.

You might think, “Johnny! I want to wring your scrawny little neck!” but you actually say, “Johnny, the class would really appreciate if you would stop disrupting us so we can get on with our work.”

The focus of this conversation is others rather than yourself.

Check out my Behaviour Management Course for Relief Teachers.

It is just what you need to improve strategies when dealing with students.

Read what past (and present) students are saying about the course.

“I love the way Bob can make me look at difficult situations in a new light; this give me ideas and tools for managing behaviour…” (Frida May 2105)

“You make it seem so simple and clear why classroom misbehaviour happens. Thanks Bob. That was really useful.” (Carron May 2015)

“That was fantastic! I feel relieved after listening to this.” (Melinda May 2015)

“Thank you for all you wonderful ideas. I have kept copies to help me through the difficult times.” (Jenny April 2015)

Check out the Behaviour Management Course for Relief Teachers.