Twin Cities Substitute Forum: The Difficult to Reach Student

Travis Chapman

We had an incredible Substitute Forum on November 13th in the Twin Cities, focused on the “difficult to reach” student.  You know the one; the student who doesn’t want to participate, who is always seeking attention, who frequently causes disruptions.   With a short list of suggested questions, discussion was well underway.  A lot of questions were asked, situations given and advice was offered.  I’ve put together some of the helpful tips that were suggested.
First, discussing strategies that could prevent a student from misbehaving, many suggested with “Don’t respond”.  It could be that addressing the student would feed their attention.  One cited a situation where they had addressed the student and nothing changed, so the individual stopped addressing the situation and it ended up getting better.  One suggested pre-emptively selecting the student as your helper for the day.  Others suggested trying to connect with the student over a common interest if possible, stating that building connection helps bring familiarity and puts the student more at ease. 
Another great point that was discussed was what to do if a student is refusing to participate.  There were a number of various suggestions offered.  You could pair the students together, allowing them to work with somebody else on the assignment/project.  You could give the student options, or a small list of choices, i.e. asking if they’d like to work on the assignment or their homework.  Along with that, somebody suggested reframing the expectations.  If the student won’t work on the assignment at all, maybe reframing it so they at least start or complete a portion of it.  A couple people touched on asking questions and just touching base with the student.  Maybe they are confused or overwhelmed.  Maybe they are simply having a rough day and are unable to focus.  However, simply taking the time to check in with the student may help them feel at ease. 
Lastly, a suggestion that was given was to be acknowledge the student and be ready, but if they are not hurting themselves or anybody else, maybe let the student not participate.  It is the student’s choice to participate in the activity or not and as long as you have attempted to engage them, if they refuse, simply ensure they are ok and be ready for them to join.  They discussed choosing your battles.  If we hold up the rest of the classroom learning, what effect is that going to have on the other students.  Another added to the conversation stating to make sure you remain non-judgmental.  Don’t treat that student as the “bad student” or with frustration.  But be the example of the behavior you would like to see from them.  Model it appropriately for them.  Sometimes that’s the best way to address that type of behavior.
Altogether it was agreed that each situation is going to be different and that dealing with student behavior is not a one-size-fits-all.  However, the more techniques and strategies that we have in our tool-belt, the easier time we will have addressing the various issues we face regarding student behavior.