Behaviour Management – Never ask Misbehaving Students Why.

Teaching strategies for Misbehaving students.

Poor behaviour is the bane of a teacher's existence.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but honestly, sometimes it doesn't matter what teaching strategies you use, you are not going to win with misbehaving students. Not every time, any way.

Increase your chances with these teaching strategies.

Misbehaving Students and Teaching Strategies


I know some teachers think the most effective teaching strategies include lecturing the misbehaving students to bring about a behaviour improvement.

Forget about using these teaching strategies.

They don't work!

Pulling the offender aside seems to be a common classroom management tool.

And when they have the offender aside, teachers often ask why they did what they did.

These teaching strategies won't work!

Misbehaving students will rarely offer anything worthwhile.

More often than not, they will use this as yet another avenue to keep attention on themselves, especially if you have also offered them an audience of their classmates.

The majority of misbehaving students won't be much help, if you are looking for answers.

They’ll deny everything  and then set about distracting you and the class. They’ll argue with you and blame others. They’ll put on a real little performance.

And why not. This classroom management provides them with an audience, a venue and a purpose.

You will obviously be frustrated by misbehaving students - we all are.

But don't make a bad situation worse.

Forget about demanding an explanation.

What works in TV courtrooms seldom works in the classroom.

Logic seldom plays a role with misbehaving students. Not your logic anyway.

I hate to burst your bubble, but regardless of how successful your classroom management is, changing misbehaving students using these teaching strategies will be frustratingly difficult.

The truth is, although it is among the most commonly used classroom management strategy, pulling students aside to explain their misbehavior is a mistake.

Why these teaching strategies won't work.

Misbehaving students usually have difficulty articulating any plausible reason why they misbehave. In fact I doubt that any misbehaving student even know the answer.

What reason would you like them to offer?

  • Because I felt like it.
  • Your lesson was boring.
  • I hate you.
  • You stink!
  • I hate this subject.
  • I don't like coming to school.

Which reason would give you ammunition to improve behaviour?

None of them.

When students misbehave it’s because, at that particular moment, they felt like it.

There is probably no answer that any student could offer that would enable you to improve their behaviour.

My advice is simply don't ask.

Why not I hear you ask?

First Reason Why You Don't Ask Why.

Misbehaving students can seldom articulate an answer so they feel trapped. What you have done, in effect, is eliminate any escape route for them. There is simply no "safe out" for them. Like any cornered animal they will strike. After all it is better to look like a rebel than a complete boofhead.

You have established the battle field and they are now armed for the battle. This is not going to be pretty.

Second Reason Why You Don't Ask Why.

The teacher’s motives are seldom altruistic. I bet you don't really care about their reason. Teachers who ask "Why?" simply want to extract their pound of flesh. Most teachers don’t really want or need to know why students misbehave. They ask because they want them to accept responsibility and STOP!. Teachers want kids to be held accountable and this is their way of doing it.


There is a real power differential at play here. The teacher is marking their power base but asking the student to belittle themselves in front of their peers.

Guess what!

It won't happen.

These students know exactly what you want them to say.

They just won't admit that their behaviour (or misbehaviour) was inappropriate.

Instead you have "personalised" the situation and so will they. They will make it personal alright! They will blame you.

Third Reason Why You Don't Ask Why.

It just adds yet another stressful situation to an already stressful situation.  You have drawn the battle field and you are using live ammunition.

The rest of the class anticipates the battle.  Now you have put yourself in the firing line. You have placed your head firmly on the chopping block and have given the student the axe. You have shifted the power differential from the teacher to the student.

Bad move.

What happens next depends on the misbehaving student's responses.

Stressful isn't it? The power is no longer in your hands.

Bad move And YOU caused it.

Fourth Reason Why You Don't Ask Why.

Asking "Why?" is a relationship destroyer.

You want the student to cow-tow, feel humiliated and consequently change their behaviour next time. These teaching strategies if they work at all, will only be a temporary cessation of unruly behavior, and not true and lasting change.

You classroom management will now have you repeating this battle every day or every lesson.

Your relationship with your students is the only thing that will make a difference.  Your students must view your consequences as something they bring deservedly upon themselves, and for which they’re solely responsible.

This isn't possible when you make into a personal battle. It isn't possible when you force an explanation for something for which you may already know the answer.

So what teaching strategies do you use to improve misbehaving students?

  1. You must express your disappointment at the right moment and you should tell misbehaving students  that you are disappointed. TELL them - don't ask them.
    • "You're much better that, Johnno!
    • I have seen you at your best and this is not it!"
    • "Mary, I know you would be disappointed with your attitude/your effort/ your work because I sure am.

2. Let miss misbehaving students know what behaviour you will accept. Be specific and express it in positive terms.

  • "James, I am really impressed when you read the book/write long sentences/follow instructions like the last lesson and I would love to see you repeat that behaviour."

Check out the following resources that might help you deal with misbehaving students.


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I would love to hear your comments or opinions about what teaching strategies you have used for misbehaving students.
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