How to Manage Common Classroom Behavior Issues - Complainers, Talkers and Uncooperative Students

Without mentioning any names, I will say I have one of the most exhausting classes ever this year. Not only do they talk a lot, they blurt out, get up and wander around, announce loudly how bored they are, refuse to work with others in a nice way, and pretty much complain all day long. Now this isn't my entire class, of course. It's a small handful that makes it feel like the whole class is out to get me. I know you've had years like this too. We all do.

So what's a worn out teacher to do when spring break is still a month away but your sanity ran out a few weeks ago? Let's look at a few of the problems going on in my class right now and some tips that are actually helping me make it through the days, the long long long days...

the super talker

You know the one. Mine comes in the door talking... to everyone, to no one, to himself, to the walls. It doesn't matter if anyone is listening or not. It doesn't matter if I'm already talking or not. His mouth runs... all... day... long. No amount of discipline stops it because his mouth actually has a will of its own and that will is VERY strong. This type of child will drive an introverted teacher like me (yes, we exist) absolutely crazy. Temporary solutions...


First put on some appealing music. I like the kids indie station on Pandora. This will divert the talker's attention from his own never-ending dialogue to some other sound. If he talks, he hears himself instead of the music. If he talks, the rest of the class hears him instead of the music. Peer pressure is very powerful.


Desperate times call for desperate measures! Next, pass out some gum. It's harder to talk with gum in your mouth. Then, you can institute the "Loose Lips" rule... If you talk with gum in your mouth, I take it away. If I see any evidence of gum sticking out of your lips, I take it away. Believe me, losing your gum is so so sad to a third grader. Sometimes I do the gum at the same time as the music. But don't use it too often or your class becomes way too fun.


Last, pull out the headphones for the Super Talker. For some strange reason, if he can't hear other people talking, he somehow thinks they can't hear him either. The headphones only work for short periods though. They are especially good during a test because they also help Super Talker focus on what's in front of him.

If all of the above fails, pull out "The Note" and send your little talker on a very important errand:

Don't all teachers need a Big Red Eraser And Keys sometimes? If the other teacher is a good friend, she'll take a long time finding what you need {wink wink}.

the lone wolf

This student is particularly aggravating. She's the one who refuses to work with anyone. When forced to, the sabotage begins... and it's always someone else's fault. As a result, none of the other students want to work with her either. Every group or partner activity turns into an unproductive complain-fest.

This is a tough problem to solve because it involves negative attention-seeking behavior... the worst kind in my opinion. So, what to do?


Here's how it works: Announce to the class that today you will be picking partners. Then write two things on the board...

  • Complaining or Arguing - I pick your partners for the next week.

  • No Complaining or Arguing - You pick your partners next time + ______.

Fill in the blank with something the Lone Wolf really likes. In my case, it's the computer. So I would fill in "10 minutes of technology".

This solution works because it gives everyone an incentive to work cooperatively. They ALL want to pick their own partners and the Lone Wolf really wants that computer time. (If that's not enough for your little loner, pull her aside and let her know that if she does well this time, next time she can choose to work alone.) The beauty of the bigger, better deal is that it's self-perpetuating. Every time they do partner work, the deal is still the same and they are in charge of the outcome.

wendy whiner

I actually have three Wendy Whiners this year. No matter what we're doing, it's boring, stupid, or too much work and they feel entitled to announce these feelings to the whole class. I also have one who lets his mouth hang open in utter shock whenever a test is announced. So for these students, I have instituted what I like to call...


Now "bonus questions" sounds like a good thing, but it's definitely not. It goes like this...

"If you smile and accept your assignment without complaining, you get the short version. If you whine or complain about your assignment, you get the "bonus questions" (i.e. the long version).

This is an all-or-nothing incentive. One person whining means the whole class gets the bonus questions. There are two reasons for this: 1) peer pressure and 2) there really is no long version of the assignment.

I wouldn't normally encourage tricking small children like this, but again, desperate times call for desperate measures. No matter what they do, they're going to get the same assignment... but they don't know that.

The affect is that the whiners do NOT, under any circumstance, want more work. So they will bite their tongues and keep their complaining to themselves just to keep the assignment as short as possible. What they don't know won't hurt them and they'll think they are being rewarded for a positive attitude. In return, you get students who accept the assignment without a battle.

Now, if spring break would just hurry up and get here....


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