How to Deal with a Difficult Student

Discover how to deal with a difficult student in this article!
How to Deal with a Difficult Student
Sergio De Dios González

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Sergio De Dios González.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

If a difficult student intentionally challenges your authority, you might not know how to react. You might lose control and start making unsuitable gestures, which can trigger bullying and mockery in other students and leave you unable to diffuse the tension. Read these tips to know what to do in these circumstances.

In a study called Los alumnos: adversarios en las relaciones de poder dentro del aula. Testimonios de profesores (Students: Opponents in power struggles in the classroom. Teachers’ testimonies), the students are seen as opponents. However, thinking this way may make you act the wrong way, such as punishing that difficult student by ignoring them, not talking to them, or just abusing your position of power.

Nonetheless, an interesting feature from that study that you can use to learn how to deal with difficult students are the teachers’ testimonies. They can help you know what you should and shouldn’t do in the classroom and how to turn any situation around.

There is strength in numbers

When a difficult student is surrounded by their friends, they might have the extra courage to do certain things they wouldn’t do if they were alone.

Detect the leader or leaders of their group and try to gain their trust. To do this, you need to have a one-on-one with every member of the group, just like this teacher did:

“They were a very violent group, but they were completely different individually. When I befriended the leaders, the group stopped being violent.”

Power struggles

A difficult student might bully you to figure out your weaknesses. The bullying can be very intense at first. If they allow you to, try to determine if they’re trying to pull pranks on you, make you nervous or, on the other hand, gain your respect.

In these situations, you have to manage your emotions. You can’t argue with the student or stoop to their level. You must know your place, make them respect you, and not fall for the bullying. Even when that difficult student is challenging you, know when to ignore them and how to respond adequately.

Here are some common types of difficult students:

The student that contradicts the teacher

They think they’re right, when they’re not. They won’t hear any explanations from you. You mustn’t lose your cool with these types of students. Correct them with proof and conclusive arguments.

If it gets unbearable, let them realize their mistakes on their own. You can ask the student you corrected to try again. If they see that their classmates have solved the problems correctly, peer pressure will make the student stop disagreeing just for the sake of it.

The student that can’t stand the teacher’s mistakes

This is another type of difficult student. They can’t stand it if you make a mistake, are slow to solve a problem, or have to think too much to find a solution. These students act by jumping to the next problem, while you’re still on the same one.

You need to work on the student’s problem resolution techniques. As a teacher, you must be supportive, helping the students solve any difficulties they find themselves in.

A teacher helping a student.

Although many difficult students’ attitudes are a reflection of their own problems at home, you need to keep control of any situation you’re in. Communication is very important because, if there’s no communication, the path will be a lot harder.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • García-Rangel, E. G., García Rangel, A. K., & Reyes Angulo, J. A. (2014). Relación maestro alumno y sus implicaciones en el aprendizaje. Ra Ximhai10(5).
  • Lara Barragán Gómez, Antonio, Aguiar Barrera, Martha Elena, Cerpa Cortés, Guillermo, & Núñez Trejo, Héctor. (2009). Relaciones docente-alumno y rendimiento académico: Un caso del Centro Universitario de Ciencias Exactas e Ingenierías de la Universidad de Guadalajara. Sinéctica, (33), 01-15. Recuperado en 15 de febrero de 2019, de
  • Sánchez, A. (2005). La relación maestro-alumno: ejercicio del poder y saber en el aula universitaria. Revista de educación y desarrollo4, 21-27.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.