It happens for no apparent reason.

You send your students off to recess and a troop of Howler Monkeys returns. Or a visit to the library turns into an embarrassment of unruliness and misbehavior.

It could be a direction you just gave your students or a routine they’ve been doing for months.

Whatever the case, there are times when your instructions fall on deaf ears, when your students know what you expect from them, yet ignore it anyway.

It’s common for teachers to react to such blatant disregard with frustration and how-dare-you emotion. Lectures, threats, and warnings are the norm. And although these methods may settle things down initially, they do nothing to stop them from happening again and again.

The truth is, if you look real close, if you sneak up quietly, part the tall grass, and examine the situation with a bit of shrewdness, you’ll see an opportunity just waiting to be had…

An opportunity to teach your students a lesson they’ll not soon forget.

Here’s how:


Don’t lecture. Don’t remind. Don’t pace or brood. Simply signal for your students’ attention and wait. And then wait some more. Give them a chance to grasp the gravity of ignoring your instructions—without you spelling it out for them.


Give a simple direction. Ask your students to clear their desks and sit up straight, for example. If you waited long enough they should be eager to do whatever you ask of them without hesitation.


Clear your schedule for the next fifteen minutes or so. Yes, you’ll lose learning time in the short term and may even have to cancel the next lesson. But in the long run, pumping the brakes on your day is more than worth the time lost.


Without mentioning names, mimic for your students the behaviors you witnessed. Be as exacting as possible. With rare exception, whatever you act out for your students in detail, they’ll go to great pains not to do again.


Normally I recommend having a light, even humorous, tone when modeling. But not in this case. Disregarding your direct instructions is a serious offense—with safety implications. As such, affect a serious tone as you model the right way to do things.


Ask them to make things right by showing you how it should have been done. If possible, duplicate the conditions under which the misbehavior occurred. A quick return to the scene of the crime, so to speak, makes for a memorable lesson.

Move On

As soon as your students prove they can do it right, start your next activity as if nothing happened. Too many teachers undermine these opportunities by belaboring the point, harping on it until the students are resentful and ready for revolt.


Get your students back on the horse as soon as you’re able. In other words, if the problem occurred while visiting the library, try to arrange for a visit the next day. Give your students the chance to put the incident fully and completely behind them.

Averting A Train Wreck ...

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Michael Linsin